Atlanta: Round three preview

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes -- Atlanta Rick Crawford Celebrates 300th Start DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 2, 2009) -- As Atlanta Motor Speedway marks 50 years of racing this season, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver ...

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes -- Atlanta

Rick Crawford Celebrates 300th Start

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 2, 2009) -- As Atlanta Motor Speedway marks 50 years of racing this season, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Rick Crawford will celebrate a milestone of his own. Baring anything wild and crazy that could keep him out of the race, the Mobile, Ala., native will make his 300th series start Saturday in the No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral/International Ford.

"I think about our first start at Walt Disney World. We were there on a wing and a prayer. One truck, one motor, and our All Pro Late Model team was my crew," he said. "It's hard to believe we've been here ever since."

Unique in today's world of racing, Crawford has spent all of his 13 seasons with the same team, Circle Bar Racing, and team owner, Tom Mitchell. The team marked its 300th start in California.

"As I look back, I think I'm proudest of the fact that I've reached 300 with one owner and one manufacturer," he added. "Mr. Mitchell and I have one of the longest driver-owner relationships in the sport. He's much more than an owner to me, he's made me part of his family and I could not be here without him."

Crawford has collected five wins, 72 top-five and 150 top-10 finishes, and five Keystone Light Pole awards in his career. He's finished inside the top 10 in the championship standings six times with a best finish of second in 2002.

Ask Crawford how he'd like to mark the milestone, and it's a simple answer. "The perfect ending to start 300 would be to deliver another trophy to the Circle Bar Truck Corral in Ozona, Texas," he said.

Atlanta Is Billy Ballew's House - Literally

Atlanta race weekends are always big for team owner Billy Ballew. And not just because one of his drivers, Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Energy Drink Toyota), has won three out of four races with the team. Atlanta Motor Speedway is Ballew's house, literally.

The Georgia native has owned a condo at the track since 1994, one year before he started racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He splits his time between living there and in his hometown of Blairsville.

With the success his team has found at the track lately, his has been a house of celebration. "I'm always excited about going back to Atlanta," said Ballew. "We've had some great finishes in both the No. 15 and No. 51 trucks and of course, its been exciting with Kyle winning three of the four races he's run there for us. To me, winning there is bigger than winning the Indianapolis 500."

Racing at home means a few more eyes focused on Ballew. "It's always nice to race at the hometown race track but I think it adds some pressure as well, wanting to succeed with friends and family on hand," he said. "Thankfully I have two talented drivers behind the wheel of our trucks with a team of excellent mechanics supporting them. We've been doing this since 1996 and we've had a lot of help from this community over the years."

New Blood In The Top 10

It's early but after two races into the 2009 season, there are a few new faces in the top 10 in driver points.

Todd Bodine (No. 30 Germain Toyota) and Kyle Busch are off to an identical start to last year, as they sit one-two in points, respectively.

Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) sits in third while Timothy Peters (No. 17 Toyota) makes his debut in the top 10 in the standings. Peters and his Premier Racing team have collected top-10 finishes in the season's first two races.

Also new to the top 10 are T.J. Bell (No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota) and rookie-of-the-year contender J.R. Fitzpatrick (No. 7 Mammoet Chevrolet). After an 11th-place finish at Daytona and a fifth at Auto Club Speedway, Bell sits sixth in the standings.

Canadian Fitzpatrick had a strong run in the season-opener where in only his fourth start, he finished fourth.

However some veterans are missing from the top, including reigning series champion Johnny Benson (No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota).

Heading into the third race last season, Benson sat third in points. He's started the year slightly in the hole as his night ended early following a wreck at Daytona. He rebounded slightly with a 12th-place finish at California; he currently sits 19th in points.

Two other veterans are conspicuously absent. Both Rick Crawford and Stacy Compton (No. 60 Wyler.Com Toyota) were fifth and tenth, respectively, at this time last year. This year, Compton is 13th while Crawford has a little more catching up to do from 17th.

With a series known for its championship battle going down to the wire, there could be plenty of time to catch up. But with the competition as tough as it's ever been, for some, it might not be too early to be worried.

Around The Track With Matt Crafton

Series veteran Matt Crafton is off to a fast 2009 start with top-10 finishes in the first two races of the season.

While there are no marks in the win column for the 32-year-old at Atlanta, his record shows he might be one to keep an eye on. In nine starts, he has three top-five and five top-10 finishes. In last March's race, he worked his way up from a 15th starting spot to finish fourth.

Crafton discusses his take on the track and his season ahead:

Q: What is particular about Atlanta Motor Speedway?

"Atlanta is my favorite track. I just love the place. We can run two and three-wide, and from the white line up to the fence. It's a really fast track, and you can hold it wide open there. The turns at Atlanta have almost as much banking as Daytona and Talladega, and you can carry some great speed into the straightaways."

Q: What would you say is key?

"Handling is important because the tires wear out quickly. After about 10 laps, we're all kind of back on an even playing field. That's where handling comes into play, because the trucks are sliding all over the place, and the driver becomes a big part of the equation."

Q: In the first two races, you looked strong. How do you evaluate the start to the season?

"We were capable of winning those first two races; we had really good trucks at both places.

"At both races, we had new trucks, and both of them were really strong, which is a tribute to Bud Haefele (Crew Chief) and the guys on this No. 88 Menards team. They've built some really good trucks, and their work in the pits has been awesome, making the trucks even better during the race. We just ran into some unlucky circumstances, and never really got the best chance to show just how good these trucks were."

Q: You won your first career race last year at Lowe's Motor Speedway. What is your goal this season?

"Our goal is to win races and win a championship, and that's our focus. We have all the resources to do it, and that's credit to Chevrolet and to owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson. We've always said its all about putting ourselves in position to win, whether its races or a championship, and we're off to a strong start in that regard. That's all you can ask. We'll just keep getting better."

Rookie Standings

Rookie-of-the-year contender Ricky Carmichael is adding a stop at Atlanta this weekend that wasn't originally on the schedule for he and his No. 4 Monster Energy Drink Chevrolet.

Carmichael comes off a strong performance in California where he started third and finished eighth. After two races, he's within four points of class leader J.R. Fitzpatrick.

Johnny Sauter is one rookie who has time behind the wheel at the 1.54-mile track, just not in a truck. Sauter has three starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and seven starts with one top-10 finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

After a 17th-place finish at Fontana, he's looking for a solid run to move him and his No. 13 Fun Sand/Curb Records Chevrolet up the charts.

Manufacturer Battle

Dodge won the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta in 2004, but since then it's been Toyota and Chevrolet's track.

Chevrolet holds the most wins with five. Toyota is close behind with three.

In The Loop

Atlanta has become an adopted hometown for Kyle Busch, at least in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The Las Vegas native has dominated the fast 1.5-mile track, winning at an astounding 75% clip. Busch has run in only four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Atlanta -- and has wound up in Victory Lane in three of them.

In those four races, Busch owns series-high statistics in Driver Rating (131.2), Average Running Position (3.4) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (97.9%). In addition, he has posted 84 Fastest Laps Run and has been passed just 68 times.

Busch's prime competition this weekend will likely be Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday Jr. -- both past winners at Atlanta.

Hornaday won the 2005 spring Atlanta race, and in his eight Atlanta races since the inception in 2005 has a Driver Rating of 104.8, an Average Running Position of 9.6, and a series-high 102 Fastest Laps Run.

Bodine captured the 2006 spring Atlanta race trophy. Since 2005, he has a Driver Rating of 107.1, an Average Running Position of 8.0 and a series-high 919 Laps in the Top 15 (a percentage of 87.5%).

Looking to escape the depths of the series standings is Johnny Benson. The defending series champion is currently 19th. Benson has not won at Atlanta, but has posted four top 10s in eight starts. In his Atlanta career, he has a Driver Rating of 95.4 and an Average Running Position of 12.8.

Director's Take: Wayne's Words

"After a quick one-week break, we're ready to get back to work at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Atlanta is celebrating its 50th year of racing and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is excited to be a part of that history.

"The trucks have been going to Atlanta since 2004 and the track has always produced some of the most exciting and competitive racing. It will be no different this Saturday.

"Atlanta is one of the fastest tracks on the schedule. The banking allows for the trucks to carry pretty good speeds into the straightaways.

"The 1.54-mile layout always makes way for three-wide racing throughout most of the race, keeping our fans on the edge of their seats. We've also seen this race won by guys making the winning pass on the last lap.

"Communication is key between drivers and crew chiefs and at AMS, it'll be crucial to watch for tire wear. Because drivers are able run wide-open, tires can wear out quickly. It will be interesting to see how that comes into play with the new pit-stop rules and what teams choose as their strategy on pit road."

- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Director

Atlanta Motor Speedway hosts the third race of the season for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The 1.54-mile track produces fast racing and exciting finishes.

Up Next

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to action at Martinsville Speedway for the Kroger 250 on Sat., March 28.

Dennis Setzer grabbed the checkered flag in 2008. Former winners expected to compete include Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner, David Starr and Rick Crawford.

Fast Facts

The Race: American Commercial Lines 200
The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: Sat., March 7, 2009
The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 200.2 miles / 130 laps
Track Layout: 1.54-Mile oval

TV: SPEED, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM. Listen locally on WEKS-FM 92.5

2008 Winner: Kyle Busch
2008 Pole: Ron Hornaday, Jr.

Schedule:
Friday: Practice 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.; 1:30 - 2:50 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 9:35 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , David Starr , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , T.J. Bell , Matt Crafton , Johnny Sauter , Ricky Carmichael , Timothy Peters , J.R. Fitzpatrick , Kyle Busch
Teams Red Horse Racing