Defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers’ champion Matt Crafton kicked his 2014 title run into high gear with a cherished first career victory — and the grandfather clock that comes with it — Sunday evening in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway in his No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Toyota Tundra.
The race, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon but postponed by rain until Sunday following the NASCAR Sprint Cup STP 500, took the green flag just after 5:30 p.m. ET and finished almost two hours later at dusk.
As intense as the race’s closing stages were, Crafton found some comic relief in discussing whether or not he thought the race would run its full distance.
“I knew it was going to be close, especially right there at the end when we got the lead,” Crafton said. “I think it was like 15 (laps) to go, you could definitely see it was getting dark and then it was five to go and we went green at that point — it was getting dark and I told them it was getting dark.
“I knew they weren’t going to listen to the guy that was leading the race (laughing).’Oh yeah, he’s screaming dark.’ I knew we were going to get it in at that point.”
Crafton scored his fourth career NCWTS victory and his first since Kansas last spring by leading the race twice for 47 laps — but most crucially by holding off two former Martinsville winners, Timothy Peters and Darrell Wallace Jr., on three restarts in the final seven laps, including two green-white-checkered restarts.
“Those last restarts I wanted to throw up in my helmet because I know what that grandfather clock would mean to all of us to be able to get that,” Crafton said. “I was just trying to anticipate each green flag in that (restart) box and Timothy (Peters) kept lagging back so far. I would see him coming with a run and you don’t want to fire too soon or too late and he’s going to drive back by you.
“The second-to-last restart he almost went by me into Turn 1 and I got him held out there.I thought we would be all right then (but I was) just trying to be smart and not overdrive (Turn) 1. I thought I gave one away — I drove it in there and I wheel-hopped and got loose getting into 1 and I said, ‘Oh, don’t do that again.'”
With the victory, Crafton moved to third in the championship, four points behind ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter — who finished fourth in his No. 98 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff / Curb Records Tundra — and Peters.
“I didn’t think we were going to get it right, there, on those first two runs but that’s just the way these ThorSport guys on my team never give up,” Crafton said. “We made a track bar adjustment, another track bar adjustment, air pressure adjustment and finally we got that thing ‘on.’
“I can’t thank, like I said, every one of these guys (enough) — Menards, Ideal Door, Toyota Tundra and those guys that raced me clean.Peters back there at the end and Bubba (Wallace Jr.) was back there and he couldn’t move me.”
Crafton’s win gave Toyota its 114th Tundra victory and victories in the Truck Series’ first two races for the sixth time, including 2013 when Sauter won them both — including a one-two Martinsville finish with Crafton.
The most special aspect was it gave Crafton and wife Ashley the domestic conundrum of what to do with Martinsville’s famous grandfather clock victor’s trophy. Laughing the whole time, Crafton said that wouldn’t be a problem.
“Finally got that grandfather clock,” Crafton said through a grin, referring to his previous 26 unsuccessful attempts. “It’s going to go somewhere in the living room without a doubt.My wife always tells me I get (a year)…
“The championship trophy, it sits by the front door and she says I can keep that one there for this year and hopefully we can put one there for next year.But she only lets me keep the (race) trophy in the living room area for one year until the next race to see if we can put another one back there.”
Crafton gets his next chance on May 9, where he’ll be defending champion at Kansas Speedway.
ABOUT MENARDS: With 287 stores in 14 Midwestern states, Menards has the tools, materials and supplies for all your home improvement needs whether just needing a light bulb or can of paint to building a deck or new home. Menards is known throughout the home improvement industry as the low price leader; it’s no wonder their famous slogan – “SAVE BIG MONEY” – is so widely known and easy to remember. Menards does things right – the company’s strength and success can be seen in the well-stocked and maintained stores, the lowest prices in town and the way guests are always treated like family in a hometown hardware store atmosphere.
ABOUT IDEAL DOOR: Since 1963, Ideal Door has been an industry leader in sectional garage doors and the preferred choice of home owners, architects and builders for their current and future door needs. For more information, visit www.idealdoors.com.
ABOUT THORSPORT RACING: ThorSport Racing, based in a state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is the longest-tenured NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. ThorSport, which has run in the Truck Series since 1996, in 2014 will run the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driven by 2013 drivers’ champion Matt Crafton, the No. 98 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Nextant Aerospace/Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra driven by Johnny Sauter and the No. 13 VAMP/VaporBrands International, Inc. Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and the No. 13 Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.