The Frontstretch: Tearing Apart the Trucks : AMS, Crafton and Crawford Celebrate Milestones by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday March 5, 2009

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After taking an early season weekend off, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This weekend marks 50 years of racing at the 1.5 mile oval, and two of the Truck Series drivers will be celebrating milestones of their own.

Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Menards Chevrolet will make his 200th career Camping World Truck Series start this weekend. Crafton debuted in the season finale at Fontana in 2000 behind the wheel of the No. 88 for ThorSport Racing. After starting 17th, Crafton had managed to work his way into the ninth position for his first of 90 career top 10 finishes.

After running three full seasons with ThorSport Racing and failing to crack the top 5, Crafton made the switch to Kevin Harvick, Inc. in 2004. Matt Crafton scored his first career top 5 finish just two races in—he finished fifth at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That year, he finished 5th in the points standings, well behind champion Bobby Hamilton, Jr.

Matt Crafton will make his 200th career Camping World Truck Series start this weekend at Atlanta.

The 2005 season saw Matt Crafton reunite with Duke and Rhonda Thorson at ThorSport Racing. From 2005 through 2007, Crafton scored 30 top 10 finishes in 75 starts. In 2008, the then 31 year old driver finally made it to victory lane.

A flurry of late race cautions set up a green-white-checkered finish to the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, and Crafton managed to hold off Chad McCumbee after a winless streak of 178 starts. That broke the previous record of 112 held by Bryan Reffner. The win also was the first and only one credited to ThorSport Racing so far, but Matt Crafton hopes to change that this weekend.

“It’s awesome to think about making my 200th start in this series, and to be doing it for ThorSport Racing and owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson,” Crafton said. “Duke and Rhonda have always believed in me, have stuck with me through thick and thin over the years, and I’m grateful for that. We’ve been together a long time, and we’ve focused on finding ways to make this team better each year, and we’ve done it. I expect us to put ourselves in position for a special win on Saturday.”

But Matt Crafton isn’t the only driver who wants to make a special visit to victory lane this weekend. Rick Crawford will make his 300th Camping World Truck Series start behind the wheel of the No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral / International Ford when the green flag flies over the American Commercial Lines 200.

Rick Crawford debuted in the series at age 38 with Circle Bar Racing. The team had very little, but they had high hopes they’d be able to strike on something big. With just one truck and one motor, Crawford started his first race at the Walt Disney World Speedway 24th and managed to stay out of trouble enough to bring home an 11th place finish.

“I think about our first start at Walt Disney World. We were there on a wing and a prayer. One truck, one motor, and our All Pro Late Model team was my crew,” Crawford said.

Since then, Rick Crawford has spent all 13 seasons in the Camping World Truck Series with Circle Bar Racing and has scored five wins, 72 top 5’s and 150 top 10s. He has yet to win a championship, but only a handful of drivers have managed that feat.

“As I look back, I think I’m proudest of the fact that I’ve reached 300 with one owner and one manufacturer. Mr. Mitchell and I have one of the longest driver-owner relationships in the sport. He’s much more than an owner to me, he’s made me part of his family and I could not be here without him. The perfect ending to start 300 would be to deliver another trophy to the Circle Bar Truck Corral in Ozona, Texas.”

Both drivers are capable of scoring a win to celebrate their separate milestones, but they’re going to have to keep an eye on Kyle Busch who has won in three of his four starts in Atlanta.

Did You Know…

  • Todd Bodine will attempt to qualify for the Kobalt Tools 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway? Bodine will pilot the No. 35 Toyota in an effort to gain more knowledge for Germain Racing’s Cup Series program.
  • Kyle Busch has won in three of his four starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway? Busch will again pilot the No. 51 for Billy Ballew Motorsports this weekend and currently leads the Camping World Truck Series points standings.
  • Atlanta Motor Speedway is celebrating 50 years of racing this weekend? Fireball Roberts won the inaugural race, the Dixie 300, at the 1.5 mile track on July 31, 1960.
  • Kevin Harvick will make his first Camping World Truck Series start of 2009 this weekend? Harvick will pilot the No. 2 Charter Communications Chevrolet alongside teammates Ron Hornaday, Jr. and rookie Ricky Carmichael.

Quotable

“Atlanta is my favorite track. I just love the place We can run two and three-wide, and from the white line up to the fence. It’s a really fast track, and you can hold it wide open there. The turns at Atlanta have almost as much banking as Daytona and Talladega, and you can carry some great speed into the straightaways.” Matt Crafton

“We didn’t have the greatest finishes at Atlanta last year, but it’s still one of my favorite tracks. It’s so fast which makes it really fun to drive. Two green-flag pit stops killed us in the spring race when we had a really fast truck. In the fall the limited practice really hurt us and we were just too free all day.” Colin Braun

“Atlanta is a good, smooth track and you have two grooves you can run in. Our last three races at Atlanta have been successful runs, but we weren’t able to get the finishes we wanted when we had the strongest truck in the field. This time around, we will have a really good truck. It’s the same truck we ran here last year and nearly caught our teammate Ryan Newman for the win, but fell inches short on the last lap.” Ron Hornaday, Jr.

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