LAS VEGAS – Two former NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champions rallied from adversity to post podium finishes during Friday night’s Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Both Brett Moffitt and Matt Crafton encountered various issues during the 134-lap distance at the 1.5-mile Sin City oval, but came back late in the final stage to contend up front, finishing second and third, respectively.
Moffitt, the defending series titlist, had an air hose get caught underneath the right-rear fender of his No. 24 Chevrolet during his pit stop at the end of the second stage. That forced a lengthy stay on pit road and an extra trip down for service, dropping him to the tail of the lead lap for the second half.
Unfazed, Moffitt eventually worked his way back forward and cycled out into second – just behind race leader Kyle Busch – following the final round of green-flag pit stops inside of 25 laps to go.
After pitting four laps sooner than Busch and running faster laps on his two fresh tires, Moffitt closed to within a truck length of Busch’s rear bumper with 15 to go, but lost the handle of his truck as Busch moved down to defend and faded out of contention for the victory.
Moffitt crossed under the checkered flag 1.211 seconds adrift of Busch’s No. 51 Toyota Tundra, but was still pleased with his team’s comeback and overall effort.
“Tonight was just hard. We had to really use our stuff up driving back to the front,” noted Moffitt, the defending series champion. “Another pit road mistake cost us a lot tonight. I’m not saying we could’ve beat him (Busch), but it sure would’ve been nice to have a little bit more time there.
“I had one chance to get to his bumper,” he added. “I knew it was going to be a make-or-break move. Unfortunately, it was ‘break.’”
Meanwhile, Crafton bounced back from a lap-six crash on the frontstretch – in which he sustained left-rear fender damage as part of the four-truck melee – to finish third, his best result of the season so far.
Crafton’s main focus was out his windshield all night long, not on the damage at the rear of his truck.
“I just kept trying to tell myself that (the damage) really wasn’t that bad, but I could hear the crew beating on it (on pit road) and I could tell in their voices how nervous they were about it,” said Crafton, who scored back-to-back series titles in 2013 and 2014. “It made the truck pretty free in … but when they dropped the green (again) this thing was a rocketship.
“This was the (No.) 88 team of old tonight, and I think we’ve got our wheels back now.”
Leaving Las Vegas, Moffitt moves up two spots to fifth in points, while Crafton sits seventh in the standings. Both are within 21 points of championship leader Grant Enfinger.
Despite a dominant performance out front by eventual winner Busch on Friday night, the two champions served notice that neither of them are going anywhere any time soon.
Not only that, they certainly won’t be going down quietly in the battle for race wins this season.