2019 Crafton

Crafton is a Gander Trucks lifer: ‘I’m here to stay’

Matt Crafton hasn’t missed a Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race since 2000, when he made his NASCAR debut with a single event. The next year, he became a full-time driver. And 452 starts later, he’s still there.

Gander Trucks, for Crafton, is home.

“It’s the greatest race in NASCAR,” Crafton said at the NASCAR Awards in Charlotte, North Carolina, back in November. “Just ask all the fans to be totally honest. I remember back in 1995 whenever I used to watch truck races I was like, ‘Man, those truck races. I hopefully one day can be a part of it.’ Now that I’m a part of it and able to do it, it’s amazing.”

Not only is Crafton a part of the series, he’s a three-time champion.

RELATED: Gander Truck Series standings | Crafton secures third title

Crafton took home the title for the first time in 2013 with the help of one lone victory, seven top-five showings and an average 7.9 finish. He then went back-to-back in 2014 and improved all those marks to two wins, 13 top fives and a 7.0 average finish. His most recent championship came in 2019, when he managed to survive the playoff format and score the title without any wins. He did have seven top-five and 18 top-10 performances, though, while averaging an 8.8 finish.

There is only one driver with more Gander Truck Series championships — Ron Hornaday Jr. in 1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009 — and he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame just last year.

“I’ll worry about that when I’m all done,” Crafton said. “At the end of the day, I still have a lot left in me.”

Crafton, who drives the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford, is 43 years old. Hornaday completed his last full-time Gander Truck Series season in 2013 at the age of 55.

“If you think about it, back in the day with the Dale Earnhardts and Darrell Waltrips, those guys were late 40s or 50s and they were still kicking butt,” Crafton said. “It’s just the generation of a lot younger drivers that are coming up and getting the opportunity.

“To be where I’m at right now at 43, I feel very competitive and each and every weekend know I can beat them.”

Crafton has won 14 races in his Gander Truck Series career. Six were in 2015 alone, but he placed third that season overall. He has finished top five in the final standings 10 times.

Also on his resume are two Cup Series (2015 and 2019) and four Xfinity Series (2013-14) starts. Those tallies look insignificant when compared to the triple digits reached in the Gander Truck Series. And that number is only going to continue to grow considering Crafton has no plans on retiring any time soon, nor is he really looking to switch circuits.

“It’s been 19 years,” Crafton said. “I’d say I’m here to stay.”