Veteran Crafton wins his first race at Kansas Speedway

Matt Crafton’s phone rang at 7:30 Saturday morning. No, it wasn’t his wife, Ashley, who is expecting the couple’s first child any day, calling to say it was time.

It was Crafton’s racing better half, crew chief Carl Joiner Jr.

Joiner told Crafton to be prepared, the ThorSport Racing team, after a dismal practice session on Friday at Kansas Speedway, was going to change the set-up and everything in their NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series No. 88 Toyota.

And he meant everything.

Four springs the sway bar ..sway bar arms .. two shocks tenths of pounds of air pressure

“You wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re constantly thinking about that race truck,” Joiner said. “We changed every single thing on that truck.”

The changes paid off as Crafton finally broke through at Kansas Speedway. Crafton, who has made more starts and run more laps than any other driver in the trucks series, outdueled Joey Coulter down the final 20 laps on won the SFP 250 by 0.167 seconds. Rookie Ryan Blaney was third.

It was just the third career win by Crafton, who has made a series-record 298 consecutive starts, and his first since he won at Iowa Speedway in 2011.

“We were 18th in the second practice, and we were a 20th place truck at best on Friday,” Crafton said. “This truck was junk on Friday. We knew we had something to win with about halfway through this race.”

In 12 previous starts at Kansas Speedway, Crafton had finished no better than fifth, and that was way back in 2004. But this was the series’ first start on the newly paved and reconfigured surface, and Crafton, 36, felt comfortable on the track.

“This is definitely a different Kansas than it has been in the past, that’s for sure,” Crafton said. “At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the track, because everybody was around the bottom.

Halfway through the race, people started moving up, and we started getting a second groove.

“It wasn’t easy to run side-by-side, but you could run somewhat side-by-side, and that’s what was really cool about it.”

The race featured a record 11 different leaders, breaking the mark of 10 in 2011; and 18 lead changes, topping the record of 16, which occurred three times, most recently in 2012.

Crafton, who had led four laps early in the race, made his move on rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. on a res-start with 30 laps to go, and held off the hard-charging Coulter, who was seeking his first trucks win.

“This new pavement, there’s so much grip, you can drive these trucks wide open the whole time,” Coulter, 22, said of his pursuit of Crafton. “Kansas has always been one of my favorite tracks, and the repave made it all faster. You can run everywhere. These trucks can’t go any faster than what they’re going. It’s fun to race them like that.”

Crafton felt Coulter’s Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota bearing down on him.

“I knew he was there, and he had very, very fast truck,” said Crafton, who had three top-10 finishes in three starts coming into the race.” I knew that he wasn’t going to be one of those drivers who was going to do anything stupid and run into the back of me or try to do a dive bomb and try to take me out or do anything like that.

“I just kept moving around down the straightaway just trying to break the draft so he couldn’t get that run.”

The victory moved Crafton into second place in the points race, 12 points behind teammate Johnny Sauter, who finished fifth. Sauter won the first two trucks races, so ThorSport has won three of the first four races this season.

“If we can just give Matt what he wants,” said Joiner. “He knows what he wants. If we can find it, we’ll go out there and win races. That’s what we did.”