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Matt Crafton on Daytona 500 start: ‘I’ve been waiting for this my entire life’

NextEra Energy Resources 250 - Practice

NextEra Energy Resources 250 - Practice

Patrick Smith

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Matt Crafton pulled into his driveway Saturday night when his phone buzzed. The calls started coming.

Kyle Busch, his friend, had been injured in the Xfinity Series race earlier in the day at Daytona International Speedway and Crafton was being asked to drive Busch’s car in today’s Daytona 500. Busch suffered a compound fracture of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot.

“There’s nothing like getting a phone call at 7 o’clock at night saying you’re going to race the Daytona 500 … are you ready?” Crafton said.

His response?

“Absolutely, I’m ready,’’ he said. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.’’

Today marks the first Sprint Cup start for the two-time reigning Camping World Truck Series champion.

The 38-year-old Crafton failed to qualify for a Cup race at Indianapolis last year. He was a standby driver for Clint Bowyer last fall when Bowyer’s wife was due to give birth. Crafton also served as a standby driver for Paul Menard last year when Menard’s wife was due to give birth. Crafton wasn’t needed for either race.

After getting the call Saturday night, Crafton went to Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, N.C., and sat in seats for the team’s various drivers to see which best fit him. Busch’s seat worked best. Crafton only had to make minor adjustments.

Crafton, who finished eighth in Friday’s Truck race, said he plans to ride at the back of the pack for the first half of the Daytona 500, getting accustomed to the car and how it handles in the draft.

Crafton said he will use Busch’s spotter, Tony Hirschman, since the spotter Crafton uses in Trucks, Jason Hedlesky, serves as Carl Edwards’ spotter in the Cup series.

Crafton declined to say if he would drive Busch’s car next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, saying he was focused on the Daytona 500. Car owner Joe Gibbs declined to reveal the team’s plans Sunday morning for the No. 18 Toyota beyond the 500.

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