As the 2013 racing season nears the end, one team is on the verge of two major championships in stock-car racing. Sandusky, Ohio’s ThorSport Racing has one title in the bag and another looking better and better.
After more than 65 years of organized competition, this historic feat has only happened three times. Hendrick Motorsports won both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series title in 1997 and in 2001 with drivers Jack Sprague and Jeff Gordon. In 2011, Richard Childress Racing won the Truck Series title with Austin Dillon, and the ARCA championship with his younger brother, Ty. (No team has ever won both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series trophies in the same year)
By showing up at Friday night’s ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season finale at Kansas Speedway, 51-year-old Frank Kimmel will seal the deal on his 10th ARCA championship. With a top-10 finish in Kansas City, Kimmel can become the first ever ARCA champion to register top 10s in every event of the season. His three wins this year are impressive, and one more victory will move him past Iggy Katona (79 wins) as the all-time wins leader in the division.
The possibility of a second title for ThorSport this year is still a bit too far off to engrave the trophy just yet. Matt Crafton won a race at Kansas earlier in the year and has held the points lead for 14 races. For Crafton, it has also been an amazing run of consistency that has him in the lead. This past event at Las Vegas was the first race of the season where the No. 88 did not finish in the top 10 (he finished 11th).
However, it may be the next event on the Truck Series schedule that presents the biggest hurdle. Matt’s average finish at Talladega is 16.4, and over seven starts at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, he only has one top-10 finish.
The ultimate question for me is, “Will ThorSport go to ‘Dega with a run-in-the-back-and-survive TEAM strategy?” Obviously, there is no guaranteed success strategy at Daytona or Talladega, but the No. 88 team may have learned something from teammate Johnny Sauter’s Daytona win earlier this year.
When we examine the stats for the other four remaining events this year, Crafton does not have a great average finish at any of the remaining tracks – 12th at Martinsville, 11th at Texas, 10th at Phoenix and 12th at Homestead. Sometimes it is much more important to look at recent finishes instead of averages. The Tulare, Calif. native has finished second three times at Texas and has also posted runner-up runs at Martinsville and Homestead.
With a 41-point lead over James Buescher, the possibility of a major points loss may be restricted to Talladega only. With his victory this year at Kansas, it appears the 1.5-mile tracks should not be a major stumbling block. Keep in mind that Crafton’s teammate, Sauter, has two wins each at Martinsville and Texas! Setup information from the No. 98 team could benefit the No. 88, but additional victories from Sauter could steal precious points in the end.
If ThorSport holds on to win both titles, it will be impressive to me for three reasons:
1. The team operates out of Sandusky, Ohio – far away from the nucleus of racing in North Carolina
2. The organization built a brand new 100,000-square-foot facility and moved the teams following 2011.
3. ThorSport changed manufacturers and added Kimmel’s ARCA team in 2012.
Any one of these items could be too big of an obstacle, but co-owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson have built a championship-caliber organization with a slow and steady approach. Their race shop is second to none in Charlotte, and they manage a budget as well or better than any of their competitors.
I hope that race fans can appreciate what a 10th title for Kimmel really means! Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt had seven each. Of course, I am not going to compare a NASCAR Sprint Cup title on even ground with an ARCA title. There is a long list of drivers who have come into the Toledo, Ohio-based sanctioning body and outspent the competition three to one and bought a championship.
However, Kimmel has done it the hard way – out-think them, out-work them and out-drive them. Getting the record-breaking 80th victory in the final race at Kansas would be a big cherry on top of this championship sundae. If it does not happen, the Menards and Ansell gloves-sponsored team should still be very proud.
If Crafton is able to hold on and bring home ThorSport’s second championship trophy of 2013, it might be a good idea for Duke Thorson and general manager David Pepper to go ahead and buy tuxedos for the banquets. After all, why rent them when you need them for so many days!