HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) – Matt Crafton has reason to celebrate, and not just because he has virtually locked up the NASCAR Truck Series championship.
Crafton got a contract extension with ThorSport Racing on Thursday, ensuring him a 10th consecutive season with team owner Duke Thorson.
It’s a fitting reward for Crafton, who all but wrapped up his first series title last week at Phoenix. He has a 46-point lead over Ty Dillon heading into Friday night’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s a big enough lead that Crafton only has to start the race to clinch the championship.
Crafton says he’s endured “a lot of sleepless nights. You wake up at 2, 3 in the morning asking, `How can I lose this thing?'”
Realistically, he can’t, so Crafton has little, if anything, to worry about now.
All he has to do is avoid something crazy and catastrophic before Friday’s race.
“I figured as long as I got to the racetrack I’ll be all right,” Crafton said. “I’ve considered sleeping in a rental car out here. I feel pretty comfortable with it.”
Crafton holds the record for the most consecutive starts (315) in the Truck Series. He has just one victory this season _ he won at Kansas in April _ but has a remarkable 19 top-10 finishes in 21 starts.
“Matt’s consistency and competitiveness at a very high level epitomizes what ThorSport is all about,” Thorson said. “We’re pleased to keep Matt and (sponsor) Menards together moving into the future and look forward to their continued success.”
Crafton, a 37-year-old native of Tulare, Calif., has driven full time in the Truck Series since 2001. Although he has just three career wins, many wonder why he hasn’t moved up to the second-tier Nationwide Series or maybe even the elite Sprint Cup Series. But he made it clear Thursday he doesn’t want to make the jump unless it’s the right scenario.
“My biggest deal is whatever I do, I want to be competitive,” Crafton said. “I’m not going to lie. There’s people that have called me, `You’re going to run a Cup car. You’re going to run 25th or 43rd at best.’ I don’t want to do that. I don’t care. I’m probably going to make more money, but I’m going to be a miserable S.O.B. on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, just riding around like that. …
“I’m getting the opportunity to do what I love to do _ race, be competitive, being able to win races and win a championship. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I would love to run some Cup races, Nationwide races in some competitive stuff, no doubt. Do I want to go up there and move? Not the end of the world if I don’t.”
One thing is fairly definite: Crafton will start the 200-mile race Friday and he can start celebrating at the green flag instead of the checkered.
“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s what the family has worked for, what I’ve worked for since I was a kid. Honestly, I had my first autobiography assignment in first grade when I was a kid, `What do you want to be?’ It was a race-car driver. That’s what it would mean to me. It would mean the world to me.”
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