NASCAR: Matt Crafton’s long road to Victory Lane

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMay 15, 2014 

463762423DS00304_SFP_250_Qu

Matt Crafton took a huge weight off his back last year with a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway and a championship season.

KYLE RIVAS — Getty Images

  • Points Standings

    Sprint Cup

     1. Jeff Gordon 394

     2. Matt Kenseth 379

     3. Kyle Busch 373

     4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.368

     5. Carl Edwards 367

     6. Joey Logano 346

     7. Jimmie Johnson 340

     8. Ryan Newman 332

     9. Greg Biffle 328

    10. Brian Vickers 327

    11. Brad Keselowski 326

    12. Denny Hamlin 318

    13. Kyle Larson 318

    14. Austin Dillon 306

    15. Kevin Harvick 302

    16. Kasey Kahne 294

    17. AJ Allmendinger 293

    18. Paul Menard 292

    19. Marcos Ambrose 288

    20. Clint Bowyer 282

    21. Aric Almirola 278

    22. Tony Stewart 268

    23. Casey Mears 262

    24. Jamie McMurray 246

    25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 240

    26. Martin Truex Jr. 232

    27. Danica Patrick 213

    28. Kurt Busch 211

    29. Justin Allgaier 198

    30. Michael Annett 163

    31. David Gilliland 159

    32. Cole Whitt 147

    33. Reed Sorenson 143

    34. Alex Bowman 141

    35. David Ragan 137

    Nationwide

     1. Chase Elliott 339

     2. Elliott Sadler 338

     3. Regan Smith 336

     4. Trevor Bayne 308

     5. Ty Dillon 308

     6. Brian Scott 277

     7. Brendan Gaughan 250

     8. James Buescher 244

     9. Chris Buescher 229

    10. Ryan Reed 225

    11. Mike Bliss 225

    Truck

     1. Matt Crafton 120

     2. Timothy Peters 112

     3. Ron Hornaday 112

     4. German Quiroga 109

     5. Johnny Sauter 105

     6. Ryan Blaney 101

     7. Jeb Burton 98

     8. Ben Kennedy 96

     9. Darrell Wallace Jr. 90

    10. John Wes Townley 87

— Matt Crafton will never forget his first NASCAR Truck Series victory.

He had already spent more than seven seasons racing for owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson but had been unable to secure a victory, although he had finished as high as fifth in the series standings.

He finished second in the 2008 spring race at Martinsville, Va., and two races later he found himself battling first Todd Bodine and then Chad McCumbee for the lead as the laps wound down at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

This time, Crafton held on to secure his first NASCAR win and just the second for ThorSport Racing.

“It was just a huge weight off my shoulders because it took so long to get it and we were close so many times,” Crafton said. “It felt like we had a gorilla on our back, not a monkey, since it took so long.”

Nearly six years later, Crafton returns to Charlotte still with the same team but with loftier goals.

He won his first Truck series championship in 2013 – and first for ThorSport – and enters Friday night’s N.C. Education Lottery 250 at CMS (8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1) as the series points leader once again.

In the year’s first three races, he’s finished 13th, first and second and he feels his No. 88 Toyota team is just as good or better than its championship-winning performance of a year ago.

If he maintains, 2014 would become the 10th season in the past 11 in which he has finished in the Top 10 of the series standings. Except for 2005 when he drove for Kevin Harvick Inc., all of his series success has been with ThorSport.

“It’s so cool what Duke and Rhonda Thorson told me back in 2000 when I first met them. They said we’re going run for the championship each and every year and we’re going to get better; we’re not just going to come in here for three years and then you forget about them,” Crafton said.

“They slowly made the organization better and better and that’s what’s so cool – to see what they have done with the team, starting with not much to where we are today.”

It’s not just Crafton who has enjoyed the success.

With Crafton moving into the points lead, he or teammate Johnny Sauter has led the points after 24 of the last 25 Truck races – a rare accomplishment for any organization at any level.

In what was a career-best season in 2013, there was only one area where he felt he and his team missed out – earning more wins.

“Everybody kept giving us a bad time at the end of last year – ‘You guys are just going to top-10 us to death.’ We were just trying to win the championship,” said Crafton, whose only win last season came at Kansas.

“Then we went into this season with guns loaded and just kind of felt good to prove a point and know that we can win races when we need to. We feel like we’re going to be strong.”

So far this year, the top two most consistent drivers have been Crafton and Kyle Busch. Busch has won the only two races in which he’s entered and is the series’ all-time wins leader. Crafton is the only other winner and finished second to Busch at Martinsville.

“If you find yourself running with Kyle a lot in these races you know you’re doing something right,” Crafton said. “Far more times than not, Kyle is up front. That’s exactly where we want to be.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service