Matt Crafton has a high level of consistency at the highest levels of NASCAR national series racing mastered, and his 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers’ championship is proof of that.
So Crafton’s keen to win right out of the box in his No. 88 Fisher Nuts / Menards Toyota Tundra in Friday night’s 2014 season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
“This ThorSport Racing team has proven, over and over again — but especially last year — that it can compete for wins and just rattle-off top-10 finishes,” Crafton said. “But we want to win more this season and there would be no better of a place to do that than Daytona.”
Crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner has tuned his squad, and Crafton’s potent bright-yellow Tundras to the point that finishing races, and finishing well, are beyond second-nature. It’s like clockwork.
In 2013, Crafton scored top-10 finishes in the first 16 races of the season, which no other driver came close to equaling. In the end, his team completed all 3,391 laps the series contested — which had never been done in the series’ 19 years of existence.
Crafton ended up with a series-best 19 top-10 finishes and upped his career average in extending another series record — 316 consecutive starts — to a 55 percent top-10 finishing percentage. The icing on the cake was another ThorSport record, as Crafton and teammate Johnny Sauter were the only two drivers to lead the 2013 championship, the first time one organization had shown such dominance.
“Yeah, we’ve proven we can do this,” Crafton said with a self-deprecating grin. “But the bottom line is we want to win. Last year, in this race we had a hard time finding a drafting partner until our teammate Todd (Bodine) connected with us and pushed us back near the front.
“If the race was a lap-and-a-half longer there might’ve been a different ThorSport Tundra in Victory Lane because we were coming, but that’s OK. We learned what we could do and proved that we’d done that, at Talladega.”
In the season’s second superspeedway race, last fall at Talladega Superspeedway, Crafton and Sauter had barely separated themselves from the field and were heading for a one-two finish that would’ve been the fourth in ThorSport’s 18-year Truck Series history — when, within a half-mile of the finish line a massive pileup occurred that swept Crafton into it while Sauter crossed the finish line first.
Crafton, though, still finished in the top 10!
“Those are the kinds of things that can happen in superspeedway racing but Johnny and I proved we can work together and we proved how good these ThorSport Tundras are,” Crafton said. “When we get them on-track at Daytona we’re looking forward to seeing just how good these 2014 Toyotas can be.”
Crafton and his teammates took advantage of what amounted to a private day of testing at Daytona in January when rain wiped out half of a two-day test, with every team going home but the three ThorSport Tundras for the final afternoon.
Daytona has the most extended format the series will see all season. The opening practice is Wednesday afternoon from 2:30-3:50 p.m. ET, with live TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.
On Thursday, two additional practices are scheduled, from 1:30-2:50 p.m. ET and 4:40-6 p.m., again with live coverage on FOX Sports 1.
The second multi-segment, elimination-style group qualifying for a NASCAR national series will happen Friday at 4:10 p.m. ET with Keystone Light Pole Qualifying setting the 36-truck starting lineup, again with live coverage on FOX Sports 1.
Friday’s 100-lap, 250-mile main event will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET, preceded by The Setup pre-race show at 6:30. The live broadcast on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio begins at 7. Live timing & scoring for the weekend’s events will be at www.nascar.com.