Matt Crafton eyes dirt starts, Daytona glory

NASCAR via Getty Images

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For Matt Crafton, a two-time champion of the Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS), there aren’t many boxes left to check off behind the wheel of the No. 88 Menards Toyota.

However, going into the opening week of the season, there’s still one marquee event left to conquer – Daytona.

Crafton enters Friday’s NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway with 13 victories in his 17-year Truck series career. The lone noticeable omission from the Tulare, California native’s resume is a triumph at the 2.5-mile World Center of Racing.

“This is definitely a very important race to win,” Crafton said. “It’s a crapshoot, because you never know what you’re going to get. You’ve got to be there at the very end just like each and every week, but Daytona… Just, the big ones and all of that. It’s difficult.

“It would be really cool to get a victory here.”

While Crafton’s stats at Daytona are noticeably pedestrian – just one top five and seven top 10s in 16 starts – the Californian has built a name for himself as the top series regular with a streak of consistency that’s seen him finish no worse than eighth in the series standings in each of the past 10 seasons.

So why the Daytona struggles?

“We’ve never put a lot of emphasis on our speedway program just because we’ve always taken all of our downforce trucks to the wind tunnel and worked on that because there’s so many mile-and-a-half tracks that we race at,” Crafton said.

“We hadn’t done anything with our speedway program, so this winter we went to work hard and did a lot of work on trying to make our speedway program better so we can go lead laps and put this Menards Toyota Tundra in victory lane.”

While Crafton hopes to find victory lane at Daytona with ThorSport Racing and continue to enjoy success in the NCWTS, he also intends to find victory lane on a completely different racing surface – dirt.

Crafton began his Speedweeks not at Daytona, but a few miles up the road at Volusia Speedway.

Piloting a dirt modified, Crafton finished as high as second during the multiple DirtCar Nationals races held throughout the week.

“I drove for other people’s cars for the last few years, and it’s been hit or miss,” Crafton said. “You never know what you’re getting into. But this winter I found a car, and I knew it was a good car. It won a race last year.

“I have some friends that race dirt cars. Nick Hoffman told me,, ‘Get that (car) and we’ll tune it up and go have some fun.'”

For Crafton, who honed his skills on go karts and midgets before moving to super late models and up the NASCAR ladder, returning to dirt has provided the veteran an opportunity to step away from the attention and pressure of NASCAR and enjoy racing on a more raw, natural level.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s also allowed Crafton to enjoy some quality time with his father.

“One of the things that’s been so great about this was getting to build it (the car) in the shop with my dad.,” Crafton said. “Literally behind my dad’s house we have a 50×40-foot shop and we put it in there. We worked for the last two months, tore it all the way apart, put it all back together and we had a blast.

“I finished second last night in it. We had great nights out at Volusia and had really bad nights. We finished it out on a high note and now I’m ready to go dirt racing some more.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *