In terms of drama and tension, perhaps only a Kardashian weekend reunion rivals the stretch run of the Camping World Truck Series, where the circuit’s king of the road is fighting to regain his throne for a third consecutive season.
His main rival — and the front-runner — is one of NASCAR’s new generation of wonder boys.
Hard-charging two-time defending champion Matt Crafton enters Friday’s WinStar World Casino and Resort 350 at Texas Motor Speedway 10 points back of Erik Jones, the 19-year-old who is vying for his first NASCAR crown.
For Crafton, Jones and Tyler Reddick, also 19 and in third, the mindset is just win, baby, while all three and their camps work over worry beads trying to avoid the bad mojo that can wipe out the best of intentions.
14 Top-10 finishes in the past 15 races at 1 1/2-mile tracks such as Texas Motor Speedway
The race begins at 7:30 p.m. Qualifying starts at 3:40.
“I’m not worried about it,” Crafton, 39, said of visions of a third consecutive title. “I’m just going to go into the next three races and try to lead the most laps and win the race. I know how it was trying to win my first championship. The sleepless nights when you’re points leader and wondering what can go wrong.
“It’s his championship to lose and ours to win. He’s got to be on defense and all we have to do is play offense and try not to make any mistakes.”
Crafton charged into Jones’ rear view mirror with his fifth victory of the season last week at Martinsville. His reputation as a master on the 1 1/2 -mile tracks, such as TMS, would seem to give him an edge.
Crafton has earned 14 top-10 finishes in his past 15 starts at such tracks, including a victory at WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 by a half-second over Daniel Suarez in June at the Fort Worth speedway.
Points standings: 1, Erik Jones, 766; 2, Matt Crafton, 756; 3, Tyler Reddick, 753; 4, Johnny Sauter, 722; 5, Timothy Peters, 680.
Before a dominating performance at Martinsville, Crafton and his No. 88 Toyota appeared all but done after a dismal finish at Talladega in which he encountered every type of adversity, including running out of fuel, on the way to a 24th-place finish.
Nonetheless, he led the most laps there before all his troubles, and he did the same at the Rhino Linings 350 the week before that at Las Vegas in placing eighth.
In addition to June, Crafton has won one other time here, in the spring race of 2014.
Jones won the pole in June, but his emergence at TMS and in NASCAR circles occurred a couple of months before with triumph in Xfinity race in April.
Despite his age, Jones seems to be as composed as a 75-year-old chess player.
Though this is his first run at a title in the minor league’s of NASCAR, he comes with some experience in closing championship seasons in late models.
He’s coming off a 10th place at Martinsville.
“Obviously, the 88 team and Matt and Tyler [Reddick] have been running well,” said Jones, driver of the No. 4 owned by Kyle Busch Motorsports. “I felt like Martinsville was definitely going to be a rough one for us and it was. It didn’t work out how we wanted it to, so we’ll go into this weekend and the next few with definitely high hopes that these tracks have been good to us in the past.”
The truck series is a stopping-off point for Jones and Reddick, both of whom figure to have bright futures in NASCAR’s top circuits. Crafton is a trucks lifer, having found his niche and a good living working for ThorSport Racing.
He made his Sprint Cup debut in February’s Daytona 500, subbing for Kyle Busch, and has fewer than a handful of Xfinity Series starts the past two years.
So, though he continues to say let the chips fall where they may, it’s hard to believe Crafton doesn’t have a competitive urge to protect his territory.
“There’s a reason I’ve stayed in the truck series — it’s great racing,” Crafton said. “If you want to watch a great race on Friday night or Saturday you’re going to watch the truck race. We just have to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing the last couple of months.
“We all three have fast trucks. May the best man win.”
Winstar World Casino & Resort 350
7:30 p.m. Friday, Texas Motor Speedway, FS1