SANDUSKY, Ohio – For a race-winning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver and a former NASCAR touring division champion, Matt Crafton is about as low-key as you can get — when he’s outside the race vehicle…
But when he takes the green flag at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway for Sunday’s NCWTS Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine, Crafton will take sole possession of the Truck Series’ all-time record for consecutive starts, with 297.
And you can believe that has him more excited as the clock ticks toward the moment he’ll fire-up his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota.
“It’s awesome and I’m definitely pumped-up to do it,” said Crafton, who back during Speedweeks at Daytona said he’d only thought about the record ‘a couple times.’ “But believe me, it’s something that’s very cool, to be able to say that I’m in there, among that group of record holders in the Camping World Truck Series.”
The ironic thing is that Crafton actually replaced the man he’s surpassing this weekend for the Truck Series’ consecutive starts streak, Terry Cook. Cook made 93 consecutive starts as ThorSport Racing’s inaugural driver before Crafton jumped into the No. 88 for the final race of the 2000 season. Crafton’s gone on to make 296 consecutive starts, all of them for ThorSport with the exception of the 25-race 2004 season, when Crafton raced at KHI.
“The coolest thing, obviously is to thank (owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson for always believing in me,” Crafton said, “They’ve stuck with me and have been so loyal to me, giving me the opportunity to be there for all those races, and to have the equipment and the team behind me to have the shot to own this record, outright.
“And in this business, that means way more to me, at the end of the day. And don’t forget that this season is Menards’ 11th season with me, and I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I’ve been to represent them, and how enjoyable that’s been.”
And that brings Crafton to this week, when his team led by crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner hits Rockingham a solid third in the championship standings, coming off ThorSport’s third one-two finish of its career, last weekend at Martinsville.
Johnny Sauter and Crafton have finished in that order in each of those one-twos, and despite the opportunity Sauter has to create a piece of outright NASCAR history if he’s able to win his third consecutive Truck Series race to start this season, Crafton’s only focused on breaking his own 38-race winless streak.
“I don’t believe in momentum, but Rockingham is an awesome place, it’s gonna be a darned good race and I’m looking forward to going there,” Crafton said. “We had a very, very good truck there, last year and if we can just keep all this momentum going, we’re going to be fine.
“I know I had a blast there last year and it’s one I’ve had circled on my calendar and I’m pumped to get there.”
A year ago, Crafton started eighth and led 40 of the 200 laps before finishing third, behind visiting Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne and defending Truck Series champion James Buescher. At The Rock a year ago, Sauter finished right behind Crafton, who feels like the Martinsville race, in which tire management became a key, could’ve been decent preparation for Rockingham’s abrasive surface.
“I feel like Martinsville was a great test session for Rockingham — exactly,” Crafton said. “I feel like Rockingham will be very similar to Martinsville. You’ll be able to go hard at the beginning of a run, but then you’ll pay for it at the end of the run… Or you can go easy, take care of your stuff and be there at the end of a run.”
That’s the exact strategy Crafton and Joiner used last weekend to finish second to Sauter. Their third teammate, Todd Bodine in the No. 13 SealMaster Toyota, almost made it a historic ThorSport one-two-three before Kevin Harvick spun him out of a sure top-10 run late in the race.
The season’s third race, on the one-mile high-banked oval in the North Carolina sand hills, gets the green flag at 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Live television begins at 1:30 p.m. with “The Set-up” pre-race show on SPEED Channel, followed by the race broadcast. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 1:30 p.m.