Mesa Marin: Matt Crafton preview

Crafton ready to play again on Mesa Marin banks. To hear him tell it, Matt Crafton has enjoyed playing on the banks at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. just about all his life. "I remember coming there as a little kid when my dad was...

Crafton ready to play again on Mesa Marin banks.

To hear him tell it, Matt Crafton has enjoyed playing on the banks at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. just about all his life.

"I remember coming there as a little kid when my dad was racing," Crafton remembered. "I always loved going to the end of the grandstands and playing on those hills. I'd go to the hill down in turn one and slide down the hill all day.

"There was nothing else I could do. I'd go to the track with my parents and they wouldn't let me in the pits."

Crafton doesn't have problems getting in the Mesa Marin pit area any more, but he still enjoys playing on the banks there. Only now, it's on the race track.

"Mesa Marin is one of my favorite tracks," he said. "It's really a driver's race track. The banking is just perfect for a race track. The asphalt's older. Grip's hard. You have to be really smart and manage your tires to do well there."

The Bakersfield half-mile oval is less than an hour's drive from the home in Tulare, Calif. where Crafton grew up. He went to the track scores of times as a kid, watching his father, Danny, race stock cars. He was there the day Danny was seriously injured in a crash.

"I was in my grandparents motorhome, parked on the back straight way," Crafton remember. "It was in 1985, I think. He got hooked in the right rear quarter panel going into turn one. That turned him straight into the wall. It was big hit. It split the wall in half, even with all that dirt behind it.

"He was laid up for about nine months. He broke his back, his ankle. It bruised his heart. He was in intensive care for two weeks. He didn't get back to race for a year, but when he did it was for the same race at Mesa Marin."

It was at Mesa Marin that the younger Crafton first turned laps in a stock car, his dad's NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series entry.

"Dad had gotten hurt again," Crafton said. "He wanted me to be able to practice and qualify the car at Sears Point. We went to Mesa Marin to get me some seat time. It was quite a change from the micro-midgets and mini-sprints I had been racing on dirt. I ended up spinning out a few times and finally wrecked.

"But we went on to Sears Point and I practiced. I qualified the car and then he told me he wanted me to race, too. That was it. I started driving and he became the crew chief."

The Crafton family team stayed together and won together. The younger Crafton claimed the NASCAR Southwest Series title in 2000 with two wins and four poles. Overall, he has four Southwest victories in his career.

The championship provided an opportunity for Crafton to move up the NASCAR ladder. In October, 2000, he started racing for SealMaster Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

His next trip to Mesa Marin is for the March 23 Lucas Oil 250, a NASCAR truck event. It will be his 50th career start in the series.

"It's hard to believe that we've been racing in the trucks that long," he said. "I think we have some things put together this year that will help us have the kind of season we haven't been able to have the last two years.

"I'm excited about getting to Mesa Marin. We struggled there the last time. I want to go back and have a top-10, top-five day."

Crafton finished 30th in the last truck event at Mesa Marin, the product of handling problems in qualifying and brake problems in the race.

He comes into the Lucas Oil 250 eighth in series points, a career high, after opening the season with a 12th-place finish at Dayton and an 11th-place performance at Darlington.

Practice and qualifying for the Lucas Oil 250 is Saturday, March 22. The race is slated to start at 5 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST Sunday, March 23. The Lucas Oil 250 is scheduled for live telecast on SpeedChannel and broadcast on the radio affiliates of the Motor Racing Network.

-smr-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Matt Crafton