Matt Crafton dodged a couple bullets in his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota Saturday night at Iowa Speedway but in the end the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series point leader was smiling on pit road after he finished sixth in the American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen.
Crafton kept a couple significant career streaks going in his ongoing record 303rd consecutive Truck Series start, namely notching his ninth consecutive top-10 finish this season, remaining the only NCWTS driver to do so and also notching his sixth top-10 in as many series starts at Iowa. When ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter finished 11th Crafton became the only series driver to hold that distinction as well.
But the most significant event probably occurred on lap 121 of 200, when rookie of the year leader Jeb Burton -- who came to Iowa just 22 points behind Crafton in the standings -- spun coming off Turn 2 while running sixth, a few spots in front of Crafton, bringing out the third of five cautions in the race.
"I just saw him get turned around, but I don't know what happened," Crafton said. "I just know that it was close -- real close."
When Crafton's second ThorSport teammate, ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards championship leader Frank Kimmel, passed Burton on the last lap to take 21st spot, that enabled Crafton to leave Iowa unofficially with a 38-point lead in the championship over Burton going to the series' second of four "wild card" races, the July 24 historic mid-week dirt race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
But on Saturday, Crafton was reveling in a truck that at least was consistent -- Crafton laughed when he said he'd lightly scuffed the right side of the truck off the outside wall entering Turn 1 at least twice, without hurting its performance.
"I was fast as heck on the long runs," Crafton said on pit road after the race, drawing comfort from the fact that every one of his immediate championship contenders was either outrun or close to him in the rundown. "I didn't think we were gonna be real bad all night, but we just didn't have any speed on the short run.
"On the short runs, I could hang on for five laps or so and then after 10 or 15 laps it would just keep coming. The longer we ran, it ran real good."
As he debriefed on pit road after the race with crew chief Carl "Junior" Joiner and truck chief Bud Haefele, Crafton -- who started only 16th after struggling to find a balance in his truck through six hours of practice over two days -- said he was happy to get out of Iowa with a decent finish.
Crafton and his team agreed that the two superspeedway races, at Daytona and Talladega and the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park road course -- along with Eldora -- were their biggest potential stumbling blocks. But he was happiest to get out of Iowa with his latest decent run.
"At the end of the day, we were all over the map," Crafton said. "We were loose, we were tight, we were loose -- we were everywhere. To come out with a sixth place, which was definitely not what we wanted, is definitely what championships are made of.
"We've just got to make the best of each and every night. It was another consistent run and that's what's going to pay off for us."
Crafton never came close to leading a lap in the race, but after starting in mid-pack, he raced into the top 10 by lap 60 and never fell out of it. Ty Dillon, who's now fourth in the championship, gained a bonus point for leading the most laps but crashed, finished 16th and is now 48 points behind.
Race winner Timothy Peters won his second consecutive Iowa race and became the first repeat winner in six races at the .875-mile track, moved up to eighth in the standings but is 76 points behind.