Driver Analysis: Matt Crafton

by Briar Starr On Thu, Dec. 21, 2017

The 2017 year saw two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton make his 18th career season start dating back to the 2000 season. The long-running sponsor Menards returned to sponsor him once again in the series with the different brands such as Shasta, Goof Off, Fisher Nuts, Ideal Door, Hormel Gatherings, Jack Links, Great Links, Rip IT and FVP just to name a few.

It was a wild one, to say the least for the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driver. Daytona started off with a bang where on the final lap, Crafton went flipping in the air while doing a 360 and eventually landing back on four wheels. Thankfully, he, along with others, was not hurt during the big crash. A wild way to start your 2017 season off for sure.

In the coming weeks, his finishes continued to be up and down, with a second at Atlanta and ninth at Martinsville, while finishing 16th and one lap down at Kansas due to a flat right rear tire with less than 10 laps to go. It wasn’t the prettiest race for Crafton as his team’s plan did not go well.

“We struggled with free-in, free everywhere tonight. Junior (Carl Joiner, crew chief) made some big swings, but we just never got it right,” Crafton said. “Track position was everything and the tire was so hard, it was just impossible to feel anything when it stepped out from us. I thought we were going to be able to salvage a decent finish there at the end, but we had a right rear flat, and our night was just over after that.”

After a couple of rough patches, he was back inside the top 10 at Charlotte with a sixth-place finish. Iowa was the ninth race of the season and the Menards driver still had not won yet to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Crafton was involved in a crash on lap 184 which relegated him to a 19th place finish.

Then it was Eldora, the biggest race of the season if you ask others, including Crafton. This race has been marked on his calendar and check list to win at since its inaugural running in 2013. After the qualifying heat races, he started second and won Stage 1. He fell back a bit in Stage 2 and wound up ninth. Crafton eventually worked his way back up to the lead after taking it away from Stewart Friesen on Lap 134 of 150. From there, he held on in the final 17 laps to score his first win of the season and clinched a spot in the playoffs. It was a great victory for Crafton and the No. 88 Thorsport Racing team. Needless to say, it was the highlight of his 2017 season up to that point.

“Our first dirt win,” he said. “A lot of fun. In the second part of the race we downright just stunk. It was my fault. We over-tightened it. On the first run we were pretty good, I just thought we were a little bit too free. We tightened it up, and then we just went back to exactly where we started the race. Rico (Abreu) drove by me up top, and I’m like ‘Crafton, you got to put this thing on the fence down there’. I knew I was getting beat on the bottom, and then I found something in the middle over here in 1 and 2. Finally at the end, I’m like ‘well, we ought to tear the right side off this thing and take it to victory lane.”

Crafton continued to carry that momentum in the weeks leading up to the playoffs at Loudon. Despite an unfortunate 25th place finish at Canada, he earned a pole at Michigan and finished sixth there. In the final race until the playoffs began, he finished 16th at Chicago, two laps down due to a spin in which he never could recover.

“This was absolutely the most evil thing I’ve ever driven – I just spun out,” Crafton said. “Hopefully, we can get our stuff together for the Playoffs, so we can compete for another championship. We’ll be good though, we  made it here and now we just have to focus on the races ahead of us.”

In the playoff races, Crafton had consistent finishes of sixth at Loudon, seventh at Las Vegas, ninth at Talladega, second at Martinsville, ninth at Fort Worth. The only finish outside the top 10 came at Phoenix, where he was involved in a crash on lap 129 which ended his night early and saw him finishing 21st.

Despite that finish at Phoenix, Crafton qualified for the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year. In this case, he was searching for his third career championship in the Truck Series.

The day started out somewhat okay for the No. 88 driver after qualifying eighth. In Stage 1, Crafton would finish seventh while in Stage 2, he finished eighth. When the checkered flag flew, it saw him finish sixth, the last final four driver to cross the line, finishing fourth in points. Even though it wasn’t the night Crafton wanted, he will be back to challenge for the title in 2018.

“The first run we were pretty good, just got really, really free,” Crafton said. “As the night went on we just got freer, and freer. We would tighten it up, and we’d run good for about half the run, and then it would go away. All-in-all, we can’t hang our heads – we’ll get em’ next year.”

Stat wise, the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driver saw one win, five top fives and 16 top 10 finishes, along with an average start of 6.2 and an average finish of 9.3 with 321 laps led and five DNF’s.

You can follow Matt Crafton on Twitter @Matt_Crafton and on Instagram @Matt_Crafton.

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