By David Morgan, Associate Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Matt Crafton was well aware of the fact that he could be a winless champion before the green flag even flew for Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And it didn’t bother him one bit that he could be the first champion in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series history to not visit Victory Lane in their run to the title.
“That would be great, wouldn’t it? I would love it,” Crafton said with a smile. “I would sleep just fine at night sitting next to that trophy.”
Coming into the 134-lap event, not many gave Crafton and ThorSport Racing much of a chance against the likes of Ross Chastain, Brett Moffitt, and Stewart Friesen, given he was in the midst of a winless streak dating back to the summer of 2017 at Eldora, while the others had multiple wins to their names in 2019.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, the wily veteran showed the others how it’s done as the race played out, slicing his way from ninth to the lead for one circuit on lap 56. Though he wasn’t able to stay up front thanks to Austin Hill’s “missile” of a truck, Crafton settled into second and quickly established himself as the guy to beat down the stretch for the championship.
Once the final round of pit stops cycled through, Crafton was still the top dog among the Championship 4. If any of the other three were going to win the title, they were going to have to come and take it from Crafton and the No. 88 team.
That never came to fruition and it was smooth sailing for Crafton down the stretch, as he finished a little over 1.5 seconds behind race winner Austin Hill and some nine seconds ahead of his nearest championship contender – Ross Chastain.
With Friday night’s championship clinching finish, Crafton joins the elite of the Truck Series, tied with Jack Sprague at three championships apiece. Only the gold standard of the Truck Series, Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday, Jr., has more championships with four.
“It feels amazing,” Crafton said. “It’s one step closer to what Hornaday has done, and they called us the underdog. I heard Bodine and everybody say I was the underdog and I didn’t have it. We fought harder. I guarantee you every one of these guys worked harder and this Menard Ford F-150 was fast tonight.
“The first run I was like, ‘Oh, boy we’re in trouble.’ But we just made air-pressure adjustments from there. We made a few adjustments to tighten it up because we thought the track was gonna be green it was gonna go away, but this thing ran flawless all night and the motor was very good as well and everything just went our way.”
ThorSport Racing entered the Playoffs with three bullets in the gun – Crafton, Johnny Sauter, and regular season champion Grant Enfinger, but mechanical failures at Las Vegas left just Crafton standing as the team’s lone hope for the championship.
Team General Manager David Pepper gave his thoughts on the matter, explaining that the trials and tribulations that they had to face as the season progressed just made Friday night’s championship win that much sweeter.
“You know when you start in Daytona, and I think these guys will agree – Matt’s been doing this for a long time, it’s not a sprint, it’s a journey,” said Pepper. “You look back and it’s only 10 months ago when we started this run. It’s not a really long period of time, but then you think about every single thing that happens all along the way to get to this point.
“I think all the lows and the highs are what make it worthwhile. I think we had to go through those things to make this the special night that it is. It makes you appreciate it even more. These champagne bottles, the championship rings, the hats, the towels, the look in the guy’s eyes on the team winning this deal, those are great memories. Those are special things.
“You have to go all season to appreciate how hard it is and all that they put in. No, it didn’t start out great, but it sure ended great.”
As far as Crafton’s future after winning another championship, he’s not going anywhere. After all, he’s still got to catch Hornaday on the all-time championship wins list.
“He’s got one up on me,” Crafton said of Hornaday. “I’ve definitely got a few more years to go, without a doubt, to be able to at least do what he’s done and maybe tie him and maybe beat him. I know he was still whooping up on us when he was like 50 years old and I’m still quite a ways away from that.”