ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton doesn’t have much recent history to rave about when it comes to Daytona International Speedway and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but there’s no question the ability of his No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota crew has the California veteran eagerly looking ahead.
“I absolutely feel like this (2013) is the best chance I’ve had at winning a championship in the Truck Series,” Crafton said. “Working with Carl (Joiner Jr., crew chief) for a second year, the whole 88 group is as strong as it’s ever been so this is the most optimistic I’ve ever been going into a season, without a doubt.
“We ended 2012 and had such fast trucks each and every week, and that’s what makes me feel so good going into 2013. Besides, this being our second season running Toyotas is another real plus for our organization.”
Crafton’s stability and competitiveness is pointed-out by the fact that Daytona will be his 295th consecutive Truck Series start, a string that stretches back to his series debut for ThorSport in the 2000 season finale at his home state’s Auto Club Speedway. At Martinsville Speedway in April Crafton’s set to tie the series record of 296 consecutive starts that was set by former ThorSport driver Terry Cook.
In addition, Crafton’s finished the last six seasons in the top-10 in the standings, including a best of second in 2009. And he’s achieved the top-10 in eight of his last nine campaigns as he goes into his 13th consecutive full-time season — all but one of them, the 2004 season when he raced for fellow Californian and former kart-racing foe Kevin Harvick — with ThorSport.
But Daytona’s the first hurdle. “The World Center of Racing” has allowed Crafton to earn a couple treasures, like his fifth-place finish in 2010 and a second-place start in 2009. But the frustrations are more numerous, like last year, when Crafton was wiped-out of a probable top-10 finish by a wreck coming to one of four white flag attempts in a race that had nine laps of overtime and four cautions in the last 10 laps.
“Daytona has always been a cool place to come to get the season started off,” Crafton said. “But when I think of racing at Daytona, you realize it’s a complete crap shoot… But that’s exciting for the fans and who cares what we think, right (laughing)?
“We’ve had good runs here in the past. Even though the finishes might not reflect how well we’ve competed, you just go into it knowing that it’s a crap shoot and you accept that. I just look at all the drivers that have won this race — and I can say it’s 100 percent a crap shoot. But you’ve got to be there at the end.”
Crafton hopes his two veteran teammates, Johnny Sauter in the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota and Todd Bodine in the No. 13 Mattei Air Compressors Toyota, can enable all three of them to challenge for ThorSport’s first Daytona victory.
“It’s great to have two good teammates like Johnny and Todd to go into this weekend and to be able to work together — not only on the racetrack when we can, but also on strategy and setups,” Crafton said. “It’s definitely gonna be big because me and Johnny have been able to work together a little bit in the past but we’ve never had another veteran in another truck so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Bodine has victories in the 2008 and 2009 Daytona truck races and his average start and finish are both in single digits. For his part, Sauter was leading the race when he was spun out from behind to start the wreck that also eliminated Crafton.
The NextEra Energy Resources 250 is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. ET start on Friday. Live television coverage is on SPEED Channel and MRN Radio has the live radio broadcast