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ARCA race not just appearance for Crafton... he's coming to win

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Crafton

Sam Greenwood / Getty Images for NASCAR Enlarge

It all makes so much sense in the boardroom.

Midwest-based home improvement giant Menards is the primary sponsor of Sunday's ARCA Series race at Toledo Speedway, so the logic is apparent behind the move of Matt Crafton, who drives for Menards in NASCAR, jumping into the field for a race with the company's name on it.

Crafton will sign autographs, smile for the cameras, and fulfill all of his sponsor-related obligations over the portion of the weekend he will spend in Toledo, but if you get the sense this is as much an appearance as it is another competition, look into his eyes. You might be mistaken.

"I'm coming to try and win. Period." Crafton said.

Crafton, a California native who drives the No. 88 Menards Chevy Silverado in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, will run the truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina on Friday night, jet to Toledo, and then attempt to qualify for the ARCA event on Saturday, less than 18 hours after the truck race is expected to end.

Crafton knows the route and the flight plan. Last year, he flew from Charlotte to Toledo after the truck race with the intention of practicing and qualifying an ARCA car for Paul Menard, who drives in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series. Paul Menard is the son of Menards founder John Menard Jr.

Crafton got in some practice before rain wiped out the qualifying session at Toledo Speedway. He quickly acquired a taste for working in traffic on the half-mile oval and wants more.

"I'm really looking forward to racing at Toledo," Crafton said last week. "Last year, practicing the car for Paul was fun. In fact, I really wanted to race that car."

With no qualifying run, Menard had to take a provisional starting position in the race and line up 32nd, but he worked his way up to second, and then finished fourth after a spin with less than five laps left.

Crafton will be racing at Toledo Speedway in the same car Menard drove last year. The No. 88 Ford Fusion will be fielded by Kimmel Racing, the team owned by nine-time ARCA Series champion Frank Kimmel. The car will be decked out in a fluorescent red paint scheme, with co-primary sponsorship from Messina Wildlife Management and Crafton's truck series sponsor, Menards.

Since joining the truck series in 2000, Crafton has started 227 races, with one win and 112 top-10 finishes. He was second in the points championship last year and had been in the top 10 in five of the last six seasons. Crafton has 39 top-10 finishes since joining the Sandusky-based ThorSport Racing team.

Crafton developed his love of the sport while working under his father Danny, who taught Crafton the importance of surviving, while still pushing to win.

"We built our own cars, and we didn't have much money or equipment," Crafton said. "So if we tore up our cars, we couldn't race again until we rebuilt them."

The 2000 champion in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Series, Crafton will return to the region next month to race in the VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway on June 12. Whether he is competing in the Truck Series, or in an ARCA event, Crafton maintains the same approach.

"It's about being there at the end of the race, being in contention and giving yourself a change to win," Crafton said. "I'm focused on being consistent and winning the war instead of the battle."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.

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