[media-credit id=62 align=”alignright” width=”221″][/media-credit]Celebrating his twelfth season at ThorSport Racing, 35 year old Matt Crafton may well be known as the ‘leader of the pack’ among his fellow drivers, including championship runner-up Johnny Sauter and Rookie of the Year contender Dakoda Armstrong.
And although the driver of the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra is fine with that ‘leader of the pack’ moniker, as well as being the ‘wily veteran’, he does take exception to anyone who pins the ‘old’ label on him.
“That’s what they’ve named me,” Crafton said of his ‘leader of the pack’ status. “I didn’t so much come up with that but I guess that’s what they’re calling me.”
Whether leader or wily veteran, Crafton admits that he definitely has had an unusual amount of time with the same team, especially in the ever-changing sport of NASCAR racing.
“It says so much for Duke and Rhonda Thorson (ThorSport owners) and Menards (sponsor) who have been behind me for these past years,” Crafton said. “Duke has run this like a business and has grown each year but has not overspent, like so many race teams do.”
“Duke said if I’d stick with him as he was growing, we would be just fine,” Crafton continued. “And he has been a man of his words.”
Will this long-term relationship with ThorSport Racing lead to a championship run for the ‘wily veteran’ this upcoming race season?
“I sure hope so,” Crafton said simply. “That would be a dream come true for the Thorsons and for me.”
In addition to his teammate Johnny Sauter, who has been with ThorSport Racing for several years, Crafton is also looking forward to his newer teammate Dakoda Armstrong. With the trio racing together for ThorSport, Crafton is convinced that they may just be that team to beat for the Truck Series championship.
“It’s definitely going to help us,” Crafton said of his teammates. “It will give us some more people to bounce ideas off.”
“There’s going to be some weekends that me and Johnny will struggle and Dakoda and his team might be on a different path and able to help us,” Crafton continued. “That’s one of the great things about having a multi-truck deal.”
“Dakoda’s going to do a good job,” Crafton said. “He’s got a lot of learning to do and he’s definitely green.”
“But if he keeps calling me ‘old guy’, we’re going to have a problem,” Crafton said with a chuckle. “He’s going to have to learn to respect his elders.”
In addition to his young teammate, Crafton also has another major change facing him for the 2012 season. For the first time in his Truck career, he will be driving a Toyota instead of a Chevrolet.
“It’s been great,” Crafton said of the change. “Toyota has been a great company to work with so far.”
“I’ve been with Chevy since I started in the Truck Series and that’s all I’ve ever known,” Crafton continued. “So, I had no idea how this was going to go.”
“But they give you so many tools and their door is always open to ideas and questions you might have,” Crafton said. “They have 40 engineers on staff and you can go to them and they thrive on figuring out the answer.”
“That’s one of the cool things that Toyota has given us.”
“Chevy was great to us but we were racing against Cup-associated and affiliated race teams,” Crafton said. “To get to the next level, we felt we could get that Cup technology by going with Toyota.”
Not only does Crafton have a new manufacturer, but he also has a new crew chief, Carl Joiner. And while Joiner may be new to the top of the pit box, he has been a long time team member and friend of the veteran driver.
“He’s actually been our shock guy for, oh my God, seven years if not more,” Crafton said of Joiner. “I just got married this year and he was my best man.”
“The year I won the championship on the southwest tour, he and my dad were my crew chiefs,” Crafton continued. “He was doing it back then and we’ve always had a great relationship.”
“I’m really, really super-stoked about working with him this year.”
While he may be looking forward to the 2012 Camping World Truck Series season, Crafton has been busy off the track as well. In fact, he has been on the road during his time off just about as much as during his race season, even taking time to tie the knot.
“I have been traveling,” Crafton said. “From the time I left Homestead to two days ago, I’ve only been home eight days.”
“Everybody always says we should be resting but I love to travel so I’m not complaining,” Crafton continued. “Right after Homestead, we went to southern California and played in the sand.”
“Then we came home and flew off to go get married just south of Cancun, Mexico and then we went to honeymoon in Costa Rica,” Crafton said. “When we got home from our honeymoon, we were home for two days and went to play in the sand again in California and then drove our motor home back.”
“We actually take our motor home and leave it out there all winter and before the season we drive it back,” Crafton continued. “And that is not very much fun.”
“But if we made it through that long drive stuck in the motor home for three days, I guess we can be married.”
As hectic as his off-season has been, Crafton can barely contain his excitement for the beginning of the Truck season at Daytona this weekend.
“I am just super-excited,” Crafton said. “I’m so looking forward to this season.”