The Frontstretch: 2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Matt Crafton by Kevin Rutherford -- Monday December 2, 2013

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2013 NASCAR Driver Review: Matt Crafton

Kevin Rutherford · Monday December 2, 2013

 

2013 Rides: No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (Cup), No. 88 Thorsport Racing Toyota (Truck)

2013 Primary Sponsors: Rheem, Menards (Nationwide); Menards, Slim Jim, Rip It Energy Fuel, Ideal Door, Fisher Nuts, Goof Off, Great Lakes Wood Floors, Jeid-Wen, Serta, FVP (Truck)

2013 Owners: Richard Childress (Nationwide), Duke Thorson (Truck)

2013 Crew Chiefs: Ernie Cope (Nationwide), Carl Joiner (Truck)

Stats: 25 combined Nationwide and Truck series starts. Two top fives, three top 10s in Nationwide Series. One win, seven top fives, 19 top-10 finishes in Truck Series. 2013 Truck Series Champion.

Best Finish: 3rd (Nationwide): Kentucky (June), Kentucky (September); 1st (Truck): Kansas

Average Finish: 5.3 (Nationwide), 7.9 (Truck).

Matt Crafton

2013 Team Ranking: 1st of 3. How else can you rank the Camping World Truck Series champion? Crafton was near-flawless in 2013, finishing in the top 10 in all but three races all year, including the first 16 races of the season. He earned his first series championship after trying for one since 2001. He also scored Thorsport Racing’s first title after well over a decade in the series. Teammate Johnny Sauter won more, but inconsistency couldn’t top Mr. Consistency — nor could Thorsport’s No. 13, which started with Todd Bodine but ended up unable to finish the season. Crafton and the No. 88 were in a league of their own.

High Point: Crafton has run the Truck Series since 2001 on a full-time basis, challenging for the title in many of those seasons. Seeing a 37-year-old veteran finally win his first NASCAR championship was nice, especially giving the long trek he’d made to get there — making Homestead, during which he officially won the title after merely starting the race, the moment that couldn’t be topped for the longtime competitor. His Kansas victory comes a close second, but nothing could quite beat an overall win.

Low Point: Crafton’s season didn’t have too many low points; he didn’t finish outside the top 20 but once and that was during Homestead after having already won the title, after all. So what’s arguably the Thorsport driver’s most disappointing showing? An 11th-place finish at Las Vegas in September. That might be a great — even career-best — finish for many, but his result in the 17th race of the 2013 season ended Crafton’s 16-race streak of top 10s to start the year. Las Vegas was likely the most disappointed Crafton was all year, and if that was a reason for disappointment, 2013 was a fine year indeed.

Summary: No one else even had a chance in the series in 2013 because even if they rattled off some strong finishes, there was Mr. Consistency, almost always near the front. That 40-point lead by the end of the season in the standings over Ty Dillon? That’s what we call a beating; no way around it.

It was actually satisfying to see Crafton ahead of the rest by season’s end; after all, given his long tenure in the series, a title was a long time coming. Before 2013, he hadn’t even been given a chance in one of the upper series, seeming a lifer in trucks. That may still be the case — it’s unclear — but at least he can now call himself a champion, regardless of what came before and what will come after.

Meanwhile, watching the 37-year-old tear it up in the Nationwide Series for the first time — in top equipment, no less — was rewarding. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll return to Richard Childress Racing in the future, but he at the very least showed he can compete at a level higher than the Truck Series, finally quieting the naysayers who said he’d never progress any further.

Off-Track News: No news is good news for Crafton and co. The entire crew is set to return in 2014. No word on any Nationwide Series plans at this moment.

2014 Outlook: Crafton, the No. 88 and Thorsport were unstoppable in 2013 from a consistency standpoint. If they can repeat that trend in 2014 — and there’s no reason to believe otherwise — next season will be no different. Coupled with the added bonus of having some Nationwide experience under his belt now, and the future’s actually looking fairly bright for Matt Crafton.

2013 Frontstretch Grade: A. Is there any other grade for a champion of a series who practically demolished his competition, plus a racer who scored two top-five finishes and didn’t even finish outside the top 10 in his first three races the next series up? Didn’t think so.

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