Since regaining the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead last month at Chicagoland, reigning series champion Matt Crafton has built it up to a 19-point edge over teammate Johnny Sauter.
But now Crafton and his pursuers face a Saturday of survival at Talladega Superspeedway in the Fred’s 250 (1 p.m. ET, check local listings).
“You are just waiting for someone to make a mistake that you are going to get caught up in – you have zero control,” Crafton said this week about NASCAR’s wildest track.
“Racing at Talladega is just like going out and buying a lottery ticket. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There’s just no telling, but you’ve got to play the game.”
“We’ve just got to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, which is racing to win each and every week – being aggressive when we can be but above all, being smart.”
The Truck Series weekend began this morning with a two-hour practice session that was led by Ben Kennedy’s lap of 188.902 mph around the 2.66-mile oval.
Mason Mingus (188.872), Tayler Malsam (188.857), Ryan Sieg (188.835), and Spencer Gallagher (188.824) rounded out the Top 5 speeds in the session.
With five races to go in the season, a poor finish can have a major impact on the title contenders – Crafton, Sauter, Ryan Blaney (-27 points) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (-34 points).
They’ll all be seeking to avoid Talladega’s signature Big One, which is always just one touch, one mistake away.
In the final moments of last year’s Truck Series race at ‘Dega, contact in the tri-oval between Jeb Burton and Miguel Paludo set off a 12-car pileup that put Paludo on his roof and sent Justin Lofton to the hospital for a fractured left thumb.
Ahead of the mayhem was Sauter, who won the race and could use a repeat performance as he tries to claw back some of the ground he’s lost to Crafton in recent races.
Blaney will be pulling double duty this weekend. In addition to trying to mount one last charge for the Truck Series title, he’ll also compete in a third Team Penske car (No. 12) for Sunday’s Sprint Cup main event, the GEICO 500.
As for Wallace, he’s finished second in each of the last two Truck Series races (New Hampshire, Las Vegas). However, those results have done little to pull him closer to Crafton, and he’ll likely need some help in the final races to boost his hopes of a title.
Two interesting notes: Kyle Busch Motorsports’ part-time driver and Vegas winner Erik Jones will be making his restrictor-plate debut this weekend, while NASCAR Mexico Series star Daniel Suarez will make his series debut for Win-Tron Racing.
Like Blaney, Suarez will be pulling a double this weekend. After ‘Dega, he’ll fly to Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico to compete in the next-to-last race of the NASCAR Mexico season. He’s currently down five points to Abraham Calderon for the points lead in that series.