NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series iron man ruled Friday’s WinStar World Casino 400 with the most unforgiving iron fist.
Matt Crafton controlled the field — leading a career-best 118 of the 167 laps — winning before a sparse crowd estimated at 40,000 by the largest margin at a trucks event at Texas Motor Speedway after successfully gambling to go without a pit and fuel up in the last 61 laps.
The defending series champion’s No. 88 was 13.302 seconds ahead of runner-up and pole-sitter Justin Lofton, in the No. 20 Chevrolet, and more than 16 seconds faster than Joe Nemechek and his No. 8 Toyota Tundra.
“To be able to do it in this fashion ...” said Crafton, who holds the record for consecutive starts on the circuit and had three runner-up finishes at TMS in 26 previous starts. “We always wanted to whoop them by leading the most laps. We finally did it.
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“This truck was flawless.”
Crafton, 37, rebounded well from not finishing last week at Dover, his first DNF in 48 consecutive starts.
The victory was Crafton’s second in 2014 — the first time in his career he’s won more than twice in a season — and fifth in 322 career starts in the series.
In winning for the first time in 27 starts at TMS, Crafton took over the series lead from Timothy Peters, who did not finish the race because of an accident in Lap 51.
Crafton will enter next week’s race in Illinois 11 points ahead of Johnny Sauter, a two-time truck series winner at TMS.
While his closest competitors hit the pits to refuel down the stretch, Crafton and his team decided to forgo not only a fill-up, but even a splash of fuel.
“I asked them if we could make it,” Crafton said. “They said, ‘yeah.’ ”
Crafton had such a big lead he could afford to slow to save fuel, perhaps “the hardest thing to do as a race-car driver … slow down.”
“The run before we got really good fuel mileage,” crew chief Carl Joiner said. “The run before proved we could get the mileage we needed. And Matt did a good job saving fuel.”
Lofton earned his second top-10 in eight races at TMS. The veteran Nemechek, a one-time Nationwide Series champion here, made his debut in the series Friday night.
“My guys were telling me I was close on fuel and I’m running with the same engine … he had to be right on the edge,” said Nemechek, who qualified sixth and made his third top-10 this season. He shares the ride with his son, John Hunter Nemechek.
Crafton, who started on the front row with Lofton, battled Ryan Blaney for a good portion of the run. Blaney led 45 laps.
Another veteran driver, 55-year-old Ron Hornaday Jr., a four-time series champion with 55 career victories, climbed to third in the series standings after coming in sixth. He flirted in the top three throughout.
Peters fell back to fifth after sliding out in an oil slick caused by German Quiroga’s blown engine.
“We didn’t start out so great,” Lofton said. “We made adjustments. Right at the end we hit on something. [Crafton] was strong all night. He said I stole one of his trophies [in qualifying] and now he stole one of mine.”