KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Matt Crafton snapped a 67-race winless drought in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series with a convincing triumph Saturday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.
Crafton got a huge shove from Christian Eckes to take the lead during the final restart of the EPT 200, then held every advance Eckes made over the remaining 22 laps at bay en route to the victory.
Though Eckes made several bids to the bottom of the track inside of 10 to go, as well as hounded the rear bumper of the No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 down the stretch, Crafton held true and ultimately took the checkered flag in front by .324 seconds.
It was Crafton’s 15th career Truck Series win, first of the season and first since July of 2017 at the half-mile Eldora Speedway dirt track in Rossburg, Ohio.
With that said, Saturday marked Crafton’s first score in the Gander Trucks on pavement since May 21, 2016 at North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway.
That meant that Crafton understandably took a few moments to savor his latest triumph after such a long wait in between trips to victory lane.
“Man, this one is very, very sweet. There’s not a lot of give up in these guys, without a doubt. This Menards Ford F-150 was good, really good all day. It was good on that last run as well today. The (No.) 18 had a little bit of speed and was making me nervous right there. I was trying to take his line away from him and make him tight and loose.
“At the end of the day, I can’t thank these guys enough for working so hard on this thing each and every week,” Crafton noted. “I just had to hit my marks and not make a mistake. When we started getting tight across the center – and that’s where he would gain on me was entering the center – I just wanted to drive it in there deep, and I drove it in too deep a couple times and slid the nose where he’d make up ground. I just had to tell myself to slow down in the corner so I could beat him off the corner.”
Eckes tried his hardest to find a way around Crafton in the final laps, but had to settle for his second-straight runner-up finish.
He cited a hole in his No. 18 Toyota Tundra’s nose as a defining factor in the closing laps.
“I thought I got a little tight, but I got a hole in the nose and just got tight behind him (Crafton),” said Eckes. “Overall, just what a comeback for our Safelite Tundra team. We sucked yesterday. I can’t sugar coat it, we were terrible. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and the guys worked really, really hard last night and this morning to get it better. We still started the race a little bit off, but the truck came to us and was perfect at the end.
“I just got a little tight behind him. I was good in one corner and not the other,” Eckes added. “We just need to get back to the shop and get a little better I guess.”
Grant Enfinger put on a late charge to come home third, followed by Tanner Gray and Ben Rhodes, who gave ThorSport Racing three trucks inside the top five at the finish.
Friday winner Austin Hill, who led the field coming to the final restart with 22 to go, faded to sixth ahead of Derek Kraus, Brandon Jones, Zane Smith and Chase Purdy.
Smith won the first two stages, which were largely clean, with the only caution for incident prior to lap 60 coming when Bryan Dauzat spun in turn two on lap 42.
However, the final stage featured six caution flags for various incidents, the biggest of which was a 12-truck pileup on a lap-83 restart sparked after Gray turned Clay Greenfield around into the pack.
The chain-reaction crash led to a five-minute, seven-second red flag before racing was able to resume.
NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams will resume action Aug. 7 at Michigan Int’l Speedway.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.