NASCAR Driver Matt Crafton Takes on Menards 200 in the ARCA Racing Series
Veteran Tackles Two Series in One Weekend; Qualifies in Toledo Just Hours After Racing in Dover
NOTE: This is the first installment in a two-part series about Matt Crafton. Return to ARCARacing.comnext week as we visit the Sandusky, Ohio-based shop of ThorSport Racing to watch the ARCA car be prepared and check out their new, 100,000-square foot race shop currently under construction.
Crafton, who drives the No. 88 Menards Chevrolet Silverado for ThorSport Racing in the NCWTS, will attempt to qualify for the race less than 24 hours after competing in the Truck Series race at Delaware’s Dover International Speedway.
Two years ago, Crafton made the journey from Charlotte to Toledo after racing the Truck Series in order to practice and qualify an ARCA car for Paul Menard. Last year, he had the chance to race – flying in just after the May 22 Charlotte Motor Speedway Truck Series race to qualify seventh and finish fifth at the checkers.
No stranger to Ohio, the Tulare, Ca. native visits Northern Ohio and the ThorSport Racing Sandusky-based shop regularly. “I come check in on my guys and my No. 88 fleet of trucks, meet with Bud (Haefele), crew chief, and get setups done with the team. My owners, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, believe in Ohio for racing and know it’s a place where we can focus on the sport without a lot of chatter or noise from other teams. It’s good chi overall, keeps the guys motivated.”
Crafton will drive the No. 88 Messina Wildlife Management/Menards Ford Fusion, out of the Kimmel Racing stable of ARCA cars. The opportunity to run in the ARCA Racing Series is a result of the overall Menards Racing program in ARCA, and the business relationship between Messina Wildlife Management and Menards.
The quick turnaround is nothing new to the racing veteran, who is used to being on flights all over the country. “Between Menards appearances, which I really enjoy doing so that I can meet fans – and racing in the NCWTS, along with running my businesses with dirt cars and being a driver coach to Travis Pastrana in the NASCAR K&N Series, life is busy. I’m looking forward to getting back to Toledo – it’s a great racetrack with great fans. The track is awesome and I really like racing it. Pit strategy is huge at this track, since the tires fall off early and the rookies will be looking to their crew chiefs to really learn. We’ve learned a lot about tires this year in the Truck Series on repaved surfaces and different tires, so I’m interested in seeing what these Hoosier tires do next week.”
Currently third in overall driver points in the NCWTS, Crafton isn’t phased by the pressure. “It’s great to race in the ARCA Racing Series, because this is just plain fun. I’m going to race to win, I’d be ridiculous not to say that and there is some great competition in ARCA. Trucks this year is pretty cut-throat – every team and every driver has to be on their game 150% of the time to get a win and even get in the top ten. I’m proud of the momentum we’ve had so far, and it’s a great time for Ohio-based racing. Toledo Speedway shines a spotlight on Midwest racing at its finest, and I think it’s going to spotlight some really great talent there.”
Before moving to the NCWTS full-time in 2001, Crafton won the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series Championship in 2000. He earned his first career Truck Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2008 and has scored top-10 finishes in seven of the last eight years. Crafton still claims the title on most consistent top 10s in the NCWTS, with seventy seven consecutive appearances in the group. He recently celebrated with the SPEED Channel on-air at Nashville on their 200th broadcast – of which Crafton has appeared in all 200 – with a celebratory “smash” to host Krista Voda. “They had a cake, and she was egging me on with no forks or plates…I had a feeling I knew what I needed to do. So we joke that I was practicing for my upcoming wedding with fiancee Ashley – but I don’t think Ashley was a big fan of my techique! Krista was a great sport.”
The annual ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards spring event at Toledo Speedway will kick off on Friday, May 13 with the opening of ARCA Fan Fest 2011, and on-track action featuring the Buckeye 305 Touring Sprint Car Series. The ARCA cars hit the track on Saturday, May 14, with practice at 12:30 p.m. and Menards Pole Qualifying Presented by Ansell scheduled for 3:30 p.m. An ARCA Truck Series race will conclude the on-track action at 5 p.m., with a Welcome Race Fans Party to follow.
Spectator gates and ticket sales for the Menards 200 will open at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 15 and an autograph session featuring the entire starting ARCA Racing Series field is scheduled to take place from 12 – 1 p.m. The green flag will drop on the 200-lap, 100-mile Menards 200 at 2 p.m.
Advance discount tickets for the Menards 200 are available at Toledo-area Menards stores, including locations in Sandusky, Findlay, and Defiance. Race fans can save on ticket prices through May 10.