Matt Crafton claimed his first career NASCAR national series title Friday night by taking the green flag in the Camping World Truck Series’ season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota.
Thus, Crafton will be feted Monday night for NCWTS drivers’ championship at the Leows Hotel Miami Beach in a black-tie awards ceremony shared with competitors from the NASCAR Nationwide Series. An edited version of the ceremony will be shown at a later date.
Friday, Crafton slugged his way through an up-and-down night that unfortunately ended on a down note that cost his team the Truck Series’ owners’ championship. Crafton came into the race with a 23-point lead over Kyle Busch Motorsports’ owner/driver and only needed to finish 18th or better to win owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson’s fourth championship this season.
Crafton pitted late, restarted back in the field and was involved in an accident with Busch’s teammate Joey Coulter on the first of three green-white-checker restarts. That relegated Crafton to a 21st-place finish while Busch won the race and led the most laps.
As a result, Crafton’s ThorSport Racing team was tied with Busch’s No. 51 with 804 points each. KBM triumphed on the first tiebreaker — six wins to one for Crafton.
In ThorSport’s 18th year of existence, the NCWTS owners’ title was the one prize Duke Thorson coveted the most in his organization’s most successful season to date.
Crafton ended the campaign 40 points ahead of Ty Dillon, with 19 top-10 finishes in 22 starts. He extended his Truck Series record for consecutive starts to 316 — every race since his debut in the 2000 season finale — and was the only series driver in 2013 that completed all 3,391 laps contested.
En route to his 2013 championship, Crafton won one race, at Kansas — after which he took the series’ championship lead and held it until the end of the season. That enabled he and ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter to establish another series record as ThorSport is the first organization in the series’ 19-year history to lead the points all season.
Crafton opened his 12th season driving for ThorSport with 16 consecutive top-10 finishes, including ThorSport’s third career one-two finish, behind Martinsville race winner Sauter. Crafton’s Homestead result was his worst finish of the year.
“It’s an honor to be able to drive this Menards Toyota Tundra,” said Crafton, 37, a native of Tulare, Calif. “For Menards and all the people that have been behind me, every one of these guys that work on this truck, it’s an honor to be able to give them this championship.
“These guys are the ones that work so hard. I’m just the one that gets to celebrate and look like the hero because I got to drive a great truck all year.”
“On behalf of all our associates at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development), I would like to congratulate Matt and the entire ThorSport Racing organization on their first NASCAR championship,” said Les Unger, Toyota’s national motorsports manager. “Matt and the team accomplished (the championship) this year and he’s the true embodiment of what the Truck Series is all about.”
In 12 full seasons competing in the NCWTS with ThorSport, Crafton has earned three victories, 63 top-five finishes, 175 top-10 results and seven pole positions. He finished as the series’ runner-up in 2009 and is the 2000 NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series champion.
Earlier this season Thorsport, which opened in 1996 and ran its first full season in 1998, won the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards drivers’ and owners’ titles with 10-time champion Frank Kimmel driving its No. 44 Ansell / Menards Toyota.
In addition to Crafton’s Kansas victory, Sauter won three times — the most by a Truck Series regular and Kimmel won four ARCA races.
“It just shows that you don’t have to be in North Carolina to (win a championship),” Crafton said. “Duke has always said that, since day one — since I came there — that we can win it from Ohio. We built this thing as a group. Each and every year we got it better and better.
“It’s just been awesome. I can’t thank them enough. Every one of these guys that work on this team, every one of the guys that have been behind the scenes have just worked their butts off. From the guys at the shop to the guys that hang the bodies, the guy that paint them — every one of them. I can’t thank them enough.”