Who isn’t playing in the dirt tonight?
That’s almost an easier question to ask than who will be competing in the Camping World Truck Series’ sixth annual Eldora Dirt Derby.
Among the series regulars is Matt Crafton.
The two-time series champion is the only former Derby winner in the field. The ThorSport Racing driver claimed his only win of 2017 at Eldora, a reward for having set out to better himself at dirt racing the last few years.
“I feel it’s difficult,” Crafton said Monday in media teleconference. “But a lot of the dirt guys probably don’t think so. I came from an asphalt background, and I’ve raced some dirt in the last four or five years just because I knew we were going to Eldora, and last year I just went and bought my own dirt car, just bought my own modified and went and raced, oh, 12, 15 races last year and put a lot of focus on it just because I thought that was such a cool race to be able to win and get that golden shovel and that trophy and say we won on asphalt, we won on dirt, we’ve won some other places. So that was a very sweet victory for sure.”
He’s winless this season, as he was entering this race in 2017, but Crafton doesn’t see “why we can’t” become the first repeat winner of NASCAR’s only national level race on dirt.
“We definitely should be able to if we put ourselves in the right position,” Crafton said. “There’s got to be a lot of the dirt ringers, if you want to call them that, and the guys that race dirt every week.”
Who are some of the dirt “ringers” who look to prevent Crafton’s repeat bit?
There’s Stewart Friesen, the dirt modified winner turned Truck regular who finished runner-up to Crafton last season.
Then there’s 63-year-old John Provenzano, a dirt specialist making his Truck debut.
Dirt modified drivers Kyle Strickler and RJ Otto will also make their series debuts with smaller teams.
“They’re going to be very tough, and hopefully they race with respect and don’t tear you up,” Crafton said. “That’s some of the things that I worry about. A lot of them are coming out here, and it’s going to be their one shot to drive a truck, and they don’t get to go race Martinsville or any other place, and they’re going to get to come to Eldora, and hopefully they respect us like we would respect them if we came into their series on one of their big shows.”
Crafton may as well have been talking about Logan Seavey.
The 21-year-old native of Sutter, California, is a Toyota Racing Development driver set for his NASCAR debut tonight with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Sutter is the 2017 POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series champion and currently leads the point standings while driving for Keith Kuntz Motorsports.
“I guess I was the next guy in line,” Seavey told NBC Sports. “I was sitting there talking with Jack (Irving)(Toyota Racing Development’s Director of Team & Support Services) one day and he just randomly said, ‘Hey, do you want to run Eldora?’ Of course the answer is ‘Yes.'”
Seavey has never competed in a race at Eldora and wasn’t expecting to until later this year.
“I think for all disciplines of dirt racing Eldora is the Mecca of racing,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a huge one on the bucket list and like I said before, I never really expected my first time there to be in a Truck. I would have more thought a midget or a sprint car.”
Seavey, who is driving the No. 51 Toyota, once thought the idea of competing in NASCAR as a “pretty far fetched goal” until TRD came calling.
“That path became a lot more clear,” Seavey said. “It’s definitely a possibility now. It’s definitely one of my goals, try to make it racing in NASCAR.”
He barely had time in recent weeks to prepare for his first NASCAR race due to his busy midget schedule that included six races (and one win) in four states over 10 days. That resulted in roughly four hours spent at KBM in two separate visits.
But his resources in preparation included Christopher Bell, who earned his first Truck Series win in 2015 at Eldora while racing for KBM.
“He had lot of advice to give me this week,” Seavey said. The biggest piece of advice? “I think it’s just find your limit in practice. You don’t want to have to run real hard in the race and not know how the truck’s going to react. That’s something that happened to him last year. He ran hard in the middle of the race and spun out and wrecked his truck. I think you’re going to have to find your limits in practice … just get as comfortable as possible. That way you can limit your mistakes throughout the race and hopefully come out of there with a clean truck.”
In two practice sessions Tuesday night at Eldora, Seavey placed 14th in the first and sixth in the final session, where he also had the second-best 10-lap average behind Crafton.
Seavey said there is “definitely a fine line” when it comes to racing his own race and competing for the win against series regulars who are also gunning for points.
“At the end of the day if you want to make it in this sport, you gotta run up front and you gotta win races,” Seavey said. “I think that’s your No. 1 goal, to run up front and win. You obviously want to gain the respect of the other racers, especially if you’re hoping to compete in the series later. But at the same time, you might not get to that series if you don’t run hard and try to win. … But you obviously got to do it with respect and not make other people too mad and make yourself look bad.”