Keeping Pace

Crafton Pumped To Return To Lowe's Motor Speedway

Matt Crafton, driver of the Menards Chevrolet, is prepared to win again at Lowe's Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Matt Crafton, driver of the Menards Chevrolet, is prepared to win again at Lowe's Motor Speedway. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR) (Sam Greenwood / The Spokesman-Review)

As the series prepares to compete in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Matt Crafton has the confidence of knowing how to find Victory Lane. A year ago, he grabbed his first NASCAR national series victory at Lowe’s.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.- Five races into the 2009 season, California native Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menard’s Chevrolet) finds himself perched fourth in the standings. Only 94 points behind leader Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota), he continues to show he’s just as much a contender as the former series champions that surround him.

As the series prepares to compete in Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Crafton has the confidence of knowing how to find Victory Lane. A year ago, he grabbed his first NASCAR national series victory at Lowe’s.

“I think you have to be confident each and every week but it helps going back to a place where you know you have won before. Last year’s win was awesome,” said Crafton. “It was nice to look at everyone and say we did it and to finally quiet all those asking if I was capable of winning. My owners, Duke and Rhonda Thorson, have been so supportive so it was really gratifying for them and the others who have believed in me all along the way.”

Just like his driver, crew chief Bud Haefele wouldn’t mind a repeat trip to Victory Lane. “Winning the race last year was special for all of us and we’re looking forward to getting back there,” he said.

The team has posted solid, top-10 finishes in all but one race so far this season. “Matt has been driving his tail off,” said Haefele. “We know that consistency is important to winning a championship, so we know we have to bring everything we’ve got each time out. Our trucks are better than they’ve ever been. This team has been together for a while now, and everybody is on the same page, has the same goal in terms of winning a championship.”

For Crafton, “without a doubt momentum is key,” he said. “If we keep going in there each week with confidence and the momentum we’ve gained, it’ll keep carrying over and we’ll be there in the end, contending for the championship.”

Winless But Not The Time To Panic For Ron Hornaday Jr.

Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Longhorn Chevrolet) hasn’t made a trip to Victory Lane yet this season. But for the veteran driver who is going for a record fourth series title, it’s no time to panic.

In his previous nine full seasons, it’s only taken Hornaday this long to win a race twice. The most recent time fell in 2007 when it took him to race number six to grab his first win of the season. That race was at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. It was also the year he went on to claim his third championship.

“Winning at Lowe’s in 2007 was definitely a career milestone for Rick Ren (crew chief) and I,” said Hornaday. “Neither of us had ever been able to win at our home track. It meant so much and I’m glad that win was part of our KHI championship season.”

Friday night’s race could be the breakthrough for Hornaday and company who are eager to get back to Victory Lane. “I really hate the fact that we have not been able to put the No. 33 truck into Victory Lane this season,” he said. “We are very hungry. Our team has brought some incredible trucks to the race track so far this season. We have been there every week.

“This is traditionally the time in the season when our team comes alive. I hope we can do it again this year; a tally in the win column would be nice.”

As far as the championship goes, Hornaday is keeping everything in perspective. “I am happy where we are right now,” he said. “We have not had a finish outside the top 10 the entire year. Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) continue to provide me with some awesome equipment and I cannot thank them enough. I would like nothing better than to get them a second championship and set the record for the most (titles). ”

But he knows just as well as the other competitors how the hunt for the championship historically has gone down to the wire. “This soon in the year, it is too hard to predict that kind of stuff,” he said.

“You have veterans who have won championships and the young guys all mixed in there together competing for wins and the title. You never know. There might be someone else in the mix by Homestead.”

Johnny Benson On A Steady Climb

Johnny Benson (No. 1 Toyota) has been on a steady climb, digging out from being back in the points following Daytona. After a disappointing 26th-place finish in the season opener, his results have improved with each race.

Benson, the reigning series champion, made the move to Red Horse Racing at the end of last year, not really knowing what was ahead. While some members of his former team joined him, there was a lot of work to be done and all the adjustments that come with being with a new team.

The hard work and determination is showing and has Benson right where he was at this point last year.

Sitting fifth in points, he heads to Lowe’s with his focus on his team’s continual climb. 

“We’re excited to be fifth in the points, especially considering the problems we had at Daytona,“ said Benson. “Finishing 26th was a big blow to us but it really says something about this team, to be able to battle back to the fifth spot just five races later.”

“We’re really happy with where we are now and will focus on climbing even more spots in the coming weeks.”

His record at Lowe’s isn’t necessarily one to boast about. In four starts, Benson only has one top-five finish. The rest fall outside the top 10.

Benson finished second at Kansas and shouldn’t be kept out of the mix.

Johnny Benson (No. 1) is sandwiched between Kyle Busch (No. 51) and Johnny Sauter (No. 13) during this season’s opening race at Daytona International Speedway.

Etc. ...

  • Don’t forget this Friday, May 15, is not only race day for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series but is also NASCAR Day. For more information, visit: www.NASCAR.com/NASCARDay.

  • James Buescher, rookie of the year contender and driver of the No. 10 International MAXX Force Diesel Ford for Circle Bar Racing, stayed busy over the past weekend. He competed in the ARCA RE/MAX Series race at Kentucky Speedway Saturday and ended his day in Victory Lane for the second time this season.

    “The win this past weekend in the ARCA race at Kentucky will definitely generate more confidence going into this week’s race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway,” said Buescher.

    “The main reason I’m running the ARCA races is to get more track time on the mile-and-a-half tracks.  I don’t have a lot of experience on the larger tracks, and just getting some seat time in a vehicle will help.  We should be able to get the same result in the trucks before long, and maybe even this weekend.”

    Buescher is second in the rookie standings, only one point behind leader Tayler Malsam (No. 81 One Eighty Toyota).

  • NASCAR Camping World Truck Series veteran crew chief John Monsam has joined Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) as crew chief of the No. 4 Chevrolet team. Monsam will be on hand this weekend at Lowe’s for the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 to work alongside KHI Nationwide Series team crew chief Ernie Cope before taking over the crew chief duties full time at Dover International Speedway on May 29.

    With his move to KHI, Monsam also reunites with Ron Hornaday Jr. and Rick Carelli, as he has led both drivers to victories in Truck Series competition. Monsam guided Hornaday to Victory Lane in the 1997 NAPA 200 at Tucson (Ariz.) Raceway Park and won with Carelli in the 2000 Kroger 200 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. His other winning drivers include Mike Bliss, Dennis Setzer and Jon Wood.

Eyes On Billy Ballew Motorsports At Lowe’s

Kyle Busch will be back in the No. 51 Miccosukee Resort Toyota with Billy Ballew Motorsports this weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. In four starts with the series at Lowe’s, Busch has collected two wins among three top-10 finishes. With back-to-back wins in 2005 and 2006, he’s the only driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to collect repeat wins at the track.

“Kyle has done a great job for us at Lowe’s,” said team owner Billy Ballew. “His first start for the team, he won the race in 2005 and returned to win again in 2006.  Lowe’s means a lot to all the team and employees since it is our home track and a lot of our families attend the race.  Kyle has success in anything he drives so I’m sure he’ll put on a good show for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series fans Friday night.”

As an organization, Billy Ballew Motorsports has a lot going on this weekend. For the first time in its 14 years competing in the series, BBM will field a third truck in Friday night’s race. NASCAR Nationwide Series driver John Wes Townley will pilot the No. 09 Zaxby’s Toyota by way of a joint venture between Billy Ballew Motorsports and RAB Racing. Townley has seven previous starts in the series with a best finish of 18th at Milwaukee last June and Talladega in October.

Brian Ickler will also make a return to the series in the No. 15 Samsung Instinct Toyota. Ickler made an impressive debut with the series at Kansas last month where he finished fifth.

Raybestos Rookie Of The Year Standings

Rk  Driver    Points
1.   Tayler Malsam       48
2.   James Buescher    47
3.   Johnny Sauter       45
4.   Ricky Carmichael  45
5.   J.R. Fitzpatrick     42
6.   Brent Raymer       18
7.   Chase Austin        16
8.   Chris Jones           12

Another First-Time Winner At LMS?

Matt Crafton grabbed his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in last year’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway race, launching a string of races that saw first time winners.

Who, if anyone, is next to put their first notch in the wins column?

The two prime candidates, statistically, are Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-Way Freight Ford) and T.J. Bell (No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota). Both excelled in their first visit to the Concord track. Braun’s first LMS race was last season; Bell’s was in 2007.

Braun finished 15th a year ago but the result was a deceiving one. In actuality, he performed much better than his finish would suggest.

In that race, Braun had a Driver Rating of 101.4, an Average Running Position of 7.4, nine Fastest Laps Run and ran 136 of the 138 laps among the top 15.

In 2007, Bell finished ninth with a Driver Rating of 90.5, an Average Running Position of 9.4 and ran all 136 laps in the top 15.

Also watch for Chad McCumbee (No. 07 ASI Limited Chevrolet), who also seeks his first win. His first two visits to LMS resulted in finishes of 15th and 18th.

But last year, McCumbee came just .184 seconds short of stealing Crafton’s glory – and becoming a first time series winner himself.

McCumbee notched the runner-up finish, his best finish to date. In that race, he had a Driver Rating of 97.2, an Average Running Position of 11.1, three Fastest Laps Run and ran 114 of the 138 laps among the top 15 (82.8%).

Wayne’s Words

“North Carolina fans have the chance to come out and catch the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race under the lights this Friday night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. It’ll be nice for teams because most of them call Lowe’s their home track. It’s definitely an opportunity for them to show their friends and families what they do 25 weekends a year.”

“The drivers and teams are already showing just five races into the season how competitive the series is. There really is no telling who will end up in Victory Lane.”

“This track has shown some great finishes. Last year we saw Matt Crafton get the first win of his career. We saw back in 2005 what Kyle Busch was all about when he became the series’ youngest winner at age 20. In the series’ six  races here, he’s the only repeat winner.”

“This track is also known for having an ever- changing track surface. The crew chief could make the difference, if he can keep up with the track and its changes throughout the night. The drivers, of course, are going to have to know what it’s going to take to keep up. Communication will be important.”
- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director

Racing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway this Friday night will allow most of the teams a chance to race at their home track. The track is known for changing over the course of the night. Crew chiefs will have to have a good understanding of how it changes to make the right adjustments.

Up Next

The series will head north to face the Monster Mile in the May 29 AAA Insurance 200 at Dover International Speedway.

Scott Speed notched his first career win last year. In nine races, the track has yet to see a repeat winner. Former winners Ron Hornaday Jr (2007) and Kyle Busch (2005) will look to change that as the series marks 10 years of racing at Dover.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2009 Manufacturers' Championship Standings following Race 5 of 25 at Kansas Speedway:

Toyota:    42
Chevrolet: 33
Ford:        20
Dodge:     15

Fast Facts

Next Race: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
The Place: Lowe’s Motor Speedway
The Date: Fri., May 15, 2009
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
Race Distance: 201 miles / 134 laps
TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile paved
2008 Winner: Matt Crafton
2008 Polesitter: Kyle Busch
Schedule: Friday–Practice, 9-10 a.m. and  10:20-11:50 a.m.; Qualifying, 3:35 p.m.

2009 Driver Standings
Rk Driver                  Points
1   Mike Skinner         801
2   Ron Hornaday Jr.   776
3   Todd Bodine          744
4   Matt Crafton          707
5   Johnny Benson      685
6   Kyle Busch           682
7   Brian Scott           659
8   Chad McCumbee  647
9   Terry Cook           631
10 Stacy Compton     624




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Keeping Pace

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





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