After watching some domination combined with gambles and mistakes, it seems that the battle for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship has only gotten thicker. Coming into the Rhino Linings 350(k) on Saturday night, Erik Jones held a seven point lead over Matt Crafton. Though following the event, that lead has now shrunk down to only four points.
For Jones, he can leave Las Vegas Motor Speedway thankful that the gap wasn’t shrunk any smaller than it was based on how his weekend went. For one, he had to start at the rear of the field due to changing the motor following qualifying. He quickly was able to make his way to the front of the field and looked to be on his way to a top-five finish, when he ran out of fuel going into turn one on the last lap. He would finish ninth, instead.
“It’s full of ups and downs,” Jones said of his day. “Started at the back there. Fortunately we put a new motor before the race and it really woke our tundra up and we were able to get up to the top 15, and then the top five and then the top three there at the end. I trying to save as much fuel as I could at the end and I saw the 17 coming and tried to hustle it and unfortunately it ran out. It was a good fight and all we could do to get a good finish out of it. I think it’s the best outcome for us considering how the day started.”
Meanwhile, Crafton picked up the bonus points for leading the most laps as he dominated the event, leading the majority of the laps after starting on the pole. However, playing it safe on fuel, Crafton made a late-race pit stop with four laps to go for a splash of fuel so he could make it to the end. He would finish eighth.
“It was alright,” Crafton commented. “We had a lot of speed during the day. the track didn’t quite free up as much as we thought it would. The third run we made a big swing at it and I was really happy at it with the end. I went to saving fuel and then they went to adding and said I wouldn’t make it. So we came down pit road and still ran out of fuel in turn one after the checkered. All in all, it was a solid day – could’ve been worse.”
While the battle is focused on these two, there is a third driver that could sneak in and snag the championship. Daytona winner Tyler Reddick sits third in points, only 16 points behind Jones. Reddick finished seventh in the event after a trying day of his own.
He had to fight back to the front after getting involved in an early wreck with his Brad Keselowski Racing teammate. Reddick would get sideways through the middle of the corner on lap 15 and just about had it saved off of corner, when his teammate Austin Theriault would cross right into his path. The pair would make contact, sending Theriault straight up into a non-SAFER barrier outside wall.
For Reddick, it caused some left front fender damage to his truck. He made multiple trips down pit road, getting repairs, before working his way back through the field.
“My guys worked real hard on the truck,” he commented. “It was all tore up after that contact when I tore up a couple of good trucks. Just have to give all the props to my crew. They did all that work and to finish seventh in points ahead of those guys that we’re racing in points. I didn’t do my part – they did do their part and we got a good finish. it’s been shaky on my part lately but I know when I get it right that I have a team behind me.”
With five races remaining on the schedule and a wild card in the form of Talladega Superpeedway in a couple weeks, this is certainly looking like a battle that will go right down to the wire.