As the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series drivers take an early off weekend, all eyes will be on the Camping World Truck Series this week as they hit the track at Darlington Raceway for the Too Tough to Tame 200 Saturday evening. Though the field will feature several drivers experiencing their first shot at the “Lady in Black,” series veteran Matt Crafton will make his 250th career Truck Series start behind the wheel of the No. 88 Menards / Tarkett Chevrolet.
Crafton made his Truck Series debut in 2000 in the final race of the season for ThorSport Racing–a race he finished ninth in–before the team picked him up for his first full season in 2001. With just 11 top-10 finishes and five DNFs in 2001, he finished a disappointing 12th in the standings, nearly 900 points behind champion Jack Sprague.
Fast foward to 2004, and Crafton joined Kevin Harvick, Inc. for his best season at that point. Behind the wheel of the No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, the Tulare, CA native scored 17 top-10 finishes in 25 starts–including four consecutive finishes of eighth or better to close out the season–and still finished fifth in the overall standings.
After that one-year hiatus from the No. 88, Crafton rejoined ThorSport Racing in 2005. Since returning to the No. 88 ride that is so closely associated with his career, Crafton has scored 85 top-10 finishes and his first career win (Charlotte – May, 2008).
But Crafton most likely would have picked anywhere but Darlington to make his 250th career start.
“I’m not going to lie, Darlington is not my favorite race track to run. You definitely race the track – it’s not about the competition around you, and that will play mind games on you,” Crafton said. “It’s miserable to pass, and that’s just being honest! You won’t see much passing going on by the veterans – it’s just tough and the track is not very wide. You really have to trust your instincts and what you feel in the truck on the track, rather than go for position against your competitors.”
As the drivers entered into the Too Tough To Tame 200 prepare for the weekend, Crafton has his own special way to get ready for the upcoming race.
“It’s mental. I do TiVo races, and Darlington is definitely one I’ll be watching this week (the race from 2010). That was an exciting race, but a lot of veteran drivers got taken out. Since the repave, it’s a lot like Daytona when you’re talking about surface,” Crafton said. “I loved the old pavement, it was just enough grip. Now, it’s so much grip that it gives a false sense of security. It’s still an amazing track that we as drivers have to respect – I mean, it IS Darlington after all.”
Following the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix, Crafton jumped five spots and now holds a slim one point lead over Clay Rogers, thanks to a pair of top-10 finishes to start the season and the struggles of some of the series’ greats. Though there is still a lot of racing left on the 2011 schedule, Crafton and the No. 88 team have certainly started this season on the right path in hope of the championship that has eluded them for so long.
*KHI Making 300th Series Start*
Just one week after celebrating their 300th Nationwide Series start, Kevin Harvick, Inc. will celebrate their 300th Truck Series start this weekend at Darlington. With drivers Ron Hornaday, Jr., Elliott Sadler and Miguel Paludo piloting KHI trucks, the team will see its 299th, 300th and 301st starts tallied into the record books. In 298 previous series starts, the KHI drivers have combined to score 33 wins, 117 top-10 finishes and two Truck Series championships.
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