Crafton wins UNOH 225 after crash halts race short of scheduled distance
Matt Crafton earned his first career Camping World Truck Series victory on Thursday at Kentucky Speedway after NASCAR stopped the UNOH 225 five laps from the scheduled finish.
The trucks driven by Ben Kennedy, David Gilliland and John Wes Townley were involved in a wreck that resulted in damage to the catch fence in Turn 1. Kennedy's truck lifted off the ground, slid along the top of the SAFER barrier while hitting the fence.
The 23-year-old son of International Speedway Corp. chief executive officer Lesa France Kennedy and great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was checked and released from the infield care center. No fans were injured in the incident.
"I was coming down the front straightaway and I heard, 'Clear,'" on the radio, Kennedy said. "I guess (Gilliland) had a run on the outside. As soon as I heard clear I wanted to get a good arc into the corner so I started heading up toward the wall, got hit in the right rear and I guess the rest is really history.
"I ended up on top of the wall for a while. You don't really know what to expect being up there. Going down from the wall to the ground was a pretty hard hit as well. Thank the good Lord for keeping me safe out there."
Two metal support posts were damaged to such an extent that they needed to be replaced. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said the repairs would take a minimum of 90 minutes. Kentucky Speedway, which is scheduled to host an XFINITY Series race on Friday and the Sprint Cup Series on Saturday, had all necessary equipment on site to make the repairs.
"The fence performed exactly the way it's designed to perform," Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger said. "We've got experts on standby who are over there repairing it as we speak. It should be good as new in a matter of hours."
The track reinforced its catch fence in spectator areas before the 2013 Sprint Cup race by installing vertical steel cables between support posts. The cables are anchored into the concrete retaining wall and connected to the existing horizontal steel cables with a steel clasp.
Thursday’s incident occurred three days after Austin Dillon’s car went airborne and smashed into the catch fence at the end of the Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Dillon walked away from the crash but five fans were injured.
“It’s a perfect storm," Crafton said. “I have no idea what happened there. I definitely think NASCAR made the right call in calling it….We’re going fast. Stuff does happen. It was really good to see that Ben got out and walked away under his own power.”
Crafton led two times for 43 laps in the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota. Prior to Thursday, he had led 36 in 16 career Truck Series starts at Kentucky Speedway. It was his fourth victory this season and ninth career. He leads Tyler Reddick by 20 points in the standings through 10 races.
Crafton took the decisive lead from Erik Jones on a restart with six laps remaining. Jones led a race-most 55 laps and finished second in the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five.
“It’s a bummer that we didn’t win tonight,” Jones said. “There is nothing that we can do about it. We just have to move on to the next one and keep bringing fast trucks. (Crafton) had a little more speed than us tonight. When we were in clean air, we could hold them off and we had a good Tundra.
“I am glad that everyone in the stands is okay. That was pretty nasty and pretty crazy to see two weeks in a row. I am proud of these guys. We’ll keep working hard and bring something a little better next time.”
Rain earlier in the day canceled practice and qualifying, so owner points determined the order of the starting lineup. Crafton started from the pole for second time at Kentucky Speedway.
“The set up that (crew chief Carl Joiner) Junior came with this weekend was so far different from what we have had here in the past, because we haven’t been that good here the last two years,” Crafton said. “The way that Junior had this Menards Toyota Tundra handling each and every week, my hat’s off to him. He swung the bat this week big and hit a home run.”
NASCAR instituted a competition caution on Lap 20 and allowed teams an extra set of tires for the race. The 31-truck field included 17 drivers who were making their first Kentucky Truck Series start. Included was Cody Coughlin, who was making his Truck Series debut.
Thursday’s race was stopped one other time, for 3 minutes, 28 seconds, after Spencer Gallagher hit the wall in Turn 1 with 140 of the scheduled 150 laps complete.
With the victory, Crafton is tied for the most top-five finishes (five) and holds the record for most top-10 finishes (12) in Truck Series competition at Kentucky Speedway. His best finish in the Truck Series at Kentucky Speedway before Thursday was third in 2008 and 2009.