CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It took 4.5 hours of practice Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to set the table for Friday’s one-day NASCAR Camping World Truck Series show.
And when it was all over, the top-three drivers in the current NCWTS point standings — two of them representing ThorSport Racing — appeared to be set up as the main threats for both the pole position and potentially the victory in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, the fifth race of the Truck Series’ season.
There was some concern before the first of the 38 entered trucks got on track Thursday morning that all the extra practice time, mandated by NASCAR’s selecting Charlotte as the site of one of two open tests this season, wouldn’t relate to the 201-mile race that will start Friday night as the sun sets.
In the morning practice, ThorSport’s Johnny Sauter kept his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota inside the top-five for most of the two-hour session, despite running only 11 laps. His teammate Matt Crafton got his No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota on-track relatively late, but ended up turning 21 laps that launched him into the top 10 midway through the practice.
Richard Childress Racing’s Ty Dillon ended up topping that practice sheet with a lap in 30.12 seconds, an average speed of 179.283 mph. Sauter (30.527 / 176.893) was eighth and Crafton (30.551 / 176.754) was 10th.
It was the afternoon practice, that ran from 2-4:30 p.m., that might’ve provided a better look at what might happen in Friday’s Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session, which is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Crafton’s first of 34 laps in the 2.5-hour session was his fastest of the day, 30.083 seconds, an average speed of 179.503 mph. That stood up until the last half-hour of practice, when Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Jeb Burton turned the day’s best lap (29.905 / 180.572), followed a few minutes later by Timothy Peters’ second-best effort (29.926 / 180.445). Just before Peters turned his hot lap Sauter, on his 28th and final lap of practice turned the fourth-best lap of the session and his best of the day, 30.237 / 178.589.
Todd Bodine, who with his No. 13 Mattei Air Compressors Toyota will seek to win his first career NASCAR points race at Charlotte in his 10th career Truck start there, his fifth this season for ThorSport, turned 51 laps in the two practices. His best came on his 38th and final lap (30.846 / 175.063) of the afternoon practice, which locked him into 26th spot.
The scoring monitor told nothing of what any of the teams were working on at any moment of practice, but what’s a fact is Crafton’s 13-point lead in the championship over Sauter, who’s tied with Burton for second in the points. It’s also a fact that Crafton, who won the last series race, four weeks ago on the similar 1.5-mile track at Kansas Speedway and who won his first career Truck race at Charlotte in 2008, isn’t going to do anything different Friday night even if he is leading the championship for the sixth time in his career.
Crafton said there was way too much racing to go this season to worry too much about the point standings, preferring instead to simply concentrate on continuing his streak of strong finishes — top-10s in all four races this season.
“You concentrate on doing your job — what you did to get yourself in that position in the standings that we’re in right now,” Crafton said. “You can’t start points racing, though whoever tells you they’re not looking at the points is lying… But you don’t let points affect the decisions you make on the racetrack.
“We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing. The reason why we’re where we are in the points is because we’ve been working our butts off and I’ve been driving my butt off. You’re not going to do anything stupid — like taking the chances you might take with two races to go and you’re 10th in points and you need to take a chance to try and win.
“You might throw some Hail Marys to get a win in that case, but right now you’re not going to do anything tremendously stupid to get yourself tore-up and lose points. That’s the biggest thing, it’s just business-as-usual.”
Friday’s single Truck Series practice is an 80-minute session at 10:30 a.m.
The North Carolina Education Lottery 200 is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET, with live coverage on the SPEED Channel, with “The Set-up” pre-race show at 7:30 p.m. MRN Radio has the live radio broadcast, also beginning at 7:30.