An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: We are here with the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team, and that is the driver Matt Crafton, who has won his third championship following championships in 2014, 2013 and the 2019 championship, tying Jack Sprague for second on the all?time list and one behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr., crew chief Junior Joiner, and ThorSport Racing GM David Pepper. Maybe just an opening comment from each of you.
We’ll start off with you, Matt, climbing up the ranks and the record books here in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series tying Jack Sprague, how does that feel, one behind a Hall of Famer?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Matt, I saw in the celebration that Ron Hornaday was giving you a little grief. You still have one more until you can tie him. What was he telling you and what was that like?
MATT CRAFTON: Oh, me and Ron go way back. He used to race with my dad back in the day, and Ron has been the man. And like I said, he’s got one up on me. I’ve definitely got a few years under my belt, a few more years to go without a doubt to at least be able to do what he’s done and maybe tie him and maybe even beat him. I know he was still whooping us when he was like 50 years old and I’m still quite a ways away from that.
- Dave, for you, this playoff didn’t get started on the right foot for the organization ??
DAVID PEPPER: I totally don’t remember what you’re talking about. (Laughter.)
- Is this kind of a blessing or vindication of some sort for the organization, to get this championship considering what you don’t remember?
DAVID PEPPER: You know, when you start in Daytona, and I think these guys will agree, and Matt has been doing this for a long time, it’s not a sprint, it’s a journey. You look back, and it’s like, oh, it’s only 10 months ago when we started this run. It’s not a really long period of time. But then you think about every single thing that happens all along the way to get to this point, and I think all the lows and the highs are what make it worthwhile. I think we had to go through those things to make this the special night that it is. It makes you appreciate it even more. You know, these champagne bottles, the championship rings, the hats, the towels, the look in the guys’ eyes on the team winning this deal, those are great memories. Those are special things that you have to go all season to appreciate just how hard it is and all the hours they put in. No, it didn’t start out great, but it sure ended great.
- What are you guys going to do with the celebration this time that you regret not doing last night? Now you know how to win a championship and how to celebrate it.
MATT CRAFTON: We’ll probably go find a beverage or one or two or a few tonight and have a good time and then ??
JUNIOR JOINER: We’re going to have a lot of daddy Pepsis tonight.
MATT CRAFTON: That’s it.
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