To Matt Crafton, it was an unjustified bulldozer move.
Regardless of the point of view, Hamlin won Saturday’s Kroger 200 with an aggressive pass after a restart with eight laps left and showed no regret in claiming his second victory at the .526-mile short track and his second win in 15 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts.
Hamlin, who started from the rear because he missed the drivers’ meeting —- thanks to a conflict with Sprint Cup practice — finished 1.932 seconds ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr., who bulled his way into the runner-up position after restarting fourth on Lap 193 of 200. Joey Coulter ran third, followed by Crafton and Scott Riggs.
Irate at Hamlin’s use of the front bumper, Crafton had some choice words for the driver of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota after the race. With Hamlin parked on pit road, Crafton leaned into the driver’s-side window to express his displeasure.
Hamlin’s reaction was “What did he expect?”
“When you’re the leader with a few laps to go, you’ve got to expect it,” said Hamlin, who moved Crafton out of the way and took the lead for the first time with six laps left. “you can’t wreck the guy — that’s off-limits — but moving him off and out of the groove, that’s standard protocol at this type of race track.”
Crafton disagreed and took umbrage at the characterization of Hamlin’s winning move as a pass.
“If you want to call that a pass—that’s just moving somebody,” Crafton said. “Running in the back of somebody, that doesn’t take anything. Anybody can do that. I didn’t let the tires come up quite clean enough on the last restart. I do admit that. That’s part of it. I didn’t get my tires cleaned up, but I did not run into the back of him.”
Ty Dillon’s one-point championship lead evaporated after his No. 3 Chevrolet blew a tire and nosed into the outside wall on Lap 151 to cause the fourth caution of the afternoon. After repeated trips to pit road for repairs, Dillon dropped to 28th, six laps down and could not improve on that position.
Dillon’s woes transferred the series lead to James Buescher, who rallied from a lap down to finish sixth. Buescher grabbed a 21-point lead over second-place Dillon with three races left in the season.
Even though he lost a lap in the early going and didn’t get it back until he received a free pass under the third caution midway through the race, Buescher was confident he could get back into contention.
“When we were a lap down, I did have all the faith in the world that we could turn it around and come back for a top-10 finish,” Buescher said. “I knew that we just needed some adjustments. We hadn’t stopped yet. We were still on the initial run, and I knew that we could get the back end in the track better.
“We were really loose and just needed to come to pit road for an adjustment and hit “reset.” We did that. (Crew chief) Michael Shelton made good calls on what to do to get the truck better, and it was able to go forward the rest of the day.”