Matthew Craig is quickly establishing himself as one of the top Late Model stars in all of short track pavement racing. The Kannapolis, NC driver currently sits atop the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour Super Late Model standings as he looks to defend the championship he won in that series last season. Aside from that title, the 21-year-old was the champion of the now eliminated PASS South Tour for three consecutive seasons between 2016 and 2018.
Craig most recently notched another victory in the CARS Tour-sanctioned Cloer Construction 250 at the historic Hickory(NC) Motor Speedway to go along with his triumph in the season-opener for that sanctioning body in the Solid Rock Carriers 150 held at North Carolina’s Southern National Motorsports Park back on March 7th prior to the shutdown of virtually every form of motorsports due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The driver of the JCR3 Racing No. 54 attributes much of his team’s recent success to his Rowdy Manufacturing car. That chassis building company is owned by NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch.
“The last couple of years I feel like we’ve really stepped up,” the young driver told InsideCircleTrack.com. “We went with the Rowdy cars and that’s probably the main reason why we got better. The setup they have under the car is good and I’ve got more experience now, about five or six years now driving these Super Late Models, and you learn a lot every time you race. After a while you’ve learned a lot of things and you are able to fix issues that you’ve had in past races and you start winning a lot.”
The team’s success has been so far reaching that Craig scored a win in July’s ‘Masters of the Pros 150’ in a JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway despite the fact that they do not frequently compete in the Pro Late Model division.
“I feel like with my team and these guys, we can go about anywhere in the country and run well and race with confidence, for sure,” Craig declared.
While competitors in the pit area are certainly well aware of who Matt Craig is, other asphalt short track drivers such as Bubba Pollard and Stephen Nasse tend to garner a great deal of attention from media and fans. And as far as this rising star is concerned, flying a bit under the radar suits him fine.
“Those guys have been doing it longer than I have and that might be a little bit of it,” Craig explained. “I don’t really mind that. There’s times when we won, especially a couple of years ago, when people wouldn’t have picked us to win but we’ve learned how to get it done.”
Craig’s recent win at Hickory came on the heels of his 2019 victory in the always popular Throwback 276 at that same track. That race has captured the imaginations of many as the cars are schemed to look like famous racing machines of the past.
During his victory lane interview last year, Craig commented that the Throwback event has almost grown to reach crown jewel status. And the driver points out that his team typically takes care to make sure their car is absolutely at its best for the biggest shows.
“Those crown jewels, you want to put a little extra effort into it,” he pointed out. “You shine the car up a little bit more and make sure everything is just right for those bigger races. The Throwback race has been getting bigger and bigger and there’s always a ton of fans here for it. Unfortunately, this year is not quite the same but we’re looking forward to next year and even later on this year racing in those big races.”
Craig was off to a hot start in 2020 until the COVID-19 related shutdowns got in the way. However, as indicated by his win at Hickory, the momentum seems to have returned for this team and driver.
“It’s not really messed us up too much. We won the first two races of the season then we had a long two month break. We were definitely hot at the beginning of the year and we were ready to go out here and go on a tear. That slowed us down some and got us off track a little bit but we were able to come back after that and we got a win after the COVID break. It took some momentum away but I think we’ve got that back.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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