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NOV 16, 2019 | Ford Performance Staff

Crafton Claims Gander Mountain Outdoors Truck Series Championship

Ford EcoBoost 200

HOMESTEAD-MIAMI -- ThorSport Racing driver Matt Crafton delivered Ford’s first NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series championship since 2000 with his second-place finish in tonight’s Ford EcoBoost 200.

The NGOTS title is Crafton’s third and joins Greg Biffle as Ford’s all-time series champions. Crafton’s championship completes a 2019 Ford sweep in the series after ThorSport’s Grant Enfinger won the regular-season title.

The 43-year old veteran driver finished second in the Ford EcoBoost 200, behind non-championship contender Austin Hill. 

The title is Crafton’s third in the series, tying him with Jack Sprague and only one behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.

Johnny Sauter (6th) and Grant Enfinger (7th) made it three top-10 F-150s at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

FORD’S NASCAR GANDER OUTDOORS SERIES DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONS

Year     Driver                        Car Owner                     Wins    Poles
2000    Greg Biffle               Roush Racing                  5         4
2019    Matt Crafton            ThorSport Racing             0         3

MATT CRAFTON, No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 – POST-RACE INTERVIEW
YOU ARE A 3-TIME CHAMPION.  HOW DOES IT FEEL? “It feels amazing.  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.  I was praying there, ‘I do not want a yellow right here at the end of this thing.’”

AT PHOENIX ALL THE THINGS YOU GUYS STRUGGLED WITH STARTED TO TURN AROUND AND YOU DID THE SAME THING TONIGHT.  WHAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE?  “I guess I finally got out of the wheelchair and got up on the wheel and got it done.  Like I said, I took a lot of criticism over the restarts and it was time to get it done now.”

MARK RUSHBROOK, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports
THIS IS A GOOD WAY TO START FORD CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND.  “We’re excited to have ThorSport as a great team running Fords, and Matt Crafton showed his skill with a team behind him to take the truck to the front and get the championship.”

THIS WAS THE ULTIMATE GOAL WHEN THORSPORT JOINED FORD BEFORE THE START OF THE 2018 SEASON, RIGHT?  “Yes.  We had a great opportunity to partner with ThorSport two years ago and we’re so happy that we did.  They’ve been great partners on and off the track.”

CHAMPIONSHIP PRESS CONFERENCE

MATT CRAFTON:  It's an unbelievable feeling to have three, and just the whole group behind me, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, Menard's and every one of these guys that build these trucks every week, Junior and I are just the lucky ones.  I know he makes all the calls, but at the end of the day these guys build these trucks and we're fortunate enough to be able to    he makes the calls and I get to drive these things.  This thing was phenomenal tonight.  Hill had a rocketship and there at the end of the race I felt like I could have raced him harder, but at the same time I felt like I could have lost a lot of time racing him and at the end of the day it was about winning the war and not the battle.

THE MODERATOR:  Junior, talk about the championship season for the 88 team, certainly an interesting one, but the triumph at the end of the race, like Matt says, winning the war, not necessarily the battles throughout the season? 

JUNIOR JOINER:  Yeah, that's all that matters.  We had a rough one.  We've had a couple rough ones.  I've been waiting for a long time.  I lost my mom earlier in the year and I've been waiting for the day that I could tell her thank you and I could give her one, and we gave her the big one.  I've been waiting to win a race so I could dedicate it to her, but we're going to dedicate the war to her.  She always came here.  She was at both our championship wins.  She lived down here, and it was a hard one.  It was a tough interview tonight. 

I know I had an angel on my shoulder tonight.  I was praying for no yellow at the end. 

But I think our truck was good enough and he was good enough on the restarts, maybe we could have won the thing, who knows.  But you just don't want that circumstance.  We had like a 10 second delta, and I wanted to keep it that way. 

It's been a rough year for sure.  We've had a lot of issues, but we've had speed and we kind of made a pact that we were going to stick with a certain package dating back to last year, and I feel like we were    I don't know, you're driving it.  I feel like we're making gains on it.

MATT CRAFTON:  I'd say we made gains without a doubt.  We didn't win tonight, but at the end of the day we can always say we won the battle.  We got the big trophy at the end of the year, and that's all that matters, and it feels damned good, I'll tell you that much.

THE MODERATOR:  David, for you, certainly an interesting    I guess you could use the word interesting season for ThorSport Racing.  A lot of mountains to climb on this one.  Talk about reaching the top here at Homestead. 

DAVID PEPPER:  You know, I just can't say enough about these guys and everybody at ThorSport.  Just the perseverance that everybody in this organization had, these guys tonight, we get kicked, we've had off nights, we've had tough weekends, and to end the season with the championship and win the regular season championship, this organization has the big hardware.  I know we didn't win as many races as we want to.  We're going to come back next year and really focus on that.  But I'd just like to give a lot of thanks to Duke and Rhonda Thorson for having faith in us and giving us the opportunity to do this and the perseverance that everybody had to win this deal.  It's truly special. 

Q.  Matt, you seemed to take quite a bit of satisfaction in proving people wrong.  How much of a motivating factor was it for you to pretty much go in your face to the people who had written off the two time champion?

MATT CRAFTON:  There was nothing sweeter to be honest.  It was that little jab in the side, and I don't know if I needed that, but at the end of the day, it kind of just ticked me off.  She's sitting next to me so I'm just going to be really nice right now.  It kind of ticked me off a little bit, to just go, I want to prove you really, really wrong tonight.  I knew I was going to go in and do whatever I had to do for every one of these guys, for Duke and Rhonda and every one of these guys that worked hard.  But I can say it was just that little bit of extra poking and then to be able to say, I proved you wrong, boys. 

Q.  Do you just kind of give it up to being a veteran that you were able to remain patient?  You just knew you had to stay ahead of the three guys you were contending with for a title? 

MATT CRAFTON:  Yeah, that was the toughest point because they were telling me the 16 and the 51 were coming, don't worry about those two, and me just had your head down just racing hard.  I'm thinking 51, I've got to worry about the 51.  Oh, no, I don't.  Because I was thinking 51, 52, I guess; that was my bad not counting very well at that point. 

But once they told me that the 24 was nine seconds back, I'm like    and then they're saying you're gapping him by three tenths a lap.  Me and the 16 raced for a couple laps hard, and I'd catch him every once in a while, and I'm like, man, I need to look at the big picture here and not just worry about taking a chance at losing this championship, let's just ride right here.  But race as hard as I could without trying to do anything dumb to put the thing in the fence and just go win this championship. 

Q.  On Thursday we were all standing around and you were asking a couple of people, what would it mean for you to win the championship without winning throughout the season, and you said, I would sleep perfectly fine at night.  You'll have the trophy keeping you warm.  You still feel that way? 

MATT CRAFTON:  Oh, absolutely, 100 percent.  When they said without winning a race, winning the championship, you know what, I'm going to sleep really good all winter long with this trophy because when you win a race, that's very sweet, but usually you only have one week, like four or five days to gloat about it, but I think I've got like two and a half months to gloat about this championship before next year.  We all do. 

JUNIOR JOINER:  Yeah, when we walk in the shop and see that banner on the wall it ain't gonna say we didn't win the races.

DAVID PEPPER:  I think it makes it more special.  The way we raced, the way we look at this, we're always trying to be consistent with our team and run consistent.  I think we finished with the best average finish this year, this team, these guys.  I mean, we won the regular season without winning a race with grant and we won this one without winning a race.  I think it makes it even more special that we can be that consistent that we can be there. 

Q.  I've got a couple here and I'll start with David.  I was going to ask if Duke and Rhonda are here. 

DAVID PEPPER:  Duke and Rhonda are here.  They're waiting on a golf cart and they would like to go to the plane.  They have celebrated with us.  They're happy.  But he's laughing because that's why he called back twice.  I'm like, just keep calling, Doc, it'll be fun. 

Q.  Thinking back on this year and really the last couple years, knowing what you guys fought through in 2016 to build all the way back to this point, how gratifying is it to sit here tonight after the fire, after everything and be at the pinnacle again? 

DAVID PEPPER:  I don't even have words.  I mean, there again, it's about Duke and Rhonda.  They give us every single thing.  I think these guys, we say it all the time, and I don't think people truly understand because we're off the beaten path.  We don't get the people to come by our shop because we're a little out of the Charlotte area there in Sandusky, Ohio, but next year is our 25th anniversary of being a race team, and they give us every single thing we possibly need to go win races.  We put a lot of pride in being able to win for them.  They're not big about celebrating and being in front of the camera, and you know, it's us celebrating for them.  To be able to bring home this hardware, I know Matt has been with the company, what, 15, 16 years now   

MATT CRAFTON:  19.

DAVID PEPPER:  19 years, yeah, working on 20.  It's not really a race team, it's a family.  They're family.  It's just special. 

Q.  Matt, could you add to that a little bit?  You've obviously been with the company about as long as anybody.  To come back from the fire and what you guys fought through?

MATT CRAFTON:  It's very sweet.  It was one of the hardest losses that I've ever taken was in 2016.  We had pretty much dominated the championship race that night in 2016 and Sauter passed us with I think about seven to go, eight to go roughly to beat us for that championship, and we had dominated the championship run that night in that group, and for whatever reason we put that last set of tires on, it just got really, really tight and Johnny passed us.  I honestly, that was one of the hardest things I went through.  The only person I wanted to talk to that night was this little girl sitting in my lap, and first thing I called her, and she told me, Why didn't you win? 

Q.  Matt, you said Thursday we're chasing Hornaday.  You've got one more to catch him.  Is that the motivator now? 

MATT CRAFTON:  Oh, absolutely.  That's what it's all about, to be able to say that you can accomplish and win as many championships as Ron Hornaday because he's been the man in the Truck Series.  You look at the Truck Series and you say, Ron Hornaday.  So if we can put ourselves in that record book and have as many championships as him, it would be awesome. 

Q.  You kind of touched on it, but it's been 86 races, I believe, since you've last won on asphalt, and it's been since 2017 at Eldora since you won on the dirt.  The past few years, how tough have they been on you personally, on the track, off the track, and also as a team? 

MATT CRAFTON:  I thought we were talking about championship stuff tonight?  You want to be one of those negative guys? 

Q.  No, it's coming around.  How much more gratifying does that make tonight? 

MATT CRAFTON:  It's very sweet without a doubt, to be able to put this thing and be able to give these guys this championship trophy, that's what it's all about. 

Q.  Does this one feel any different, not having won compared to the others? 

MATT CRAFTON:  And you want to be one of those negative guys.  No, I thought you were better than that.  You know what we can say?  We won the championship.  It's just as sweet to be totally honest.  Yeah, it would have been great to win some of those battles throughout the year, but we went through a lot and we've had a lot of adversity this year, ups and downs.  Without a doubt I felt like we should have won some races, but at the end of the day, we're the 2019 Truck Series champion. 

Q.  And you said that you're the lucky guy who gets to drive.  I'm curious if you felt lucky, you haven't had a top 5 since Texas.  Have you felt lucky throughout the second half of the season or was today the big day? 

MATT CRAFTON:  No, I felt good all the way throughout since Texas at that point because I know what we fought through and just the adversity and the issues that we've had and the speed that this truck has had.  I feel blessed to be able to have a shot at coming in here and winning a championship.