Race Weekend Central

Matt Crafton Hopes to Earn Truck Title Despite Troublesome Year

A two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, Matt Crafton has utilized near-perfect seasons to reach the top. During his first title run in 2013, Crafton completed every lap in all 22 races and clinched at Phoenix International Raceway with one race still to go.

ThorSport Racing’s top driver has not shown that same consistency in 2016.  While he does have two victories (Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway), both came back in May.  Since then, the veteran has run well at times, but he’s had a lot of bad luck.  Crafton crashed out of the Drivin’ For Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park and the American Ethanol E15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway and also suffered engine failures at Bristol Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Why was performance such an issue for after three straight championship-caliber seasons?  Crafton thinks the answer is simple: a devastating midseason fire that displaced his ThorSport team and left it scrambling to replace equipment and development time.

“I knew [the fire] was going to hurt us a little bit, but I didn’t realize it was going to hurt it as bad as it did, and it definitely put a damper on the way we ran because at that point we were just on a downward spiral,” Crafton explained Thursday afternoon.  “We had the pull‑down rig and that stuff to work with, but we didn’t have surface plates, and just the places the guys were working didn’t have all the tools that we usually have at the shop, and it put us behind.”

Crafton said the shop in Sandusky, Ohio, is still far from perfect.  There is still roughly 10,000 to 15,000 square feet that is currently not able to be used.  Of course, that’s a great improvement over the immediate period after the fire in June, when the team was spread out over five different locations throughout Sandusky. The organization is making use of the facility’s basement, a space not previously utilized, for some operations.

With the shop fire negatively affecting the season, Crafton is thankful for the Chase being in existence.  It gives him the opportunity to salvage what has been a trying year.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Things are looking up for Matt Crafton after a rough summer slump that included a fire within his team’s Thorsport Racing shop in Sandusky, Ohio. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

“I wasn’t a fan of the Chase at all, but right now in the year that I’ve had with five DNFs that we’ve had this year, to still be in contention for a championship, that’s unheard of,” Crafton said.  “In the past, the whole points system, I wouldn’t have even thought about it.  I would have been happy with a top-5 finish in points.  But we’ve had… we won enough races early to get ourselves in, and we didn’t have too many DNFs in this Chase.”

But while the playoffs worked in his favor this time, Crafton believes the new system is far from perfect.

“I think maybe I would like to have one race you could throw out or something like that in the deal,” he said.  “Those three races, if you have that one bad race in those three races and somebody just top 10s you to death ‑‑ say you finish second, second and 30th and another guy comes in and he finishes ninth, ninth and ninth and say I led a bunch of laps and was contending to win when I was finishing second and second and somebody finished ninth, ninth and ninth, they’re going to move on, and that guy could be your champion.

“But you still have to be very consistent, and we had a problem at Martinsville [Speedway] with brake problems and caught on fire and still finished 17th and dug our way out of that hole, and then we were at Talladega, broke a valve spring there, and… had a DNF there and still dug ourselves out of the hole.  It can be done, but it’s very tough to do without a doubt.”

If there were no Chase, Crafton would be sixth in points, 60 behind Johnny Sauter.  He would have been eliminated from championship contention after Texas Motor Speedway.

Instead, now he fancies himself a title contender, in position to win a third championship in four years. Going into Friday night’s race, Crafton is fairly confident.  He knows what has to be done, and he’s going to enjoy himself while doing it.

“I’ve got to beat those three guys,” Crafton said.  “At the end of the day, we’re going to race this race just like we’ve raced any of them.  We’re honestly not going to worry about where Johnny [Sauter] is running, where Timothy [Peters] is running, where Christopher [Bell] is running.  If you go out there and win the race, you’ll win the thing.  If you look in your rear-view mirror and look at who’s in front of you, you are going to drive yourself crazy.  If you just go out there and drive as hard as you can and put yourself in victory lane at the end, you know you’ll get it done.

“In the past I haven’t had to do that, and last year I had to.  My back was against the wall.  I knew I had to come win this race to even have a shot, and we did.  We came and set a fast time, sat on the pole and won the race.  We still had a few too many problems last year and came up short, but I love coming to this place.  Now, we dug ourselves out of a hole [this season]… looking forward to tomorrow night.”

Crafton and his three Chase compatriots will settle the Camping World Truck Series Championship for good Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Coverage begins with NCWTS Setup at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1, followed by the race at 8 p.m.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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Bette Geraud

You are my man Matt !! Go show them how it is done ?

Bette Geraud

You are my man ! Go show them how it is done Matt !! ??

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