When he took the green flag to start Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Matt Crafton officially became the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.
And all it took was 13 years of trying and a record 316 Truck Series starts. But when his time came, Crafton stepped up in a big way.
The 37-year-old Tulare, Calif. native dominated the Truck Series for virtually the entire season, taking over the points lead in the fourth race at Kansas Speedway, where he won his only race of the year. From there, he never again trailed in points and assembled some truly remarkable statistics.
During the course of the 22-race Truck Series season, Crafton completed every single lap, the only Truck Series driver to ever do so. All told, he amassed seven top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. Crafton’s worst finish was 21st when he got wrecked Friday night at Homestead.
So dominant was Crafton that by the 10th race of the season he already had a lead of more than one full race in points over Jeb Burton. For most of the second half of the year, Crafton found himself playing defense, which he did not find to his liking at all.
"The last six days have gone by quickly," said Crafton during Thursday pre-race press conference. "The last two months have drug on for a long, long time. It’s tough. A lot of sleepless nights. At night you wake up at 2, 3 in the morning asking, ‘How can I lose this thing?’"
So it appears having a huge championship margin comes with its own pressures.
"It’s nice to have that big points lead, but at the same time it’s tough because you have to take a whole different outlook on how to race some of these races because you have the points lead and you have to be protective of it," said Crafton. "You don’t want to be one of the guys that has the biggest leads in Truck Series history and lose it."
Fortunately, Crafton had nothing to worry about.
He and his familiar bright yellow No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota Tundra were among the top 10 in just about every race this year.
Asked Thursday morning what this championship meant to him, Crafton was direct.
"It’s everything. It’s what the family has worked for, what I’ve worked for since I was a kid," he said. "Honestly, I had my first autobiography assignment in first grade when I was a kid, ‘What do you want to be?’ It was a racecar driver. That’s what it would mean to me; it would mean the world to me."
Friday night, he got a chance to know exactly what it meant.
"It’s been so cool," said Crafton. "Menards, Duke and Rhonda Thorson (team owners) — every one of these guys that work on this truck and make this possible. It’s an honor to be able to drive this truck and to get these guys that are behind me that give me such great trucks."
And while Crafton was disappointed that he got caught in one of the many late-race wrecks and couldn’t secure the owner championship — that went to race-winner Kyle Busch — he was still plenty pleased.
"All in all, I’m a Camping World Truck Series champion and nobody can take that away, right?"