With back-to-back finishes outside the top-10 the past two races, Matt Crafton will be looking to turn things around. Fortunately, Kansas Speedway presents the perfect opportunity as he has posted only one finish outside the top-eight in the last 11 events, including three victories and a pair of runner-ups.
The 2020 E.P.T 200 winner spoke with NEWS FROM THE PITS about why he loves the 1.5-mile tri-oval and more.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into Kansas?
MATT CRAFTON: I am looking forward to it. Always liked Kansas, won there three different times, and just loving going there. There’s three different grooves – you can run the very bottom, run the middle, or run right up against the fence. That’s what every racecar driver asks – multiple grooves at a track.
ASHLEY: Building upon that, what is it about Kansas that makes it different to other intermediate tracks on the schedule?
MATT: It’s multiple grooves – that’s it, and the pavement has aged. That’s the biggest thing between the wore out Kansas to the new paved Texas, or new paved Kentucky, or stuff like that. It’s always the race track having the age which is what racecar drivers like.
ASHLEY: The past couple weeks haven’t gone as you probably would’ve hoped. How big would it be to turn things around this weekend, and get a win like last year?
MATT: It’d be really good. I know we can go win there. The last race at Richmond, I felt was a letdown. I felt we were about a 10th-place truck at the beginning of the race and we just chose pit strategy to try and get a late-race caution and we saved a set of tires, but it bit us at the end. We got beat as we had over 100 laps on our tires – it was a handful right there at the end.
ASHLEY: Looking at the year as a whole, what grade would give you and the team?
ASHLEY: What do you feel you guys need to work on as a team to turn that into a better grade?
MATT: Just get more speed – just a little more. Our mile-and-a-half program is pretty good right now. We ran good at Las Vegas. We ran decent at Atlanta. I felt we would’ve been a bit better at Atlanta than we did, but Las Vegas was good. It was a multi-groove race track where we were able to run around a bit so hopefully we carry that momentum and all the set-up stuff to carry over to Kansas.
ASHLEY: Big thing this year – the switch back to Toyota. You’ve talked about them in a high regard always. What is it about working them that makes it different, unique than other manufacturers?
MATT: Just all the tools they gave you are just unbelievable. All the SIM stuff, engineering help they have – they are leaders in all of that. They have came a long way and compared to the other manufacturers, they are still catching up in that stuff. That’s my opinion, at least.
ASHLEY: What track are you most looking forward to?
MATT: The next one, besides Pocono. At the end of the day, all the race tracks, I love going to as when we can run good anywhere. Pocono is the only race track where I can say ugh gosh, I might not have circled on my calendar – it might be circled with something else threw it. Pocono is one of those places that has been a thorn in my side big time, but hopefully we can go and make our truck a little bit better here.
ASHLEY: You’ve made a career for yourself essentially at the truck level. What makes truck series racing so much fun?
MATT: Just great racing. I call it more like college football compared to professional football. Everybody is out there trying to prove themselves and that goes a long ways. If you ever watch football back in the day, college football was always more exciting than professional football in my opinion.
ASHLEY: If someone came to you with an offer to run another series – Cup or Xfinity, what would it take to see you switch if that’s even on your radar?
MATT: Well, for one, I wouldn’t take Xfinity as it’s not a higher series; that’d be a step down. The only thing higher about Xfinity is their pay, but the competition level, they’re way stronger in the Truck Series compared to the Xfinity Series. In Cup – it’d have to be like Joe Gibbs. He’s the king of all Toyotas.
But at the end of the day, I’ve had a great career with Duke and Rhonda Thorson. They’ve always been so loyal to me and been great to me and it’s always been we’ll go win races together, we’ll build this team from the ground up. I started there in 2001 and it was we’ll make it a championship team, win races together. There’s not many owners like them.
ASHLEY: You speak about the evolution of ThorSport from the beginning. What’s it been like riding that roller coaster wave with them from the beginning?
MATT: At the beginning, I’m not going to lie, it was a nightmare without a doubt. But when we started winning races, won championships, it made it worth it without a doubt. The growing pains we had threw the beginning parts, it was definitely tough – tough on me mentally and physically. So to get where we are right now, it’s so so sweet to say that I was a big part of helping it get to where it is today.
ASHLEY: Championship 4 season’s end. Who are your early predictions?
MATT: It’ll be Toyotas. Not just saying because I am a Toyota driver, but the stats say it as they are undefeated right now in the Truck Series without a doubt. You’ve got KBM drivers, all the ThorSport drivers, and Austin Hill – he hasn’t won a race, but he’ll be one of the ones that when they hit their stride here, they will be really tough to beat as well.