Nearly every year, Matt Crafton is a threat for the Camping World Truck Series championship. That must make 2022 an anomaly.
“We sucked all year plain and simple,” Crafton said on Friday evening. “Plain and simple, we sucked.”
Crafton found himself on the coveted playoff cutline entering Friday night’s Kansas Lottery 200 at Kansas Speedway, in the opening round of the Truck Series playoffs. The three-time champion had a slim three-point advantage over Carson Hocevar and six markers up on Christian Eckes.
Prior to the race, Crafton felt good about his truck, saying it was “really fast.” The speed chart reflected his thoughts, as the No. 88 truck sat atop the leaderboard, over two-tenths of a second ahead of second place.
But the No. 88 truck got tight in qualifying, dropping Crafton to eighth in the starting lineup.
When the 200-mile race began, Crafton remained a top-10 truck. The No. 88 truck placed ninth in the opening stage, though lost his six-point buffer to his ThorSport Racing teammate Christian Eckes, who finished third in the stage. During the second stage, Crafton remained ninth, now below the cutline with Eckes finishing fourth in the stage.
“We weren‘t terrible,” Crafton said of his truck. “We were about a sixth- to ninth-place truck, but every time we came down pit road we came in ninth and came out 14th, 15th. Got back to ninth and fell back to 14th, 15th. You can‘t keep burying yourself like that.
“Shane [Wilson, crew chief] and I are just trying to learn. We jumped over the fence on a change at one point and we lost a bunch of positions on that restart and screwed up.”
Over a long green-flag stint to end the race, Crafton dropped to 15th in the finishing order. He misses the Round of 8 by 1o points, while Eckes raced himself in. Finishing second and stretching his fuel, Hocevar missed the next round by three points.
“To even get to where we were this far in and be in coming into this race and get knocked out, it is what it is,” Crafton said. “We‘ll move on. We‘ve got some great racetracks: Homestead, Bristol, two great tracks and then the total crapshoot of Talladega. Maybe we‘ll ride in the back all day long and watch all the idiots wreck and be there at the end.”
Crafton didn’t sugarcoat his feeling about the 2022 season. Ahead of the season, he took on a new crew chief in Jeff Hensley, who made the jump to ThorSport from GMS Racing. After Nashville in June, he was replaced by Bud Haefele, longtime ThorSport employee, for two races. Beginning at Richmond, the second race in the opening round of the postseason, the team hired Shane Wilson call the shots on the No. 88 truck.
And while Crafton believes he will have future success with Wilson, the duo couldn’t point its way into the Round of 8.
“From now on, I think you‘re going to see really good things,” Crafton said of his partnership with Wilson, a two-time winner in the Cup Series as a crew chief. “We missed some things jumping over the fence and it‘s something that is a little bit of a different setup from what I‘ve ever ran before. I take some of that on me; we shouldn‘t have jumped that far and did what we did on the adjustments.”
Overall, however, 2022 has been an admittedly down season for Crafton. With only four races remaining, he has just one top-five finish (Darlington in May), his fewest since 2007. The No 88 truck has paced the field for just six laps, and has an average finish of 13.5, also his worst since 2007.
To just make the playoffs this season, Crafton believes, was a bonus.
“We‘ve never had speed; one top-five finish,” Crafton added. “When was the last time you saw the 88 have one top-five finish? It hasn‘t been that way for a long, long, long time. We were off all year.”
The Truck Series heads to Bristol next Thursday (Sept. 15), where Crafton has 13 top-10 finishes in 19 career starts.