Matt Crafton tasked with relief duty for Paul Menard at Talladega

by Justin Nguyen

Matt Crafton will be behind a Monster Energy Cup Series car for the first time since 2015. On Thursday, Wood Brothers Racing announced the two-time Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion would take over Paul Menard’s #21 Ford Mustang for Friday practice leading into the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway while Menard is dealing with neck pain. Should the problems persist on Sunday, Crafton will take over.

“Due to neck issues I’ve been battling, and talking it over with my wife, team and doctors, I’ve made the decision to be sure Matt is prepared to finish out the race for me if needed,” Menard said in a team release. “I’m a race car driver and a competitor, but I also need to be smart and take care of myself for my family. As I want what is best for the Wood Brothers and my 21 family, I know Matt can get in there if need be and mix it up and will do a great job.”

Crafton currently races full-time in the Truck Series with ThorSport Racing, also a Ford team like WBR. With fifteen top-ten finishes, six top fives, and two poles in 2019, he is currently fifth in the standings.

In 2015, Crafton replaced an injured Kyle Busch at the Daytona 500, where he finished eighteenth in his lone Cup start. Before that, his lone Cup experience came in qualifying and practice efforts for Robby Gordon, Menard, and Martin Truex Jr. in 2008–2009 and 2014. In Menard and Truex’s cases, both were on family leave. Crafton had attempted to make his Cup début at the 2014 Brickyard 400, but failed to qualify.

To become accustomed with the Mustang, Crafton will practice the #21 on Friday, though Menard intends to qualify the car and start Sunday’s race. With Menard retiring after the 2019 season, this will be the Wisconsinite’s final Cup start at the superspeedway.

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