BRISTOL, Tenn. — Matt Crafton should be near the top of the list of potential favorites for Saturday night’s Pinty’s Dirt Truck Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He just hasn’t been talked about.
Crafton won a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 2017, a victory that snapped a long winless drought for the now three-time series champion and inspired him to further explore more opportunities outside of his day job.
One thing led to another, and soon Crafton was trading slide jobs with the best in dirt modified racing, even as he continued to pursue success in the Truck Series.
Those two realms will intersect again this weekend, when Crafton will chase another marquee victory to add to the golden shovel trophy has from four years ago at Eldora.
“Man, one of my biggest wins I can honestly say was Eldora,” Crafton told reporters during a conference call in advance of the Bristol dirt weekend. “I won that race because I put so much into it myself. I spent so much of my hard-earned Truck (Series) money, money that I got from asphalt racing, to go and buy a dirt car and try to perfect that. That one is definitely one of my top wins without a doubt.
“It would be awesome to able to do it in Bristol, especially the first time NASCAR is on Bristol with the dirt. It’s a special weekend.”
Crafton spent the last week preparing for his Truck Series duties by racing on the Bristol dirt surface in his UMP modified during the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals.
While he recognizes some aspects of Saturday’s action will differ from the racing that occurred during the Bristol Dirt Nationals, Crafton acknowledged there are some parallels as well.
“Just seeing what the track did throughout a run and seeing how the track changed was important,” Crafton noted regarding what he learned. “All dirt tracks since I’ve been racing them these last few years, they all change, they all look a little different — where you can go, where you can’t go, where the preferred lane is and just seeing how much it would widen out. I definitely learned some stuff from doing it.
“(The track) will widen out if the track prep people will let it. It showed that the other night,” Crafton added. “We ran three-quarter up the way to the fence; we ran on the bottom. We put on some amazing races. I don’t know how many people were able to watch it, but the late models — the really, really fast stuff — was more painted in the middle of the race track, while the heavier cars put on probably the best race of the weekend. At the end of the day, that’s what the Trucks and the Cup cars are going to be because they are heavier vehicles. They were three-wide, four-wide at points and door slamming.
“It should be exciting, without a doubt.”
Though Saturday’s race will be a new challenge, Crafton doesn’t feel that it will take too long for the field to get up to speed and “figure out what it takes” to be successful at a dirt-covered Bristol.
“These guys are all really good race car drivers. They are going to figure it out without a doubt,” Crafton noted. “I hope for the Cup race’s sake and the Truck race’s sake that maybe at some point that on one of the breaks they work the track just a little bit at that point. The only thing that I’m a little bit worried about is it taking rubber — and if it takes rubber, it will become a one-lane race track at that point. That’s one of the things that I will be pushing for, is during one of the pit-stop breaks that we have that they go out there and work the track a little bit to get it where it’s multi-groove again.”
As for the favorites to win, Crafton isn’t necessarily circling himself, though he’d “like to think” he’ll be in the mix.
At the same time, he’s not overly concerned about the seven NASCAR Cup Series regulars who are dropping into the Truck Series field to turn laps ahead of Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race, either.
“I’m not so much worried about the Cup drivers,” Crafton said with a smile. “It’s the dirt guys [who cut their teeth in the discipline] that you have to be a little bit more worried about, I think.”
Saturday’s Pinty’s Dirt Truck Race is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start, with heat races earlier in the afternoon setting the field for the 150-lap main event.
Coverage will be carried on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.