|Matt Crafton wins for the fifth time this season.|
|Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images|
Two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton survived a wild wreck-filled afternoon to win Saturday's Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway to keep his hopes for a third-straight title alive with just three races remaining to finish out the season.
Crafton lead the final 63 laps and beat out his teammate Cameron Hayley on a final restart and beat out with eight laps to go and then held off rookie John Hunter Nemechek to sew up his fifth win of the season and move to within 10 points of leader Erik Jones in the championship battle.
Hayley finished third, followed by Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick.
Crafton's victory puts him back in the championship picture after a disastrous 24th-place finish last weekend at Talladega dropped him to third in points with a 23-point deficit on Jones.
"We've got a long ways to go," said Crafton of the championship battle. "This win is very big, if you look at the last few races &&& Talladega, Las Vegas and we've led the most laps in all those. I have no idea what we led today, but we led enough and we led the right one.
"If we go out and execute and do the same thing we did today and the same thing we've done the last two races and have luck on our side and not have any problems like we did at Talladega and not have any problems like we did at Las Vegas, we can win the championship."
Saturday's race was a sheet-metal grinding test of survival that featured 12 caution flags including four in the final 25 laps alone.
|Cole Custer (00) leads John Hunter Nemechek (8) and Matt Crafton (88)|
|Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images|
Crafton had started 13th on the day and had worked his way into the top five by lap 60, while up front the race was turning into a battle of young guns as 17-year-old's Custer and Gray Gaulding fought it out for the lead with 18-year-old Nemechek.
Crafton moved into the top three following a round of yellow-flag stops on lap 127 then moved into second behind Nemechek just as the caution came out three laps later.
On the restart, Crafton got a good jump on the outside as Nemechek got jacked up off the front bumper of Spencer Gallagher, getting Nemechek sideways as Crafton got away clean to take over the lead.
Nemechek pulled off the save and managed to hold onto third place and then moved back into second with 20 laps to go.
The final caution flag of the day waved with just three laps to go for a five-truck crash on the frontstretch that set up a green-white-checkered finish.
On the final restart, Crafton pulled out in front of Hayley to hold the lead going through turn one as Nemechek pushed his way to the inside of Hayley to hold onto second, but Crafton was already half-a-straightaway out front and on his way to the checkered flag.
Nemechek ended the day with his fifth top five finish in the last seven races while Hayley notched his 15th top 10 finish of the year.
"We ran top-three all day. I couldn't be happier with the guys. All weekend long, the worst we did was third in practice. I couldn't be happier," said Hayley. "The racing got really rough out there. John Hunter (Nemechek) has it coming to him later in Phoenix. There is no reason why you should just drive into someone that hard, but I guess its short track racing and just a great run for us."
|Timothy Peters (17) spun out three times during the afternoon but still managed to finish sixth|
|Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images|
Erik Jones somehow managed to stay out of trouble and finished 10th to hold onto the points lead but lost ground to both Crafton and Reddick, who dropped one spot to third in the standings, now three points behind Crafton.
"It's disappointing for sure. This team is capable of a lot more than that," said Jones. "I thought our Tundra was pretty good in practice, but as the day went on and we kind of got into it, it just started to show that we weren't where we thought we were and we just weren't able to really rebound from that and make the right adjustments to make it back to where we needed to be during the day.
"Pitting there at the end, I thought that would be the right call to take four (tires), but obviously it didn't work out. We just got back farther in traffic with all the cautions and things just didn't work out for us."
Johnny Sauter finished ninth to stay fourth in points, and Timothy Peters rallied from three spins on the day to finish sixth and hold onto the fifth points position.
|2||8||John Hunter Nemechek||Chevy||3||200||32||Running||43|
|11||05||John Wes Townley||Chevy||26||200||0||Running||33|
|20||07||Ray Black Jr||Chevy||21||200||0||Running||24|
|31||10||Jennifer Jo Cobb||Chevy||32||186||0||Running||13|