Crafton crowned champ

Matt Crafton celebrated his first NASCAR tile with his wife Ashley and daughter Elladee Ann Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Crafton has started 315 races since 2000. His team owners, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, began competing in the series in 1996. The Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport Motorsports team is celebrating its first NASCAR truck title (photo courtesy: Jonathan Ferrey, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)


Smells of BBQ and motor oil permeated the cool air at the Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday night, signifying NASCAR’s return to South Florida. Friday night marked the start of NASCAR’s dramatic finale in the Ford EcoBoost 200. The night concluded with Matt Crafton being crowned NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, the first for both Crafton and his team, ThorSport Racing.  Crafton finished 21st by the time the checkered flag waved, beating Ty Dillon by 40 points in the standings. Kyle Busch won the race in dramatic fashion by fighting off the charging rookie, Ryan Blaney, to the finish line by a margin of 0.081 seconds.

The whirlwind race saw 13 lead changes and eight yellow flags. Crafton’s No. 88 Idea truck was involved in one incident, complicating his attempt to secure the Owners Championship. Though ThorSport Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports were tied in owners’ points after the race, the latter clinched the championship by way of victory today. Crafton was disappointed he couldn’t secure the owners title for Thorson, saying, “We wanted to get to victory lane and get the owners championship. It’s a shame.  We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Ryan Blaney captured Rookie of the Year honors, leading 67 laps and nearly stealing the victory from Busch. Blaney is the youngest rookie to win the award at 19 years old. This accolade comes a week after another young gun, Erik Jones, became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event in Phoenix. These events show the quality of young racers that are rising through the ranks to test the older, more established drivers.

The end of the race finally put to rest Crafton’s long pursuit of a truck championship, though he had all but won even before the race started. The previous Friday, Matt Crafton finished 5th in Phoenix to lead by 46 points in the standings entering the Ford Championship Weekend needing only to take the green flag to lift up the trophy. Though he was nearly guaranteed the championship he still joked on the eve of his victory that he still needs to show up, “I’ve considered sleeping in a rental car out here.”

This championship means just as much to the owners as it does to Crafton. The win tonight marks the first championship for ThorSport Racing and its owners, Duke and Rhonda Thorson. ThorSport is known for doing things a little differently from their peers. The team is based far away from Charlotte’s racing hub, in Sandusky, Ohio. Duke Thorson has shown that perseverance and a little luck goes a long way in this sport, especially after ThorSport finished its most successful season to date. Immediately after the race, Crafton praised Duke and his team, “Guys are coming to Ohio to work with us. This win shows that you don’t need to be in North Carolina to win a championship.”

Matt Crafton, known by most as “Mr. Consistency” on the track, showed that the old mantra of slow and steady actually does win the race or, more specifically, a championship. The counter-intuitive method is what Crafton is famous for and shows that it might actually work in this sport of high-octane trucks and break-neck speeds. Crafton, a California native, represents the blue collar attitude that NASCAR was built on many years ago, by coming up the hard way, having to work for every inch, both on and off the track. He recalls the times growing up where he had to conserve every part, and drive tires until they were specks of rubber.  This season, Crafton has only won once, but has 19 top-10 finishes, with the other two in the top-twenty. This weekend, he also became the first driver to complete every lap in a season.

Thorson’s race team was built a similar way, slow and steady. Also coming from humble beginnings, Duke Thorson built his company from the ground up and runs ThorSport on the same principles: low key and hard work. One of the reasons Crafton was able to win the championship was because of how similar he is with Duke, “We’re so much alike it’s scary, in our personalities, the way we act behind the scenes.” Clearly this formula works.

The ThorSport team has also been consistent this season, seeing its drivers lead the standings every week since the start of the year, beginning with Johnny Sauter for the first 3 weeks then Matt Crafton taking over for the rest of the season. Crafton was elated at the way his year turned out, “It’s been the greatest year of my life so far, to have a baby and win a NASCAR championship. Nobody can ever take that away from you.”

---This article was written by Nikhil Gorpade, University of Miami PR Experience Program student---
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