MARTINSVILLE — Matt Crafton won his second career NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, holding off John Hunter Nemechek and ThorSport Racing teammate Cameron Hayley on three separate restarts in the closing laps of the Kroger 200.
Crafton won his fifth race of the 2015 season and now trails championship leader Erik Jones, who finished 10th, by 10 points going into next week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It’s very big,” Crafton said of the importance of closing the gap with three races left in the season. “If you look at the last couple races we led the most laps. But today we led enough laps and led the right lap. We’ve had some very fast trucks, and it’s all about what [Crew Chief Carl “Junior” Joiner] and every one of these guys have been building and bringing to the track. Finally we got to finish off what we started with the last two races.”
Nemechek qualified third and stayed near the front the entire race. But in the final third of the race he had a hard time keeping his truck glued in the center of the turns. The outside lane was especially unforgiving, and Nemechek nearly found himself shuffled out of contention on a restart.
“[My team] gave me a great truck,” Nemechek said. “Sadly, I couldn’t capitalize, and I made the mistake on one of the last restarts and nailed every one but one. It stinks because it cost us the race. We’ll take the momentum, though, and move on.”
Crafton became the truck to beat after pole sitter Cole Custer was sent to the tail end of the lead lap with 76 laps to go for speeding on pit road.
Crafton overtook Nemechek on Lap 138 for the lead and led the rest of the way. Custer, who lead a race-high 96 laps, battled back from the penalty and finished fourth.
When the field came to the green flag for the restart on Lap 198, Nemechek had the inside line, as Hayley and Crafton made up the front row. But Nemechek couldn’t get past Crafton out of Turn 2, and had his mirror full of Hayley going into Turn 3.
“It was just good, hard racing,” Nemechek said. “There were some close battles, and everyone was hitting and moving each other. It’s great to come home second, and I can’t thank my guys enough.”
For Crafton, starting alongside his teammate gave him some reassurance because with Crafton battling for a third Truck Series championship, he knew crashing for the win wasn’t an option.
“Cameron had a very fast truck,” Crafton said. “Those guys did a very good job, and I’m really proud of all those guys on that team. They ran really good today. I knew my teammate was going to race me clean. He wasn’t going to do anything to lose points. That was very reassuring.”
Nemechek thought he could get by Crafton on that final restart, but the 18-year-old just couldn’t get the jump and positioning he needed.