St. Louis: Matt Crafton - NASCAR spotlight

Solid performances put Crafton among favorites to win at Gateway DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2004) -- You might say Matt Crafton (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) flew under the radar for much of the early season despite building a foundation...

Solid performances put Crafton among favorites to win at Gateway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 14, 2004) -- You might say Matt Crafton (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) flew under the radar for much of the early season despite building a foundation for his current fifth-place ranking in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship standings.

Back-to-back performances at Kansas and Kentucky speedways -- where Crafton contended for victory in each race -- make the Californian a stealth contender no longer.

And that's how Crafton wants it to be entering Saturday's Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 at Gateway International Raceway.

Having gone three-plus seasons without a win has been more than frustrating for the 28-year-old Crafton, whose four victories and 2000 championship on the NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series were instrumental on his elevation to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

"To go winless after three years is very tough on you," said Crafton, who joined forces with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star Kevin Harvick after serving a lengthy apprenticeship with Ohio-based Thor Motorsports. Crafton posted 29 top-10 finishes in 72 starts but lacked the equipment to reach the next level.

Harvick changed all that.

After finishing 19th in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Crafton has taken full advantage of Chevrolet's support and Richard Childress-built engines. He scored his best career finish -- fourth -- last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Since Daytona, Crafton has finished in the top-10 in nine out of 10 starts -- best on the series - and led his first laps in more than a year at Kansas. Harvick obviously is pleased with both driver and crew chief Wally Rogers.

"I knew it was going to take some time bringing in a young driver and crew chief to work together but that's going to happen," said Harvick. "I think it's (a win) definitely coming. They just have to have everything come together."

A month ago, Harvick brought aboard veteran NASCAR competitor Rick Carelli to spot for his driver. Carelli's lengthy racing resume lists four NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories that include Gateway's 1998 inaugural race and NASCAR Grand National Division, West Series and NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series titles.

Crafton believes that Carelli's input might be the final ingredient in a victory celebration recipe -- perhaps this week.

"Say if I am running in front of a guy who is approaching me quick and he is running a little bit different line, then Rick can notice things like that and relay the information properly to me," he said. "This is something that comes with having a veteran driver in the spotter stand as opposed to someone who has not been behind the wheel. I definitely trust Rick a lot in his directions to me and that keeps me calm behind the wheel."

And history shows Crafton should be among the favorites entering the season's 12th race. He has finished in the top 10 in all three Gateway appearances, a track on which Harvick won consecutive NASCAR Busch Series races in 2000 and '01.

"I look forward to going there because it's a driver's track," said Crafton pointing to the 1.25-mile venue's differing set of turns. Gateway also is the only NASCAR Craftsman Truck track on which drivers shift gears. "You can't just lay on the throttle and turn left."

Harvick doesn't figure on imparting any secrets to his driver although with an off-weekend for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, the owner likely will have a greater presence in his own shops talking strategy and offering setup suggestions before the team leaves for the St. Louis area.

"It's funny, but the biggest thing I remember about those night races we won there was that it was extremely hot," said Harvick.

Just like his driver.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Matt Crafton , Rick Carelli