NASCAR & Auto Racing

May 8, 2014

Matt Crafton can make NASCAR truck history on two counts

Veteran Matt Crafton can become the first second-time winner in 13 years of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing on Friday night at Kansas Speedway. He’s also looking to become the first back-to-back Camping World Truck Series season champion in its 19-year history.

Kansas Speedway has yet to have a second-time winner in 13 years of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing.

And a champion never has successfully defended his season title in the series’ 19-year history.

Veteran Matt Crafton can reverse both trends this season.

Crafton has returned to Kansas Speedway for Friday night’s SFP 250, where his victory last year was the catalyst to his winning the series championship.

He’s off to a solid start in defending his series championship, having finished 13th at Daytona and winning at Martinsville in the series’ first two races of the season.

“We could possibly do it all,” said Crafton, 37. “That would mean a lot, that’s for sure.”

It’s easy to explain why there have been no multiple winners at Kansas. Some truck winners, like the late Ricky Hendrick, Carl Edwards and James Buescher, went on to the Nationwide Series the following year. In 2011, the race was won by a Sprint Cup regular, Clint Bowyer.

The same holds true for why there have been no back-to-back series champions. While there have been multiyear champions, such as Ron Hornaday Jr. and Jack Sprague, several truck champions, like Buescher (2012), Austin Dillon (2011), Sprague (1997, 1999, 2001) and Greg Biffle (2000) moved up to Nationwide the following year.

Not Crafton. He’s a truck regular through and through.

Crafton of Tulare, Calif., has made a record 318 consecutive starts since his truck debut in 2000, and only four-time champion Ron Hornaday Jr. (346 starts) and Rick Crawford (336) have made more truck starts than Crafton.

And he’s the only driver to have raced in all 13 truck events at Kansas Speedway.

So what’s kept him in the truck series all these years?

“It’s great racing, and we have a great team owner, and we have a real good sponsor as well, which has kept me there,” Crafton said of ThorSport Racing, which has fielded his No. 88 Menards Toyota for his entire career. “It’s a real good place to be.”

Crafton has run a handful of Nationwide Series races in his career, including a 12th-place finish at Las Vegas this year in the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He also posted two third-place finishes at Kentucky and a 10th at Chicago in 2012 for Richard Childress Racing.

“I ran pretty good in the (Nationwide) races I have run,” Crafton said, “and will keep doing what we’re doing for now. If someone gave me the opportunity to run part time (in another series) I’d probably do that as well.

“I would much rather run in the trucks series and know you’re going to have a chance to win and win a championship each year. If you take the wrong opportunity in the Nationwide or Cup deal, you might run 20th or 25th or worse, and that’s not what I want to do. I want to be competitive every week with a chance to win.”

Crafton’s win at Kansas Speedway last year was his only victory of the season and just the third of his career. But he won the championship with consistency. Crafton was in the top 10 in 19 of his 22 starts last year. And his 176 top-10 finishes rank third all-time behind Hornaday (224) and Sprague (192).

That speaks well of ThorSport, owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson and Mike Curb. It’s the longest-tenured team in the truck series, with 695 starts, mostly by Crafton and teammate Johnny Sauter, the 2010 winner at Kansas who’s tied for the points lead after two races this season.

Competing in a sport against Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports development drivers and trucks owned by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, the ThorSport team keeps improving. Crafton and Sauter established a truck series record in 2013 when ThorSport was the first team to lead the standings for the entire season — Sauter after the first three races; Crafton after the final 19.

“Nobody knows the story of what we’ve had to work with and what we’ve done in the past,” Crafton said. “We were a very small team at the start. We didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, and each and every year we’ve made it better and better.

“They could have been the kind of owners who spent a ton of money right off and been here for three years and been gone. They ran it like a business, started small and went to big. … We won a championship and we won races.”

With more, possibly, to come.

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