Crafton focused on clinching title

Matt Crafton has a chance Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway to wrap up the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title a week early. For the veteran driver, who has led the truck standings since mid-April, early can’t come soon enough.

Despite enjoying an amazing season highlighted by a win at Kansas Speedway and 18 top-10 finishes in 20 races, Crafton is ready for the curtain to fall on 2013. He’s simply tired of sweating the possibility that something could go wrong and cost him an almost certain championship at the last minute.

“As bad as this might sound, I’m ready for this season to be over,” the driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota said. “As good as it has been, I’m ready for it to end so I can sleep a little bit better at night and not have anything else to worry about.”

With a little bit of good fortune – something Crafton has had no shortage of this season – he will clinch the title at Phoenix and be able to sleep well heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 15.

“That would be huge to be able to just not worry about anything and not do any of this damn points racing we’ve had to do for the last few weeks,” said Crafton, who owns three career Truck Series wins and a career-best points finish of second in 2009. “I mean, we’re not just riding around points racing but, at the same time, I’ve not been getting to race quite as aggressively as I’ve wanted to.”

To secure the title at Phoenix, Crafton needs to leave with at least a 49-point lead on second-place – whoever that driver happens to be. Crafton currently holds a 46-point buffer on second-place James Buescher, and is 47 ahead of third-place Ty Dillon. No matter how Buescher or Dillon fares on Friday night, a win by Crafton would assure him the championship.

“It’s very, very cool to be able to have the chance to be that close to being able to lock it up this weekend,” said the California native, who has logged considerable time at PIR in lower racing divisions. “And this is one of my favorite racetracks – you can call it my home track. I’ve ran a ton of laps around here in Late Models and everything, so I look forward to it. We’ve got a lot of family and friends and people coming out to just hang out and just watch the race each and every year. So, it would be a very cool deal to hopefully win the damn thing.”

For Crafton, a championship in NASCAR’s No. 3 division would be a fitting culmination to a season that has been about as close to perfect as one can get. In addition to missing the top 10 only twice in 20 starts, Crafton boasts a stellar average finish of 7.4, and has been running at the end of every race.

“I’m not surprised at all,” teammate Johnny Sauter said of Crafton’s season. “Matt’s obviously had some success in the Truck Series and has been a contender for championships before. He finished second in points in 2009, so it hasn’t been surprising for him to come out and do what those guys have done this year – ultimately, setting the bar pretty high, especially at the consistency marker.

“I mean, what was it – 16 or 17 top-10s in a row? That’s a pretty high mark. I’m not surprised in the least. I’m proud of him.”

Perhaps most remarkably of all, Crafton has completed all 3,093 laps logged in Truck Series competition. With those kind of statistics, it’s little wonder that he has led the standings since the season’s fourth race.

“The guys have been able to build me stuff and put me in stuff that’s capable of going out there and doing that each and every week,” Crafton said. “And they have built me some very, very good trucks each and every week, and then at the same time it’s just being lucky. I’d rather be lucky than good sometimes, and we’ve definitely had some luck on our side, for sure.”

Crafton, who has endured his share of ups and downs in a Truck Series career that dates back to 2001, still has a hard time believing just how well things have gone in 2013.

“You always hope and wish and pray for it, but to actually have it happen is another story,” he said.

In addition to securing the driver championship, Crafton also has his sights set on claiming the first owner championship for ThorSport Racing co-owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. Crafton has competed for the Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport organization his entire Truck Series career except 2004, when he left for a year to drive for Kevin Harvick Inc.

Crafton’s No. 88 ThorSport team holds a 32-point lead in the owner standings over the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports team.

“Duke and Rhonda have been huge for my career and have always believed in me, and I’ve always believed in them,” said Crafton, noting that he plans to be back with ThorSport in 2014. “The first time I went to work for Duke he said, ‘We might not have everything the greatest and the best and the most of it right now, but we’re going to run this as a business, we’re going to make it better and better each and every year as we grow, and we’re not going to outspend ourselves and outdollar ourselves and go out of business in a few years. I plan on being here a long time.’

“And that’s what he’s done – he’s been a man of his word. So, that would be great to give them the opportunity to have an owners championship, as well.”