After four races in which Lady Luck wasn’t on his side, Matt Crafton and the No. 88 Menards Chevy team finally got the monkey off their collective back with a solid third-place finish in last week’s Lucas Oil 200 at Iowa Speedway. Crafton carries that momentum back to Gateway, where he nearly had last season’s race won until two controversial incidents with Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday while racing for the lead and the win late in the event.
Crafton has pushed that disappointment way out of his mind as he returns to the 1.25-mile oval within the shadows of the St. Louis Arch. All Crafton and his Menards team are focused on is finishing what they started last season by going to victory lane.
How are you approaching Gateway after all that happened there last season?
“It’s really easy; to us it’s just another race. All we want to do is go back and close the deal. We’ve run so well there over the years, and last year we had a chance to win and it all went out the window so that’s what we’re working on, we want to go back and finish up what we should have done last year. We’ve had some people ask us about last season but it’s not anything we want to focus on or even think about. ”
Is Gateway a driver oriented track or do the long straightaways and different radius corners put a premium on the truck?
“It does put the driver back into the deal more than some of the other tracks. But you still need a strong truck underneath you. To me handling is so important there, and it’s a challenge because both ends of the track are different. In a perfect world you want a truck that has the most horsepower and handles better than everyone else, just like any other track we go to, but a good handling truck and the driver can help make up for a little less horsepower.”
You were and still are a fan of the late Davey Allison. It has been 17 years since he passed away, what memories do you have of him and do those memories still motivate you?
“I can’t believe it’s been 17 years. Davey was such a great person and it just happened that he could drive a racecar better than most too. I always try to do what I think he would want me to do, things like always trying to take care of my fans. I got to meet him a few times when I was a kid because he used to come out west and run my dad’s late model. One time he was racing for my dad at Madera and they wouldn’t let me in the pits there because I was so young, and he told them that he wasn’t going to race unless I was in the pits with him.
Things like that really stick out in my memory. He took me out to dinner with him a couple of times and he even invited me to go hunting with him the year that he died. I just found the hand-written letter he sent me inviting me on that hunting trip. I thought it was lost forever so when I found it that really made my day. I still think about him all the time and it really makes me sad to think about what might have been if he was still here.”