Matt Crafton came into Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 with just as good of a chance to claim the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title as the other Championship 4 contenders. However, as the 200-mile race wound on, the Black Label Bacon/Menards Toyota just fell further away from the lead pack.
As Harry Hogge once said in Days of Thunder, “loose is fast, and on the edge of out of control.” For much of Friday night, Crafton skirted with that line.
Crafton started the race like his pants were on fire. Starting eighth, he was able to take advantage of the outside line to charge all the way up to third on the first lap. Within three circuits, he was right on top of Chase Briscoe for the lead and looking to the inside. Crafton was never able to get that edge.
Slowly but surely, Crafton began to drop down the order as the neon yellow Toyota got looser and looser.
“For the first run, we were pretty good for the first half, then we got really free,” Crafton said to MRN Radio after the race. “As the night went on, we just got freer and freer. We would tighten [the truck] up, but it would only work half of the run before going away really really bad.”
For Crafton, the loose feeling was the same sensation he’d felt during the morning practice sessions. The truck would enter the turn fairly well, but then get loose in the middle and kill his momentum.
When asked how loose was ideal to optimally race at Homestead, Crafton stated that “you need maybe a ‘one’ loose.” That translates to a mostly neutral vehicle that you can turn into the corner well. On Friday night, Crafton’s truck was an eight out of 10 loose. That’s not going to work.
During the final stage, Crafton’s loose situation got worse and worse. He fell behind his rivals. Despite the spread out nature of the race, though the No. 88 truck was still in position for a top-five finish. It was fellow title contender Austin Cindric who knocked Crafton out of the top five for good in the closing laps.
With that pass, Crafton ended finishing sixth, roughly half-a-lap behind race winner Briscoe. A consistent season ended with an unsatisfactory fourth-place finish in the championship. Regardless, Crafton is still thankful to ThorSport Racing for a solid year, his fifth straight ending the year inside the top 5 in points.
“All in all, can’t thank these guys enough, everybody back at the shop,” Crafton said during his post-race press conference. “They work so hard on these trucks to give us this opportunity.”
For 2018, Crafton will be right back in the No. 88 Toyota for ThorSport Racing. It will be his 17th full season with the Ohio-based team and their goal remains the same: snag another title.