Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Ironman Matt Crafton Ready to Shake Off the Rust

There was a time when Matt Crafton was the benchmark in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Two championships, 12 wins and 86 top-10 finishes came in a span of just five years.

Then something happened.

What that is, one can’t exactly be certain, but in 2018, his longtime team ThorSport Racing switched from Toyota to Ford before returning to the Toyota brigade three years later. The outspoken veteran has still been a presence in the top 10, but what seems less common is Crafton challenging for wins.

In the past five years, the neon yellow No. 88 has just one victory. He did add a third series title, but it came at the conclusion of a winless season. That gave him the dubious distinction of being the only driver to win the truck championship without winning a race.

Crafton is still the series’ Iron Man with 521 consecutive starts, a streak that began prior to the birth of his current teammate Hailie Deegan. He has taken every green flag since the 2000 season finale, and has also finished in the top 10 in the standings each year dating back to 2007. His longevity at a level of competition where most new faces want to dominate and move on as quickly as possible is admirable, but longevity is best fueled by success.

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Longtime sponsor Menards has never wavered in their support of Crafton. The logo of the Midwestern retailer has adorned every truck that Matt has ever strapped into. Such loyalty is essentially non-existent in the world of NASCAR, where big bucks come with bigger expectations. It’s not as though he hasn’t performed well, but if Jimmie Johnson couldn’t keep Lowe’s on board merely by being one of the most successful drivers ever, what chance does anyone else have?

This season started off reasonably well, with Crafton pacing the field for a couple laps and escaping Daytona with a ninth-place showing. But we’re left to wonder how long a driver accustomed to success will hang around plagued by such mediocrity.

I don’t know if 2023 is a make-or-break year for Matt Crafton in any way, but it certainly has the feel of one. Perhaps there is a checkered flag or two on the horizon and suddenly this all becomes moot. But there might not be many more consecutive starts unless at least a few of them end with a win.

Truckin’ Tidbits

Kyle Busch will make his first start of the year at Las Vegas. Busch has won an astounding 38% of truck events that he’s participated in, including sweeping all five of his 2018 races. But that doesn’t mean you should skip it this week. Busch has been relegated to second place each of the past two years at Vegas, both times bested by one of the other Kyle Busch Motorsports teams.

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Busch isn’t the only familiar face that will be mingling with series regulars during prerace at Vegas. Former truck winners Kaz Grala and John Hunter Nemechek will both be moonlighting in Sin City on Friday night (March 3).

About the author

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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