A NEW YEAR: With the new season upon us, Matt Crafton heads to Daytona International Speedway hoping to score his first win at the Florida track. Crafton has 11 previous starts at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, with a best finish of fifth achieved in 2010.
A NEW LOOK: The No. 88 truck will show up at the season-opener with a slightly different look for 2012. The long-familiar bright yellow paint scheme remains the same with continued support from longtime sponsor Menards, but for the first time, the scheme will appear on a Toyota Tundra. The team announced their manufacturer switch in December.
A NEW CREW CHIEF: Crafton and the No. 88 team will begin the 2012 season with a new leader on top of the pit box. Carl Joiner Jr., known his teammates as Junior, is no stranger to the team or its driver. Joiner has worked with the No. 88 team for the past eight years and was Crafton's crew chief when he won the Southwest Tour championship in 2000. Joiner also held an important position in a major event over the off season: he served as best man in Crafton's wedding in January.
A NEW WIFE: In addition to all the changes in the shop, Crafton had a major change in his personal life as well. On January 7th, Crafton married wife Ashley in a ceremony in the Riviera Maya, just south of Cancun, Mexico, followed by a honeymoon in Herradura, Costa Rica.
CHASSIS HISTORY: The No. 88 team will utilize chassis No. 40 at the 2012 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Chassis No. 40 made its debut at Talladega Superspeedway last fall but was unable to demonstrate its full potential due to a competitor in front of Crafton blowing a tire, resulting in a wreck that relegated the No. 88 to a 31st-place finish.
THOUGHTS FROM THE DRIVER: Matt Crafton
How was your off-season?
"It was great, but I actually traveled more than we do when we're racing. Right after Homestead, Ashley and I headed out to the sand dunes in Glamis with the sandrail. We got married in the beginning of January in Mexico, then went on our honeymoon in Costa Rica. Then we went right back out to California to play with the sandrail one last time and drove the motorhome all the way back to North Carolina together. After three days straight in the motorhome without killing each other, I think Ashley and I proved that we can be married. But between all of our traveling, testing, and a few trips to Sandusky, I was home for a total of eight days between Homestead and the middle of February."
After 11 starts at Daytona, what are your feelings about the track?
"Daytona and I have sort of a love/hate relationship. It's one of those tracks that can be good to you or it can be bad to you. It was bad to me for a long time, but the last three years I've finished in the top ten, so I'm hopeful that we'll go into 2012 and it will be good to us."
With so many strategies for superspeedway racing, do you feel there is one that is ultimately the most successful?
"I personally have a strategy that I think works best. One of the great ones on superspeedways was Bobby Hamilton Sr. He always rode around in the back and waited for 10 or 15 laps to go and made his charge then. In the beginning of my career, I was always the young guy that was up there trying to lead every lap, and I wrecked probably the first eight times in a row I went out there. Finally, I took that mindset, the way that Bobby Hamilton Sr. did it, the way he won a lot of races, and I tried it. It was the first race I ever finished at a superspeedway, and I finished in the top five doing it. It definitely works."
How do you feel about going into 2012 with new crew chief Junior Joiner?
"I'm looking forward to it, I've known Junior and worked with him for about 13 years. We worked together the year I won the Southwest Tour championship and he's always been an important part of this team. He's actually one of my best friends; he was the best man at my wedding. So needless to say, it's going to be fun, without a doubt. I think we're going to win some races, have a great season together and hopefully bring home a championship."