Matt Crafton ready to take on Martinsville
March 24, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series may have had a five-week layoff, but it hasn't kept the circuit's defending champion from staying occupied.
Matt Crafton's schedule will pick up even more this weekend at Martinsville Speedway ahead of Sunday's Kroger 250 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), the truck tour's second race of the season. It will mark the veteran's 25th career start at the tight, .526-mile oval.
Crafton has hardly been idle since the season opener at Daytona, placing 12th in a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 8 and subbing for new father Paul Menard in Sprint Cup Series practice and qualifying last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Both opportunities presented a break from the routine that the 37-year-old driver has found beneficial.
"Absolutely, at least to get some seat time," Crafton said. "We did race the Nationwide car in Vegas and this is the most laps I've turned in a Cup car since I've been doing this for Paul. But anytime you can run anything, it's always good."
Despite all the extracurriculars, Crafton will be back at home -- both in a truck cockpit and at Martinsville. He finished second in this race last year, one of two runner-up finishes on the paper-clip layout since his truck career began in 2001.
He's come close to winning one of the historic track's signature grandfather clock trophies before, most notably in 2012 when a late-race brush from Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin cost Crafton one of his best shots. Saturday's 250-lapper provides another chance to fill the Martinsville void.
"I want that damn clock," Crafton said. "Two years ago, I was leading with five or six laps to go and got moved on a restart by one of these Cup drivers (Hamlin). It's still salt in the wound because I thought we had a very good shot at getting the clock there. Hopefully we can do it this year."
Strength in numbers may be on Crafton's side this weekend. ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter is a two-time Martinsville winner, including a come-from-behind victory in this race last year. The team has also brought back Jeb Burton -- holder of two straight third-place finishes at Martinsville -- for the second time this season in its No. 13 Toyota entry.
While the Ohio-based team has plenty of resources and short-track-savvy drivers to draw information from, Crafton said his preferred race package doesn't quite mesh with Sauter's.
"We'll see how each other does, but we both have such different driving styles, our setups are so different," Crafton said. "We can sit there and talk about it, but it's not really close. Still, this is just what Johnny's done. He and I have both raced a lot of short tracks growing up and that's the style of race tracks that we came from."