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Keeping Pace

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes - Michigan

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points leader, Matt Crafton, is one of the series’ most consistent drivers, having completed each of the eight races’ 1,254 laps. He’s finished among the top 10 in seven of eight races and no worse than 11th.


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 8, 2009) – No question, Matt Crafton (No. 88 Australian Gold Chevrolet) has been a solid championship contender for several seasons but don’t look now, the competition is seeing double.

Crafton’s first-year ThorSport Racing teammate, Johnny Sauter (No. 13 Fun Sand/Curb Records/Star De Atzlan Chevrolet), has overcome a slow start to make the Ohio-based team doubly troubling to NCWTS rivals.

Sauter, a Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender, won his first Keystone Light Pole at Texas, finished sixth in the WinStar World Casino 400 and posted his second consecutive top 10. Crafton ran second to winner Todd Bodine (No. 30 Copart Toyota) and took the championship lead for the first time in 205 starts (see points story page 2).

It’s not exactly a resurrection for ThorSport — Crafton finished fifth in 2008 standings — but the team never has fielded two contending trucks week-in and week-out.

Credit that to solid support from Chevrolet including trips to the wind tunnel and seven-post chassis shaker.

And the arrival of Jason Overstreet, a series winning crew chief, who moved to the team’s Cleveland-area shop to call signals for Sauter’s No. 13 unit.

“They’ve always had people in place but the chemistry hasn’t been there to make the team (a possible winner) every week,” said Sauter. “(Jason’s) brought a lot to the table. We draw a lot off the 88 team; it’s a two-way street.”

Crafton laughs when a questioner refers to Sauter as a rookie. “He has more seat time in NASCAR’s three national series than all of us out here,” he said, referring to his teammate’s 290 starts in NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series. “He’s been a big plus.”

Crafton agrees that combining the talents and thought processes of his crew chief, Bud Haefele, and those of Overstreet have boosted ThorSport into elite ranks of multi-truck teams.

“All of us need leadership and (Jason) being here has helped very much and benefits all of us in the long run,” he said. “The 13 being a consistent truck will pay off for both of us.”

Close Finishes Are Regular Occurrence At Michigan

Erik Darnell’s dramatic victory over Johnny Benson a year ago was the closest NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish since the advent of computer scoring.

Darnell took the win by .005 seconds which works out to about a quarter inch of bumper cover.

The dramatic ending to the Michigan 200 left  many fans buzzing. Others merely smiled knowingly.

Although the finish was the series’ second closest, margins of victory in fractions of a second are nothing new at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway where the 10th edition of the Michigan 200 unfolds on Saturday.

Five of seven races have been decided by less than a second. Two others ended under caution.

Greg Biffle set the standard in the track’s inaugural race, edging Jay Sauter by .153 seconds.

In 2002, the margin was even closer with Robert Pressley taking the measure of Jason Leffler by .102.

The 2003 Michigan 200 was an aberration. Brendan Gaughan ran away from his competition to win by 11.477  (fourth-widest margin ever in the series) and set a still-record pace of 154.044 mph.

The last three races, however, have seen a return to Michigan normalcy.

Benson prevailed by .116 in 2006. Travis Kvapil won his second Michigan 200 by .292 the following year.

Then there was the granddaddy of them all.

“I think the finish was a little more exciting than I would have liked it to be,” said Darnell, who gave Roush Fenway Racing its fourth Michigan victory. “It definitely makes for exciting racing the way the trucks go around here.”

Leader’s Stumble Further Compresses Series Points Standings

Three-time NASCAR Camping World Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. needed six races to grab the points lead — and just two to lose it.

Hornaday’s bid for three consecutive victories at Texas Motor Speedway came to an end with a mid-race pit road speeding infraction and later engine trouble that left the Kevin Harvick Inc. truck 19th at the conclusion of the WinStar World Casino 400.

That opened the door for Matt Crafton to parlay a second-place finish into a championship lead the Californian never previously held.

Crafton is one of the series’ most consistent drivers, having completed each of the eight races’ 1,254 laps. He’s finished among the top 10 in seven of eight races and no worse than 11th.

“It is cool to be the point leader but it is the worst feeling to finish second and not be there in Victory Lane where I know these guys should be with this truck,” said Crafton after finishing 1.321 seconds behind Todd Bodine.

Crafton’s best previous ranking was second on four occasions. He was second a year ago following spring’s Texas Motor Speedway race.

The good news for Hornaday is he lost only one position. The bad news is that he no longer has a comfortable lead over two drivers, Bodine and 1995 champion Mike Skinner (No. 5 Exide Toyota).

Third-ranked Skinner trails Hornaday by nine points with Bodine 27 further back in fourth. Just 135 points cover positions one through five and 189 fifth through 10th.

The battle for a spot in the top 10 is no less intense. Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar/International Truck and Engine Ford) took the spot on the strength of a fifth-place Texas finish.

Tayler Malsam (No. 81 One Eighty Toyota) is six behind Crawford in 11th as 60 points separate 10th from 15th.
 
Sauter Takes Raybestos Lead

Raybestos rookie contenders traditionally have done well at Texas Motor Speedway where they swept the top three finishing positions in the track’s 1997 inaugural race.

This past Friday’s WinStar World Casino 400 followed that trend as freshman drivers claimed a Keystone Light Pole, a pair of top-10 finishes and three drivers among the top 11.

Johnny Sauter became the second rookie in a row to win the pole for TMS’ spring race. He led 42 laps — most by a Raybestos rookie in 2009.

His performance elevated Sauter to No. 1 in Raybestos standings by four points over Tayler Malsam, who finished ninth.

Ricky Carmichael (No. 4 Monster Energy Chevrolet) marked his return to series competition with an 11th-place finish.

Raybestos Rookie Of The Year Standings
Rk  Driver                   Points
1.   Johnny Sauter        87
2.   Tayler Malsam        83
3.   James Buescher     73
4.   Ricky Carmichael    54
5.   J.R. Fitzpatrick       52
6.   Brent Raymer         30
7.   Brian Ickler             22
8.   Chris Jones            16
9.   Chase Austin          15

Bodine Makes History In Texas

Winning one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race is a challenge. Winning five at the same track — well, that’s over the moon.

And it was a full moon that shone down on Victory Lane Friday night after Todd Bodine became the first driver to win five times at Texas Motor Speedway.

Bodine and Brendan Gaughan shared the previous record of four victories.

“It’s incredible to win five races at one track; it’s hard to win anywhere,” said Bodine, following his 17th series victory and second of 2009.

Bodine’s first Texas victory came in the fall of 2004. The 2006 series champion’s most recent win at the 1.5-mile speedway was in the spring of 2007.

Wayne’s Words: Michigan

“The first thing we all notice about Michigan International Speedway is its location in the Irish Hills. Many think of Michigan as being Detroit and other industrial centers but nothing could be further from the truth.

“MIS is nestled in some of the most beautiful rural areas the series will visit in 2009.

“Michigan isn’t Daytona or Talladega but the racing this week will resemble what the fans see on the superspeedways. Aerodynamics play a huge part in who goes fast and who just tries to hold on for 100 laps.

“The track is wide and has multiple grooves. It’s driver’s choice: high, low or in the middle.

“That’s produced some really close finishes but none closer than Erik Darnell’s .005-second victory a year ago.

“The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is renowned for last-lap drama. Last year’s race produced one of the top-five closest finishes in any of NASCAR’s national series.”
- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director
  
Michigan International Speedway became part of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule in 1999. No race was held in 2001 but the Michigan 200 returned the following season. Next week’s race will be the 10th at the 2-mile track where three series champions — Greg Biffle, Travis Kvapil and Johnny Benson — have won. Biffle and Kvapil are the only double winners at MIS.

Roush Fenway’s Quest For Win No. 50 Rests With Colin Braun

The Roush Fenway Racing organization has been stuck on 49 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins for 23 races.

The team cut their chances of winning this season, slimming down from a two-truck stable to a one-truck outfit in 2009.

That truck is the No. 6 Con-way Ford driven by Colin Braun, who has recently shaken off some early-season woes and looks close to notching his first career win.

This weekend at Michigan seems like the perfect opportunity to break two droughts in one. Roush Fenway won the first two and last two Michigan races, and is the only team with multiple Michigan wins.

Braun, who has posted a Driver Rating over 100.0 in three of his last four races, was strong in his only Michigan race (last season).

In that event, which was a sixth-place finish, Braun had a Driver Rating of 91.9, an Average Running Position of 12.2, two Fastest Laps Run, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of +17 and ran 75 of the 100 laps in the top 15.

But Braun’s competition is stout. Among the top statistical performers at Michigan are three series champions — Mike Skinner and Todd Bodine — and Kyle Busch, who has scored a top-10 finish in five of his six series races this season.

Their stats all rank in the top five in the series:

Skinner: Driver Rating of 110.0 and an Average Running Position of 6.9
Bodine: Driver Rating of 104.0 and an Average Running Position of 8.9
Busch: Driver Rating of 114.0 and an Average Running Position of 6.6

While possibly out-numbered, Braun has an ace in the hole. Crew chief Mike Beam won the 2007 Michigan 200 with Travis Kvapil. Beam has six NCWTS victories overall with Kvapil and Mark Martin.

NCWTS Etc.

  • Germain Racing crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. joins elite company with his 17th victory, fourth-most in the series. Hillman counts multiple wins in six consecutive seasons ,matching the all-time mark established by Dennis Connor from 1996-2001.
  • The WinStar World Casino 400 was the series’ 350th event. Two active teams (and three overall). Roush Fenway Racing is No. 1 with 336 with Circle Bar Racing third at 315.  ThorSport Racing is due to hit the 300 mark on June 19 in Milwaukee.
  • The Michigan 200 is the 10th at MIS. No winner has started worse than 11th (twice). Travis Kvapil is the only driver to win from the pole (2007).
  • Current series Manufacturers’ Championship leader Toyota scored its first of 57 victories at Michigan International Speedway in 2004. Ford, looking for its first victory of the 2009 season, won the past two editions of the Michigan 200 and a track-leading four overall.
  • Todd Bodine nearly set an all-time race record last week in Texas, averaging 153.133 mph in what became the second-fastest performance.
  • Dennis Setzer (2005) is the only previous winner expected to compete in this week’s race. Setzer, Terry Cook (No. 25 Cajun Industries Toyota), Rick Crawford and David Starr (No. 24 Zachry Toyota) are entered drivers who have competed in all nine previous MIS races, with Cook and Setzer the only ones running at the finish in each.
  • Kyle Busch returns to the No. 51 Miccosukee Gaming and Resorts Toyota this week. The team continues to lead series owner points. Brian Ickler moves to the team’s No. 15 Samsung Instinct Toyota. Ickler also is slated to compete in the ARCA/RE Max Series companion race on Friday.

Up Next: The Milwaukee Mile

Next week’s Copart 200 marks the 15th time the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has competed at the legendary Milwaukee Mile. The track, located west of Milwaukee at the Wisconsin State Fair, is one of just four tracks to have hosted the series every season since its inception in 1995.

Seven series champions have won races on the flat, one-mile oval including defending champion Johnny Benson, who posted three consecutive victories from 2006 to 2008.

Terry Cook, Ron Hornaday Jr., Dennis Setzer and Mike Skinner are among former winners expected to compete in the Copart 200.

No driver has competed in every one of the track’s first 15 races. Cook has started 13; Rick Crawford 12.

Friday’s race is the first of two combination weekends with the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2009 Manufacturers’ Championship Standings
following race 8 of 25 at Texas Motor Speedway:

Toyota     66
Chevrolet 54
Ford        31
Dodge      25

Fast Facts

Next Race:
Michigan 200

The Place: Michigan International Speedway

The Date: Sat., June 13, 2009

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 200 miles/100 laps

TV: SPEED, 1:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN. SIRIUS XM. Listen locally on WVFN–AM 730.

Track Layout: 2-mile speedway

2008 Winner: Erik Darnell

2008 Polesitter: Mike Skinner

Schedule: Friday — Practice, 10:15-11:25 a.m. and  1:30-3 p.m.; Saturday —Qualifying, 9:30 a.m.

2009 Driver Standings
Rk Driver                  Points
1   Matt Crafton        1,202
2   Ron Hornaday Jr. 1,172
3   Mike Skinner       1,163
4   Todd Bodine        1,136
5   Brian Scott         1,067
6   David Starr          1,049
7   Johnny Benson    1,047
8   Chad McCumbee 1,040
9   Terry Cook          1,023
10 Rick Crawford      1,013


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

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