Matt Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota Tundra made his fifth career start at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, OH, on Wednesday night. Starting a track-best second, the ThorSport Racing driver led the field twice, for 24 laps, and ended a 27-race winless streak, winning the fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby, his first win of 2017, and the two-time champions first win at the half-mile clay oval. The win secured the ThorSport Racing drivers spot in the 2017 Chase, which kicks off at New Hampshire motor Speedway in September.
Crafton, who finished first in Stage 1, earning his second Stage win of 2017, also earned bonus points at the conclusion of Stage 2, for finishing ninth. In the final 60 laps of the 150-lap event, Crafton worked his way from the bottom of the track, to the top, and utilized a lap 128 caution to position himself to challenge a dominant veteran dirt racer, Stewart Friesen, in the final laps. With 17 laps to go, the two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion took the lead from Friesen, and never looked back, winning the fifth annual Eldora Dirt Derby.
A lot of emotion for this victory, where does this win stack up for you?
"Our first dirt win. A lot of fun. In the second part of the race we downright just stunk. It was my fault. We over-tightened it. On the first run we were pretty good, I just thought we were a little bit too free. We tightened it up, and then we just went back to exactly where we started the race. Rico (Abreu) drove by me up top, and I'm like 'Crafton, you got to put this thing on the fence down there'. I knew I was getting beat on the bottom, and then I found something in the middle over here in 1 and 2. Finally at the end, I'm like 'well, we ought to tear the right side off this thing and take it to victory lane'."
You've done more dirt racing this past year, how much did that help you tonight?
"It helped a lot. Just learning what the track does, and seeing what spots on the race track are working - in the years past, I didn't know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying. There were a lot of great people here. Nick Coffman came here and helped me during the test. They were telling me 'go down here in the dirt, and spin the tires' and I'm like why? But I started doing it and this Menards Toyota Tundra was just a rocket ship."
Talk about your race tonight.
"This definitely wasn't the one that I thought was going to put us in the playoffs without a doubt. I was looking to come in here and have a top five - a good solid top-five run. Yesterday was just good, it was really good, so we kept tuning on it, and the first run it was really good. Second run, we tightened it up too much and Junior (Joiner, crew chief) was mad, so we came in and made some adjustments on the truck, and I made some adjustments out there on the race track. Kept searching and finally found something at the end."