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Matt Crafton about to add to Toyota’s haul in Truck Series

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Nov. 07, 2013
A decade in Truck Some Toyota highlights of the past 10 years: • Travis Kvapil earned Toyota’s first Truck win, 2004 at Michigan. • In 2006, Todd Bodine won Toyota’s first driver’s championship and the first of five consecutive manufacturer titles. • Last year at Chicagoland, Bodine became the first driver to make 200 starts in each of NASCAR’s three national series. • Darrell Wallace Jr. won his first Truck race two weeks ago at Martinsville, Va., and became the first African-American to win on any of NASCAR’s three national series since Wendell Scott in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1963.

What better way for Toyota to celebrate a decade of participation in the NASCAR Truck Series than with another championship.

And not just a championship, but its ThorSport Racing organization has held the top spot of the series standings since the February season opener at Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

Either Johnny Sauter or Matt Crafton has led in points every week this season, with Crafton currently holding a 46-point advantage over James Buescher with two races remaining.

Crafton can clinch his first driver’s championship, the first for ThorSport and the fourth for Toyota by leaving this weekend’s race with at least a 49-point lead.

“It would mean everything to win the championship,” Crafton said. “That’s what me, my whole family – we’ve all worked for. It’s what (team owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson have given me the opportunity to work for.

“At the end of the day … if it comes true and it all comes together, to be able to say that you were one of the champions of 2013 would be everything to me.”

The title would serve as yet more validation of Toyota’s commitment to the series.

“Given the fact that our entry into Trucks coincided with our public introduction of Toyota’s first truly full-sized truck, the Toyota Tundra, Toyota has utilized our ‘on track’ and ‘at track’ participation to generate continual promotion, advertising, and public relations exposure to NASCAR’s extensive fan base,” said Les Unger, national motorsports manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA.

“To that end, our market research has indicated that our participation vs. versus Ford and Chevrolet have resulted in a substantial increase in buyer consideration among NASCAR fans.”

Todd Bodine (2006 and 2010) and Johnny Benson (2008) have won series driver championships for Toyota, and it has five Truck manufacturer titles.

Toyota drivers have 110 victories in 242 races – winning nearly 46percent. The most frequent winner is Kyle Busch, with 28 victories.

Five Toyota drivers have won this season – Crafton, Sauter, Busch, Timothy Peters and Darrell Wallace Jr.

ThorSport would be the first team to win a Truck championship for Toyota that used to compete under another manufacturer’s banner. The organization moved from Chevrolet at the start of the 2012 season.

“This year has been huge for ThorSport. It looks like Matt’s on the way to his first championship and Frank Kimmel wrapped up the ARCA championship,” said Sauter, who has three Truck victories this year.

“I echo what Matt said, it’s just the commitment from Duke and Rhonda Thorson. They’ve been at this for 17, 18 years now and this is big. Every year we seem to get better and this is good.

“Hopefully next year it’s me and Matt going down to the wire trying to run for another championship.”

Toyota certainly would have no problems with that scenario.

“The possibility of ThorSport contributing to a fourth driver championship combined with Red Horse Racing and Kyle Busch Motorsports multiple wins and other high finishes that appear to result in a sixth manufacturers title for Toyota certainly make (us) very appreciative of our partnerships with these top flight organizations,” Unger said.

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