Michigan: Matt Crafton - NASCAR spotlight

Crafton, ThorSport Racing surprise championship contenders of '05 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 13, 2005) -- Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) has a theory about being successful in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competition. "This (sport) is...

Crafton, ThorSport Racing surprise championship contenders of '05

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 13, 2005) -- Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) has a theory about being successful in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competition.

"This (sport) is a lot about what's in your head," said Crafton.

The Tulare, Calif., competitor could be forgiven for harboring self-doubt last year after getting his release from Kevin Harvick Inc.'s No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet despite a fifth-place championship finish.

Crafton returned to Ohio-based ThorSport Racing -- and he couldn't be more optimistic. Heading into Saturday's Paramount Health Insurance 200 at Michigan International Speedway, the 29-year-old Crafton is a solid seventh in the points standings.

He's coming off a season-best, fifth-place performance at Texas Motor Speedway. Crafton has completed all but two of the year's 1,600 laps, leading two of the last three races.

"The year's going good -- and I'm happy with it -- but I'm definitely not satisfied," said Crafton, a former NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series champion. "We've surprised a lot of people but I knew when I came back (to ThorSport) that we could do it.

"This team gets overshadowed by teams heavily supported by the manufacturers but we're starting to open a lot of eyes."

Duke Thorson's team indeed has begun to jell under the direction of ThorSport manager Dennis Connor, whose 25 victories with Hendrick Motorsports and Ultra Motorsports are a NASCAR Craftsman Truck record.

Thorson hasn't won since 1998 and Crafton hasn't won at all. That, Crafton believes, is about to change -- perhaps at Michigan, where a year ago he led early and ran with the lead pack until a brush with the wall left Crafton a disappointed 12th.

"I was trying to get more than the truck was willing to give me," said Crafton, who calls the 2-mile, high-banked speedway one of his favorites. "You can run anywhere you want."

Crafton particularly looks forward to the series' first Michigan companion event with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

"I love racing in front of a lot of people," he said. "You're going to see how many fans the series has in Michigan."

Crafton's 2004 experience was both enlightening and disappointing.

He failed to win a race -- which played a role in Harvick's choice of veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. to drive for the team this season. Hornaday won his third start at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"Kevin gave me a great opportunity and I learned a lot," said Crafton, who drove fulltime for ThorSport from 2001 to 2003 without a finish better than sixth. He had six top five and 17 top-10 finishes a year ago, the best a third at Kentucky Speedway. "It set the stage for this year. Without that (experience), I wouldn't have been close."

Running well matters, but Crafton realizes that the ultimate judgment rests with one thing: winning.

"Every year I have something to prove," said Crafton. "It eats me up that I haven't won a race. The key is to put yourself into position to win. The way we're running, Victory Lane can't avoid us forever."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Matt Crafton