Veteran Matt Crafton had the dominant truck of the night and would have scripted an impressive story had he won after blowing a tire early on in the race.
Rookie Rico Abreu had a chance to become the feel-good story by challenging for the lead in the final laps, but the 4-foot-4 sensation got into a wall.
Instead, the story of the night belonged to 18-year-old William Byron. The rookie driver from Charlotte led when it mattered most, taking the lead with five laps to go and holding on to take the checkered flag of the Rattlesnake 400 on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Byron, who will turn 18 on Nov. 29 and recently graduated from Charlotte Country Day, won his Texas debut and became the youngest driver to win a truck race at the track. Erik Jones was 19 when he won here in November.
It also marked Byron’s second win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“It’s huge,” said Byron, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports. “For our race team to get another win this year really solidifies us. We didn’t leave any doubt out there that we deserved to win.”
Byron charged to the lead with five laps to go, as Crafton simply couldn’t sustain the pace he’d set most of the night.
Crafton established his No. 88 Menards/ Ideal Door Toyota as a contender from the start. He went from fourth to first in the first two laps before running into trouble.
Crafton cut his tire on Lap 11 and made contact with the wall, something that very well would take most drivers out of contention. But his pit crew came to the rescue by getting a new set of tires on the truck before he lost a lap.
Still, Crafton sat in 25th when the race restarted on Lap 16. Less than 20 laps later, though, Crafton had maneuvered his way through the field and had regained the lead by Lap 35.
Crafton led a race-high 133 laps and appeared headed to his third consecutive win during the summer truck race at Texas. But he blamed a minor air pressure adjustment his team made late as something that ultimately did them in.
“It just went really loose for whatever reason,” Crafton said. “Shoulda, coulda won the race.”
Byron took advantage in pulling to the front and then held off a daring Abreu in the closing laps. Abreu had a fast enough truck to win it, but was too aggressive and made contact with the wall twice.
That dropped him to a ninth-place finish — still his career-best — although contending at the end is something he can build on.
“Definitely build off that,” Abreu said. “Not the finish we wanted. I’m just really disappointed. I wish I could give [my No. 98 Safelite Auto Glass/ Curb Records Toyota team] better finishes.”
Only one driver leaves happy after a race, though, and it proved to be Byron.
“It was cool to lead when it counted,” said Byron, who was the pole-sitter the previous two races and finished 11th and 10th. “To finally finish up there gives me a load of confidence.”
Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison