KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Matt Crafton had won more Truck Series championship than he’d had races the last couple years.
That finally changed on Saturday.
The 44-year-old Crafton finally ended a three-year wineless streak when the three-time and reigning series champ held off Christian Eckes over the final 20 laps to win the second race of a doubleheader at Kansas Speedway. It was his first victory since Eldora in July 2017, a frustrating stretch off 67 races and oh-so many near misses.
“It was very sweet. Not a lot of give-up in these guys, no doubt,” Crafton said before a burnout in front of the empty grandstands. “We came back from the whole pandemic, we were fast but we had no results to show for it. We led laps at Charlotte and we just had horrendous races, four races in a row. But we’re back now.”
Crafton stayed out of a slew of late-race cautions on Saturday to find himself at the front on the final restart. The 19-year-old Eckes, chasing his first career Truck Series win, managed to trim a deficit of more than a second to one-tenth with two laps to go, but he couldn’t make his last opening stick. He wound up cruising across in second place.
“Just what a comeback for our team, We stunk yesterday. I can’t sugarcoat it,” Eckes said. “We were terrible. We worked last night and today to get better. We were just perfect at the end.”
Almost perfect. Just like Eckes almost made it to victory lane for the first time for the second straight week.
“I mean, it’s not as much anger as last week at Texas,” he said, “but at the same aspect it’s a little disappointing. But it’s hard to be disappointed how we ran yesterday and how we came back today.
Grant Enfinger was third, Tanner Gray fourth and Ben Rhodes fifth on a stifling afternoon under the sun. It was about 90 degrees when the trucks rolled off the starting grid, one day after the heat during the late-afternoon opening race resulted in five drivers — including Crafton — getting treated afterward at the infield care center.
Zane Smith showed good speed in the doubleheader opener Friday night and finished sixth, which meant he was lining up on the outside of Row 5 when the field was inverted for the second race at Kansas Speedway.
He showed even better speed right from the start Saturday.
The 21-year-old driver from Huntington Beach, California, quickly worked his way through the field and held off Brett Moffitt to win the opening stage. Smith drove away from the field again in his No. 21 Chevrolet to win the second stage, too — and a third for the weekend after he was the Stage 1 winner on Friday night.
The trucks from GMS Racing spent most of the day running at the front, at one point in four of the top five spots, until things began unraveling with about 40 laps to go. Moffitt and Smith were bunched together with teammate Tyler Ankrum when Smith got into him on the front stretch, turning Ankrum in front of Moffitt and into the wall.
“That’s the second time this year we’ve been KO’d by a teammate and I’m disappointed,” Moffitt said. “We had a fast Chevy and it’s a bummer we couldn’t go out there and fight for the win. We had a truck capable of it.”
Sheldon Creed was safely at the front for GMS until bumping into the outside wall shortly after the restart, causing damage to his rear. He managed a few more laps before ending up in the wall again and tearing up his truck some more.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports