Crafton Set to Contend for Championship After Thorsport Rebuild
When the Chase was initially announced for the Camping World Truck Series, Matt Crafton admits that he initially wasn’t a huge fan. Though after going through it for a year, he has become a fan of the format.
“We probably would’ve been about 10th in points with the DNFs we had and the fire at the shop,” he said. “But to be able to have five DNFs and get to Homestead with a shot at the championship, I loved it.”
As one of the main long-stays of the series, Crafton has always found a way to contend for championships through the years, taking home the crown on two different occasions. Notably, he has eight top-five points finishes, including finishing in the top-three the past four years. Though last year en route to finishing in the runner-up spot, there were trials and tribulations for the veteran.
While he started off the year strong – two wins, two runner-ups and nine top-10s in the first 11 races, the summer brought forth some struggles with only one top-five in the following five races. The team’s struggles weren’t the fault of the driver, though, as there were outside factors.
In the middle of June overnight, a fire broke out in the basement of their 100,000-square foot shop located in Sandusky, Ohio. Firefighters responded immediately on the scene, getting the fire under control by noon Monday afternoon. The fire resulted in the loss of the shock shop, as well as truck inventory with only 12 vehicles salvaged from inside the building.
The team spent a week and a half working out of a Kroger Parking Lot before they were able to borrow shop space from a local trailer company and sprint car racer.
“It’s amazing to see the people that stepped up and asked if we needed any space,” Crafton said. “It was very cool to see the whole city of Sandusky.”
Despite the fire, the team still competed on a weekly basis, though the setback showed in not only Crafton’s performance but in each of the four drivers on the team.
“We were very fast and won a third of the races that we had run up until the shop burned down,” Crafton said. “I knew it was going to hurt us, but I didn’t know it’d hurt us as bad as it did. Then they got us back in the shop three months after it burned down, and we just used a small portion of the shop. To just look back at all the tools that we lost and the set-up plates and the areas that they had in the shop, that’s the stuff that you can’t replace being on the concrete floor trying to make all of your set-up stuff there.”
As they started the Chase having moved back into part of the shop, Crafton and Carl Joiner were able to get their performance turned around, posting three top-fives to put them inside the Championship 4 for Homestead-Miami Speedway. Unfortunately, the seventh place at Homestead wasn’t enough to beat Johnny Sauter for the championship.
He will get another shot this year, and hopefully be able to be solid throughout the season with having moved back into the shop. Speaking on Media Day at the end of January, Crafton stated they’d have the shop entirely built back by the second week of February.
Though if he wants his third series crown, he will have to master the new segment format.
“The segments are going to very good, to be honest, and will bring something exciting and something for each driver to reach out for,” he said. “The truck races has short races as it is, so we race as hard as we could from the green flag to the checkered flag. I think you will see the biggest change in the Cup Series because the races are so long.”
The other change for Crafton is he will have two new teammates this year, as he and Ben Rhodes are the only two of the foursome returning for 2017.
“It’ll be exciting – the driver line-up that we have,” he said. “I’m confident about that. I feel great about being the constant every year, and if I keep doing my job and winning races, I can be there as long as I want. I’m very happy with that.”
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