Matt Crafton started his Camping World Truck Series career with ThorSport Racing. Though in 2004, he headed over to Kevin Harvick Incorporated, hoping for bigger success. When that didn’t work out, he returned back home to Duke and Rhonda Thorson, ready to keep it going.
Over the years, Crafton has continued to get better as a driver and get closer to his first NASCAR Championship.
This year was the year as for the Tulare, California native as he posted a win, seven top fives and 19 top 10s in the 22 races on the way to winning his first NASCAR Championship.
“I mean, it’s an honor,” Crafton said afterwards. “To be able to do it for Duke and Rhonda Thorson that have been doing this for 18 years, and to give them the first championship and me driving for them for 13, 14 years‑‑ 13 years, I think, full‑time, and like I said, Menard’s and all the people that have been behind me, every one of these guys that work on this truck, it’s an honor to be able to give them this championship.
“These guys are the ones that work so hard. I’m just the one that gets to celebrate and look like the hero because I got to drive a great truck all year.”
Leading those dedicated group of men and woman behind Crafton was crew chief Carl Joiner Jr., who said the championship means everything to him.
“That’s what we wake up every day to do,” he said. “That’s how we’re bred per se. Every guy on the team, every wife, and like I agree with Matt, it’s just so great for Duke and Rhonda Thorson and their daughter Alison, actually. They’ve given everything they’ve got for this, and I’m just glad we could bring it for them.”
It also marks the first championship for ThorSport Racing, a team based out of Sandusky, Ohio that has been involved in racing for 18 years now.
“One of the important things, that’s what Duke has always done, he has left it in Sandusky, Ohio,” Crafton commented on the location question. “That’s where he lives. It makes sense if you’re from North Carolina, have your race team in North Carolina. Like he said, Boston Red Sox are in Boston. Los Angeles Dodgers are in Los Angeles. Not everybody has to be in North Carolina. More people to draw from, but it is what it is.
“That’s what makes it so cool, because he has stuck with his guns. I’m not going to lie, there are times where I’ve said, We have to have it down here to draw more people, all that. He has dug his heels in there, said, We’re going to stay here and win a championship. I can’t thank Menards and everybody enough.”
They won their first ARCA Championship earlier this year with Frank Kimmel, and can now call themselves NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champions as well.
For Crafton, the championship solidifies the dedication that he has had to racing.
“It’s everything,” he says of the championship. “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 racecar driver. That’s what it would mean to me, it would mean the world to me.”
Starting back 13 years ago in 2001, Crafton posted solid finishes and came close to victory. Though it was 2008 at Charlotte that was the sight of his first win. From then on, it was continuing to grow the team and grow as a driver leading up to this.
As the season grew on and Crafton saw his championship lead grow and continue to click off top 10 finishes, he admitted that the last two months leading to the finale dragged by slowly with lots of sleepless nights.
“At night you wake up at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning asking, ‘How can I lose this thing?'” Crafton commented.
Coming into the final race of the season, all Crafton had to do was start the race and he would lock up the championship.
“I figured as long as I got to the racetrack I’ll be all right,” Crafton said before the weekend. “I’ve considered sleeping in a rental car out here.”
Beyond the championship itself, the year was a big one for Crafton away from the track. This past summer, Crafton and wife Ashley welcomed Elladee to the world.
“It’s been an awesome year,” Crafton said. “It’s been the greatest year of my life so far. Like I said, to have a baby and win a NASCAR championship, nobody can ever take that away from me.”