Matt Crafton Wins To Keep Title Hopes Alive

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.

Results

Pos No. Driver Make Start Laps Led Status Points
1 88 Matt Crafton Toyota 13 200 63 Running 47
2 8 John Hunter Nemechek Chevy 3 200 32 Running 43
3 13 Cameron Hayley Toyota 2 200 0 Running 41
4 00 Cole Custer Chevy 1 200 96 Running 42
5 19 Tyler Reddick Ford 4 200 0 Running 39
6 17 Timothy Peters Toyota 11 200 0 Running 38
7 33 Brandon Jones Chevy 16 200 0 Running 37
8 75 Caleb Holman Chevy 18 200 0 Running 36
9 98 Johnny Sauter Toyota 17 200 0 Running 35
10 4 Erik Jones Toyota 8 200 0 Running 34
11 05 John Wes Townley Chevy 26 200 0 Running 33
12 14 Daniel Hemric Chevy 5 200 0 Running 32
13 02 Tyler Young Chevy 9 200 0 Running 31
14 11 Ben Kennedy Toyota 10 200 0 Running 30
15 50 Travis Kvapil Chevy 23 200 0 Running 29
16 51 Daniel Suarez Toyota 6 200 0 Running 0
17 18 Ross Kenseth Toyota 25 200 0 Running 0
18 15 Mason Mingus Chevy 19 200 0 Running 26
19 82 Austin Hill Ford 27 200 0 Running 25
20 07 Ray Black Jr Chevy 21 200 0 Running 24
21 54 Gray Gaulding Toyota 7 200 9 Running 24
22 63 Bobby Pierce Chevy 28 200 0 Running 22
23 92 David Gilliland Ford 12 200 0 Running 0
24 1 Camden Murphy Chevy 30 200 0 Running 20
25 29 Austin Cindric Ford 14 200 0 Running 19
26 94 Timmy Hill Chevy 24 199 0 Running 18
27 08 Brandon Hightower Chevy 29 196 0 Running 17
28 5 Dalton Sargeant Toyota 15 196 0 Running 16
29 23 Spencer Gallagher Chevy 20 196 0 Running 15
30 74 Paige Decker Chevy 31 193 0 Running 14
31 10 Jennifer Jo Cobb Chevy 32 186 0 Running 13
32 32 JJ Haley Chevy 22 119 0 Accident 12


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