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Keeping Pace

Three Former Champs Battle For Truck Series Points Lead At Kansas

Todd Bodine has shown right out of the gate this season that he is going to be a factor every race. With his win at Daytona, he became the series’ first repeat winner in ten races at the track. He followed his win with a second-place finish at California and a solid third at Atlanta. The 2006 winner at Kansas, he thinks he can become its first repeat winner, too.


Courtesy: NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 20, 2009) – Due to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule at Talladega Superspeedway, Kyle Busch will not be competing at Kansas this weekend, leaving the points lead up for the taking. While it’s mathematically possible for drivers in second through eighth place to take the lead, it’s a safe bet that either Todd Bodine (No. 30 Ventrilo Toyota), Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Copart Chevrolet) or Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota) will walk away the new leader following the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 on Saturday.

Todd Bodine has shown right out of the gate this season that he is going to be a factor every race. With his win at Daytona, he became the series’ first repeat winner in ten races at the track. He followed his win with a second-place finish at California and a solid third at Atlanta. The 2006 winner at Kansas, he thinks he can become its first repeat winner, too.

“We have a good truck and we’re on a roll as a team,” Bodine said.

He’ll have to contend with the other two right behind him in the standings.

“We’re going to go there to win the race and if we can’t win the race, we’ll go for the best finish we can get,” Bodine added. “And if that’s the case, hopefully it’s better than Hornaday and Skinner.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. trails Bodine by only 33 points. While he’s yet to win this year, he’s finished no lower than seventh and is coming off a second-place finish at Martinsville. He’s also Kansas’s defending race winner.

“I’m excited to go back to Kansas,” Hornaday said. “I think it would be cool to become the first repeat winner. I always say my favorite tracks are the ones I win at, so Kansas would be right up there with one of my favorites.”

He wouldn’t mind the points lead, too, although he knows it’s early in the season and the battle for the title could come down to the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We would love to come out of Kansas with a win and the points lead, but our goal right now is to consistently have our truck running up front and contending for wins,” Hornaday said. “If we have the right mind set, I think the points will take care of themselves.”

Only five points separate Hornaday from Mike Skinner who sits fourth in the standings. The 1995 series champion hasn’t won at Kansas, but has two poles and has finished fifth the last three trips to the track.

“My team has been working really hard on this effort for Kansas and I really think that we are going to run well,” Skinner said. “You know it’s a little too early for the points standings to show up on my radar screen. But at the same time, Eric Phillips (crew chief) and everyone at Randy Moss Motorsports has been putting me in awfully good stuff and we have been running good. We are just going to go do what we have been doing and just keep on digging. This is a really good race team and I am blessed to be able to drive for them.”

Colin Braun On A Winning Mission

Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-Way Freight Ford) is still looking for that first career win. With no repeat winners in eight races, chances are high that win could come this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“It’s going to be great to get back in the truck after a few weeks away from the track,” Braun said. “I’m really looking forward to racing at Kansas this weekend.  It was where I got my best finish in the series last year, so I’m excited to do better this year.”

A year ago, Braun turned a sixth-place starting position into a third-place finish. Hopefully, this time around he’ll find the same luck that fellow Roush Fenway Racing drivers have found at the track.

Erik Darnell (2007) and Jon Wood (2003) both grabbed their first career NASCAR victories at Kansas. Carl Edwards also has a win at the 1.5-mile track.

“Historically, Kansas has been a great track for Roush Fenway truck drivers,” Braun said. “I would really like to add my name to that list of first-time winners and make it nine races with no repeat winners.”

Braun started this season by grabbing the pole and a top-10 finish at Daytona but has seemed to struggle since. While sitting 21st in the standings may pose a dismal outlook for the 20-year-old, he’s only 97 points from 10th and is keeping it all in perspective.

“We’ve had a few tough races in a row and need to get our momentum back, and gain some points,” he said. “With a good run at Kansas, I know we can get right back up there.”

A Look At Kansas With Mike Hillman Jr.

Todd Bodine and the No. 30 Ventrilo Toyota team started the 2009 season right where they left off last year, in Victory Lane. Their season-opening win at Daytona also gave them bragging rights as the first repeat winner at the famed track.

Led by crew chief Mike Hillman Jr., Bodine and team have been contenders every race and will be this weekend at Kansas Speedway as they compete to become the first repeat winner at the 1.5-mile track.

Hillman Jr. discusses his thoughts on Kansas and the No. 30 team.

Q: What is special for you about Kansas Speedway?
“It’s always cool to go back to the first place you ever won a race as a crew chief. Kansas is where we started collecting really strong top-three finishes in 2005. We were the truck to beat most everywhere we went and we earned the first three-race win streak to close out the season. We followed it up in 2006 with the championship. Hopefully, we can go to Kansas, take the points lead, and do things the way we did in 2006, when we held the points lead for 21-straight races.”

Q: What makes this team so successful?
“Chemistry. We are like a big family. All the guys that work on the truck, and the guys back at the shop and Todd and myself. We have a special relationship—a special bond. This No. 30 crew and the whole Germain Racing team is more like family than it is the people you work with.”

Q: There has never been a repeat winner at Kansas. Do you think your team is a contender?
“Kansas is a typical mile-and-a-half track which means you’ve got to turn in the center of the corner. It’s another momentum track. I think we can win any week we go to the race track, but especially the mile-and-a-half race tracks and superspeedways. So yes, I think we can put the No. 30 Ventril Toyota in Victory Lane to be the first repeat winner at Kansas.”

Etc. …

  • Four races into the season and already the fight to be at the top is tough. While the point spread among the top 10 is close, those sitting outside the top 10 are just as close. Stacy Compton (No. 60 Safe Auto Insurance/Wyler.com Toyota) has only one point separating him from 10th-place Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral/International Truck Engine Ford). Brian Scott (No. 16 Albertson’s Toytoa) is 12th, only seven points from Crawford. Red Horse Racing driver TJ Bell (No. 11 Toyota), who occupies the 13th spot, is 14 points shy of 10th position. Veteran driver David Starr (No. 24 Zachry Toyota) and rookie Tayler Malsam (No. 81 One Eighty Toyota) sit 14th and 15th, respectively, in the standings both under 26 points from being in the top 10.
  • Brian Ickler will make his debut Saturday behind the wheel of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resort Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports. Ickler, a native of San Diego, Calif., steps in for Kyle Busch, who will be with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series in Talladega. The 23-year-old competed in the NASCAR Camping World West Series in 2007 where he collected three wins before finishing fourth in the standings. Following a move to the Charlotte, N.C.-area, he ran last season for his family-owned team, Brian Ickler Motorsports, in the NASCAR Camping World East Series, winning two Coors Light Pole awards and three races. Ickler garnered some attention after beating NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne in the May 18 NASCAR Camping World Series East/West combination event at Iowa Speedway.
  • Johnny Benson (No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota) spent the last weekend in Long Beach, Calif., competing in the 2009 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Benson finished second overall after overcoming a 30-second head-start given to participating celebrities. Al Unser Jr. finished first and won the pro category and actor Keanu Reeves won the celebrity category.
  • Eudora, Kan. native Chase Austin will attempt to make his third start in the series and his home-track debut this weekend in the No. 32 Chevrolet for Trail Motorsports.
  • Fellow Kansas native Jennifer Joe Cobb will be behind the wheel of the No. 74 Price Chopper 400 Dodge for Derrike Cope this Saturday. Cobb has two previous starts in the series, both at Kansas.

Raybestos Rookie Standings

Four races into the season and the competition for top rookie honors is heating up. While Canadian J.R. Fitzpatrick (No. 7 Mammoet Chevrolet) maintained his slim point lead following Martinsville, the rest of the class is right behind him.

Washington native Tayler Malsam is only four points behind Fitzpatrick. Malsam heads to Kansas with a little experience, having competed in last year’s ARCA race, where, despite an accident, he brought home a 14th-place finish.

“Definitely going to Kansas where I’ve raced before, I feel more comfortable than I did going to Martinsville,” he said. “It is a really good track that I am excited about going back to.”

Also it doesn’t hurt to have a former series champion for a teammate.

“Having Mike (Skinner) helps because I can ask him a rookie question and he’ll know the answer,” Malsam said. “He has been a help on the track, helping know what to do at this point on the track and what to do at that part of the track, as well as off the track.”

Tied with Malsam is James Buescher (No. 10 International MaxxForce Diesel Ford). The 19-year-old comes off a strong run at Martinsville where he finished 11th, his best finish so far this year.

“We’ve really improved each race so far this season and it shows because we’ve improved our finish in every race,” Buescher said. “We’ve been closing the gap in the rookie point standings, and winning those honors was a goal we set at the beginning of the year.”

Raybestos Rookie Standings after four races of the 2009 season:
1. J.R. Fitzpatrick    42
2. Tayler Malsam     38
3. James Buescher  38
4. Ricky Carmichael 37
5. Johnny Sauter     32
6. Chase Austin      16
7. Brent Raymer      12
8. Chris Jones           5 

Crawford Hanging By A Thread In Top 10

Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral/International Truck Engine Ford) finds himself in a precarious position.

He sits in the top 10, but barely. Only one point separates him and 11th-place driver Stacy Compton (No. 60 Safe Auto Insurance/Wyler.Com Toyota). In other words, one false move and Crawford could easily be bounced from the top 10.

But there’s good news for Crawford. The next track on the schedule, Kansas, suits him well statistically. Also, Compton has struggled at the 1.5-mile track recently.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Crawford ranks fifth in Average Running Position (8.7), fifth in Driver Rating (102.1), sixth in Fastest Laps Run (eight) and fourth in Laps in the Top 15 percentage (84.4%).

Crawford has finished in the top 10 in his last five Kansas races, and in the top three in three of those races (including runner-up finishes in 2006 and 2007).

On the other hand, the chaser – Compton – hasn’t enjoyed much success. Though he has two top-10 finishes there (in 2003 and 2004), his last two Kansas races have resulted in finishes outside the top 25.

In those two races, Compton has a Driver Rating of 61.4, an Average Running Position of 20.6, four Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 27.5%.

Wayne’s Words

“After a few weeks off, everyone is really looking forward to heading to Kansas and getting back on track this weekend. Kansas Speedway is the second visit this season for the series to an intermediate track.

“We’ve been competing at the track since 2001, but racing in the Kansas City-area dates back to the inaugural season. Just down the road, I-70 Speedway and the road course at Heartland Park Topeka hosted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series from 1995 to 1999.

“As we get ready to get back to it, a team the garage is watching is Greenlight Racing. The No. 07 Chevrolet has been strong over the first four races and it’s not much of a surprise with Bobby Dotter leading the team and Chad McCumbee behind the wheel.

“In our eight trips to this track, Victory Lane has yet to see a repeat winner. We’ve had young drivers like Erik Darnell grab their first career wins and we’ve had series champions like Ron Hornaday Jr. end up with the checkered flag.

“One of my favorite first-win memories at Kansas was watching Ricky Hendrick grab his first win there in 2001. It was so cool to see his dad, Rick, and his mother with big smiles on their faces in Victory Lane.

“Ricky wouldn’t leave until all the post-race inspections were done. And when they were, we got to continue a tradition the officials do for all first-time winners, which is a victory cheer for the driver. Every time we go to Kansas and I see Victory Lane, I remember that day and how special it was to see a young, talented kid win.

“So for the great fans that are always out when the trucks come to town, I’d say keep your eyes on everyone. It could be any driver’s race to win, veterans and young guys alike.”

- Wayne Auton,
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director

Up Next

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race under the lights at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 on Friday, May 15.

A year ago, Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) made his first career trip to Victory Lane.

Crafton’s win kicked off a three-race stretch where the series celebrated first career wins.

Other former winners expected to compete in the Friday-night showdown include Ron Hornaday Jr. and Kyle Busch.

Manufacturer Battle

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings following Race 4 of 25 at Martinsville Speedway:
Toyota     33
Chevrolet 27
Ford        16
Dodge     12

Fast Facts

Next Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 250
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Sat., April 25, 2009
The Time: 6 p.m. ET
Race Distance: 250.5 miles / 167 laps
TV: SPEED, 5:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile paved
2008 Winner: Ron Hornaday Jr.
2008 Polesitter: Ron Hornaday Jr.
Schedule: Friday–Practice, 1:30- 2:30 p.m. and   3:30-5 p.m. Saturday–Qualifying, 12:45 p.m.

2009 Driver Standings
     Driver                    Points
1   Kyle Busch             682
2   Todd Bodine            644
3   Ron Hornaday Jr.     611
4   Mike Skinner           606
5   Matt Crafton            561
6   Terry Cook              528
7   Johnny Benson       515
8   Chad McCumbee    505
9   Timothy Peters       503
10 Rick Crawford         496


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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