Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday November 21, 2013
Matt Crafton began racing in the Camping World Truck Series in 2000 with a single start at Auto Club Speedway. He finished ninth and joined ThorSport Racing full-time the following season. Aside from spending the 2004 season with Kevin Harvick, Inc., the driver of the No. 88 Menard’s Toyota has been with ThorSport throughout his Truck Series career. Following the 2013 season, Crafton has three wins, 63 top 5s and 175 top 10s. He took some time out his busy post-championship appearance schedule to speak with Frontstretch.com’s Beth Lunkenheimer about what winning meant for him and the team.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: This has been a pretty important season for you in terms of your win in Kansas, Elladee’s arrival and winning the championship, among other things I imagine. Can you talk a little about what this year has meant for you?
Matt Crafton: It’s definitely been the best year of my life without a doubt. To have won Kansas, five days later, I got the best trophy of my life, Elladee. And then end of the season, we win the championship. It’s a dream come true. I would definitely call it a dream season.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: How stressful were the last few weeks leading up to Homestead before you knew a start in the final race would clinch the championship?
Crafton: It was definitely very stressful for the last two months or so. We had the good points lead, but with the way they do the points, with just one bad race, they’re right back in it. That was the thing where we had to just sit there and be smart and try to put ourselves in any bad spots, and that’s what we tried to do. I know we had better trucks that were capable of possibly winning, but we couldn’t take the chance of having a DNF or a wreck, and finishing in the 30s or low 20s, and losing all of those points. With the guys that were having good runs to end the season, you had to minimize your losses.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: How hard was it to not think about the championship standings throughout the year, especially as each race clicked off with top 10 after top 10, allowing you to expand your lead?
Crafton: It definitely wasn’t easy. It’s something where we just tried to do what we’d been doing all year and race extra smart. That was one of the tough things to do — once we got the big points lead and we started running away with it, we were in protect mode from that point. That was the toughest point of the season, not getting to race the way I wanted to race. But we did it.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: I remember how excited you were when you scored your first career win at Charlotte back in 2008, so how does it feel to be able to check Camping World Truck Series champion off of your list of dreams?
Crafton: It’s a dream come true, without a doubt. It’s something that no one can take away from you. You’re a NASCAR champion and you’ll always be engraved as a NASCAR champion. That’s one of the coolest parts about it.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Can you pinpoint what made the difference in winning the championship this season, compared to years past?
Crafton: We’ve got all the guys and we’ve got them all in the right spots. We’ve got a great leader with Junior Joiner, who came along last year. He’s my best friend and my crew chief that we won the Southwest Tour championship with in 2000, the first year we were together. And last year we finished sixth, but that was definitely a big change for the team, because we switched manufacturers and it was his first year in the trucks. This year, it shows how well we communicate, how good we work together, and how much we believe in each other. It’s not just me and him — it’s a whole group of people and every person from the truck chief to the guy that paints the body. There have been just small changes here and there, and it’s made a world of difference.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Let’s talk about the racing for the lead on Friday night. It certainly looked fun on television. How was it behind the wheel?
Crafton: It was awesome. That was a lot of fun up there, and getting to race like I’ve wanted to for the last six races, to be totally honest. That’s the Matt Crafton style that you’re used to seeing more instead of being in protect mode. It just really sucks that we got back there in traffic and got wrecked by the 18 (Joey Coulter). I’m still having a hard time digesting that deal, because it was one of those deals where what comes around goes around, I guess.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Clearly you weren’t pleased with the damage from Joey Coulter’s truck on the first green-white-checkered attempt. Have you gotten to take a look back at that incident and figure out what exactly happened?
Crafton: It comes back to the guy holding the steering wheel. My spotter went and talked to his spotter who said that he was telling him (Coulter) that I was out there. But the driver, the 18, never was man enough to talk to me after the race and at least take the blame on it. I’m the type of driver that if you come me and say ‘I made a mistake. I did this wrong, I did that wrong,’ I’m willing to forgive; but if you’re not man enough to come talk about it, what comes around goes around…
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Many, including the television announcers, questioned the logic in not pitting early on during the caution period that followed, claiming more time to repair the damage would have put you in a better position. What are your thoughts?
Crafton: We were just trying to discuss what we were going to do to the truck. They were trying to figure out whether we were going to stay out where we were. After I swerved back and forth, I found we had a right front going down at that point. I didn’t know how bad the truck was, and my crew chief didn’t really see how bad the truck was, so my spotter and crew chief were trying to communicate what was going on with the truck. I was sitting there behind the steering waiting for them to figure out what we were going to do. It really stinks.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: What, if anything, did Kyle Busch say to you when he pulled up alongside you after the checkered flag flew?
Crafton: Nothing. We just shook hands. It was cool to see; if anyone was going to win, Kyle would win it since he and I are friends. It was a shame. It’s definitely a shame that we lost an owners’ championship that way racing against somebody the way it happened there at the end. We never should have been back there with the people we were racing that got us wrecked.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Obviously the Thorsons have been very supportive throughout your career. How important is it to you personally to reward that support with some hardware for them?
Crafton: It’s huge. I remember in 2000, 2001, Duke always told me, “We’re going to run this as a business and make it better and better every year. If it’s a five percent increase each year, we’re going to add a truck, we’ll add this, we’ll add that. I’m not going to go out and buy 10 trucks and be one of those owners that’s only here for two or three years.” He’s been a man of his word, and for me to essentially be here since 2000 and give him that, because we have grown and grown and grown and done this, makes it that much sweeter, because we did it the way he wanted to do it. He didn’t go out and try to insanely beat everybody like other teams have done in the past.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Right before the race at Homestead, the team announced you’ll be back next season with Menard’s on the truck. What’s the most important part of that relationship in terms of your success in the series?
Crafton: That’s everything. Just having a great sponsor and Duke and Rhonda Thorson believing in me and giving me another opportunity. It’s never been done to repeat, and I’ve said we’ve got something to prove next year if we can repeat something that’s never been done.
Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch.com: Do you have any big plans for the off-season after the championship interviews calm down?
Crafton: At the end of next week after Thanksgiving, I’m out to the desert in California to play with my dune buggy and relax. I think one of the best parts about being out there is that I don’t have cell phone service. You get to hang out with the people you want to hang out with and do what you want to do and detach from the world.
Author’s Note: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of my loyal readers for their support this season. Without each and every one of you, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to write about the series that I truly enjoy. I hope to see you all again next season!
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