For Matt Crafton, a familiar and favorite track like Kentucky Speedway could not come soon enough.
Crafton, running in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing, led the series driver standings after six races, but three consecutive disastrous finishes at Charlotte (26th), Kansas (18th) and Texas (29th) set him back to fifth in the standings.
His finish at Texas Speedway, the final race before the month-long break in the Truck Series schedule, was especially contentious.
On lap 88 of 168, Crafton tangled with Austin Dillon on the frontstretch. The right-rear side of Crafton's truck made contact with Dillon's front-left panel as Crafton moved up the track, sending Crafton nose-first into the wall at an angle. When his truck came to rest against the inside wall, the ThorSport veteran got out of his truck and walked toward the racetrack, looking for Dillon on the pace lap. When Dillon passed, Crafton raised his hands in frustration and anger.
"It was someone not having any patience. It's pretty ignorant, really, to get wrecked on the straightaway. That's the biggest thing," Crafton said. "It was halfway through the race, and there was give and take, just not trying to kill somebody or do something that stupid. But I guess he hasn't figured that out yet."
Despite the string of bad finishes, Crafton's No. 88 team is just 35 points behind Truck Series leader -- and his ThorSport teammate -- Johnny Sauter. Crafton is six points behind Dillon, in fourth place.
Since he sees the high finishes as bad luck, he said, there was no need for the No. 88 team to make major adjustments.
"We just need luck on our side. That's been our biggest problem," Crafton said. "In the last three races we've gone from leading the points to fifth in points. That's been our problem -- We've had fast trucks, but we haven't had the other part on our side.
"There's some little things that we might want to do a little bit different, but there's nothing we're going to change a lot. We're going to try to be a little bit smarter, pay attention to who you're racing around a little bit more and not get caught up in somebody else's mess."
Crafton has seen -- and overcome -- a similar challenge before. In 2010, he limped into the four-week vacation on three bad finishes, including 27th place following a blown engine in at Michigan right before the break. He was in tenth place in the driver standings. When racing resumed, Crafton put together four consecutive top-five finishes. He finished in the top 10 in each of the final 16 races of 2010 including nine top-five finishes.
Kentucky Speedway is in the tiny northern town of Sparta, closer to Cincinnati than to Lexington or Louisville. With a population of 230 as counted by the 2000 U.S. Census, Sparta will draw in more than 500 tourists for every resident of the town this weekend.
Kentucky Speedway hosts its first ever Sprint Cup race Saturday, and sold out its 106,000 grandstand tickets for the main event more than a week before the race.
Crafton's will make his 11th career start at Kentucky Thursday, where he has finished in the top 10 seven times in the last eight races, including a pair of third-place finishes in 2008 and 2009.
"There really isn't any tracks we race at that compare to Kentucky," Crafton said. "There really isn't a comparison -- It's definitely a track of its own.
With shallow 14-degree banking in the turns (8 degrees on the frontstretch, 4 on the backstretch) and a rough racing surface, the 1.5-mile tri-oval requires more maneuvering than some other tracks. And that's why it's one of Crafton's top three favorite places to race on the Truck Series Circuit.
"I love the flatter mile and a half, because I think it puts the driver back more in the seat, not like one of those places we go to, like Texas," he said. "You have to drive the thing for a few laps in Texas, but (Kentucky) is not just running around there wide open for ten laps. ... You get a lot more movement out of the truck there compared to Texas."
Crafton is looking forward to Thursday's race at Kentucky, looking for the same springboard he found in 2010.
"We've always run very well there. We've always contended for wins," he said. "That's all you can ask for, is just hope you go there and compete to win, get the ball rolling and get some momentum going into that summer stretch."
NOTES: ThorSport will introduce rookie driver Dakoda Armstrong, piloting the new No. 98 Silverado, and hold a truck and crew chief unveiling Thursday. The team plans to make a debut at Iowa next week. ... Crafton will use a new chassis in Thursday's race. ... ThorSport's Sauter, Crafton and Armstrong will visit Fort Knox during their trip to Kentucky.