Matt Crafton and his ThorSport Racing team miscalculated the effect of Michigan International Speedway's new pavement on 2012's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, but Crafton claims that won't happen to Crafton's No. 88 Great Lakes Wood Floors / Menards Toyota at this weekend's Michigan National Guard 200.
Crafton has a lot more riding on that gambit this week, as he's leading the Truck Series' standings for the eighth consecutive race weekend. Crafton's 52-point lead over top series rookie Jeb Burton leads to that optimistic view.
"Michigan's been a fairly cool racetrack for us, but the new pavement definitely threw us for a loop last year," Crafton said of the track, which was repaved prior to the 2012 season. "We struggled with it last year, but we do feel that we know where we went wrong so we'll show up with a new setup on it -- we definitely won't bring the same mindset we had last year."
Crafton's 11 career races at Michigan have delivered less-than-stellar results -- with an average start of 12.27 (best start, the pole in 2011) and an average finish of 17.91 (only two career top fives, fourth in 2009 and fifth in 2006). And Crafton's led only 23 laps in those races, with 20 of them coming in 2011, where he crashed with less than 10 laps left in the original distance before the race finished in "overtime."
Two of Crafton's four MIS DNFs have come in his last three starts, but before the repave, Crafton had qualified second, fourth and on the pole in 2011 -- proving his affinity for worn-out, multi-groove racetracks -- which Michigan once was.But one thing the new pavement hasn't changed is the combination you need to succeed there, Crafton said.
"You need handling -- to have the truck driving good and good horsepower, at the end of the day," Crafton said, chuckling. "That's what you need everywhere, but especially (at Michigan) because it's a two-mile racetrack and you're going to be wide-open the majority of the time."
Since Crafton currently is the only Truck Series driver with 11 consecutive top-10 finishes this season -- including a win at Kansas and second places at Martinsville and Dover -- his ThorSport Tundras have appeared to have handling and horsepower aplenty. More than anything, that's got him enthused for the season's 12th race.
"Last year (at Michigan) was one race, and I think the performance of this team and what Junior (Carl Joiner, crew chief) and my guys have done week-in and week-out proves this team, and this year are something special," Crafton said. "That's why we're bringing a whole different mindset to Michigan this weekend.
"We've learned a lot over the last couple of years -- especially what not to do, this time around at Michigan. we just need to keep our heads down and keep plugging away and finishing as good as we possibly can each week."
On Friday there are two Truck Series practice sessions, from 10:30-11:50 a.m. ET and 2-3:20 p.m. The final practice will be telecast live on the SPEED Channel.On Saturday, Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled for 9:35 a.m. ET. It will be the inaugural NCWTS show on FOX Sports 1, which replaces SPEED that day.
Saturday's 100-lap, 200-mile Michigan National Guard 200 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET, preceded at 12 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio's live broadcast also begins at 12.