Familiarity Gives Hornaday, Kevin Harvick Inc. A Championship Edge
*Benson Optimistic Despite Variety Of Team And Series Changes
*Roush Racing Continues To Top Speed Charts In Second Test Day
*Number Of Teams Will Employ Multiple Drivers During 2007 Season
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 13, 2007) -- Things have come full circle at Kevin Harvick Inc., a phenomenon the team hopes will culminate in the 2007 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship.
Call it what you may -- old-home week or just former comrades-in-arms reuniting -- but there's little doubt the opportunity to meld talent with familiarity is creating unlimited potential.
Driver Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 AES HR Solutions Chevrolet), crew chief Rick Ren and Team Manager Rick Carelli may have come to KHI from different directions but each has been linked to the other since the beginning of the series in 1995.
Two of the trio -- Hornaday and Carelli -- also have a relationship with Kevin Harvick that reaches into the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series star's teen-age years.
"Right now at KHI the people we have in place, the drivers we have and the crew chiefs we have is pretty impressive," said Carelli, whose first of four victories was shared with Ren at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1995.
Hornaday was among Harvick's mentors when he began his NASCAR weekly racing career at the old Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.
And, a number of years ago, Harvick's father, Mike, was crew chief of Carelli's late model racing team.
"I know where Kevin is with this program, Hornaday speaks for himself and you have sort of a quiet storm putting him and Rick (Ren) together," said Carelli, Hornaday's spotter in 2006 when the driver won races at Mansfield Motorsports Park and Kentucky Speedway.
Hornaday, who finished seventh in last year's point standings, is excited about the acquisition of Ren, a five-time winner in 2006 with Bill Davis Racing's Johnny Benson (No. 23 Exide Battery/Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota).
"Everything changes in NASCAR racing, especially these trucks, so you have to stay on top of it," said the 48-year-old, two-time series champion. "Last year, (crew chief) Wally (Rogers) was cut thin between the Busch car and the truck and Kevin obligated himself to do the right thing.
"Kevin was down here yesterday trying to help us out and showing the interest an owner needs to know to show that he and DeLana are really gung-ho about the whole situation."
Harvick, Clint Bowyer and newcomer Cale Gale will share driving duties in a second KHI truck. Veteran Charlie Wilson, like Harvick a Bakersfield native, has been appointed crew chief of the No. 2 Chevrolet.
"I had a really good working relationship with Rick but the problem was they lived in Colorado and they wanted somebody there fulltime so we parted ways after the '97 year," said Ren. "But Rick, his wife and my wife have kept up a very good 'race relationship' over all these years.
"We go out to eat; I remember we went out to eat at Richmond (in 2000), the night before he won in his comeback from being hurt. That was a really memorable moment."
Ren believes the team has championship potential.
"You know when you already have a relationship with the team manager, I know the driver -- his record speaks for itself -- and I see the owner who is a young guy trying to build his programs," said Ren, who has won in the series with Benson, Carelli, Andy Houston and Travis Kvapil (No. 6 Ford). "(Kevin) has climbed the rungs of the ladder and he's gaining.
"Maybe we haven't all worked together but we already know each other. When you walk in the door you already know what they expect of you."
2006 Standings Runnerup Is Optimistic ... Despite the departure of crew chief Ren, Benson remains optimistic about his chance of becoming the series' 10th champion. "Even if our team was 100 percent intact and didn't have Rick as a change, we'd face the same changes coming in here anyway," said Benson. "With the changes to the front end of the truck and the tire change those challenges are made no matter what. It's not like we unloaded a truck that came right off the track last year." Benson believes the team's success will carry over into the new campaign with crew chief Trip Bruce, a NASCAR Craftsman Truck veteran with Evernham Motorsports and Ultra Motorsports. "Momentum is key, because it gives the guys a great attitude coming into the season for sure."
Roush Racing Dominates On Second Test Day ... It was a case of same song, different verse as Roush Racing drivers topped Saturday morning's NASCAR Jackson Hewitt Preseason Thunder single-truck speed chart just as the team did the day before. Kvapil is now three-for-three in top speeds and his teammates -- Erik Darnell (No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford) and Peter Shepherd (No. 50 Ford) -- aren't far behind. Friday's initial drafting drill saw Kvapil record a fast lap of 48.252 seconds/186.521 mph.
The lap was fractionally quicker than that of A.J. Allmendinger (No. 00 Toyota), whose best time was 48.399 seconds/185.954 mph. Back in single-truck mode on Saturday, Kvapil was quickest at 50.180 seconds, 179.354 mph. He was trailed by Darnell, 50.633 seconds/177.750 mph and Canada's Shepherd, 50.703 seconds/177.504.
What Makes NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Fun To Watch ... Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 South Point Racing Chevrolet) is never at a loss for words and the Las Vegas native had this to say when asked why a race fan should follow the series. "We have drivers with NASCAR NEXTEL Cup experience and we have 18 year olds that are brand new in the series. If you are a fan you get to watch guys that are driving all sorts of different equipment that have all sorts of talent on their race teams.
"You see young guys that have never been to Daytona and older guys that have been here for 20 years -- that's kind of fun. Look at the way the trucks move around, the way the air pushes these things. It's just such good, old-fashioned racing with young guys and older drivers and guys in between."
Sharing The Load ... Several teams with developmental drivers will split up the 2007 schedule thus giving fans the opportunity to view more young talent while utilizing the skills of more veteran competitors. Among them are Wood Brothers/JTG Racing where Joey Clanton and Stacy Compton will share the No. 09 Zaxby's Ford and Kelly Bires and Daytona winner Mark Martin will take turns in the team's No. 21 Ford. Shane Huffman and Clay Rogers will drive Key Motorsports' No. 40 Chevrolet while Allmendinger, open-wheel star Josh Wise and Ken Butler III will make appearances in Darrell Waltrip's No. 00 Toyota.First-Time Driver Combo For Circle Bar Racing ... Five-time and 2003 Daytona winner Rick Crawford (No. 14 Power Stroke Diesel Ford) will have a teammate for the first time this season -- and no surprise, it's Houston native David Starr (No. 10 MaxxForce Diesel Ford). Circle Bar Racing owner Tom Mitchell of Ozona, Tex. jumped at the opportunity to put a fellow native of the Lone Star State in the seat once sponsorship matters were settled. "There was no Plan B," said Crawford. Circle Bar acquired the assets of ppc Racing which included the services of Dennis Connor, a three-time championship crew chief and 26-time series winner. "The first few laps it was hard to see," said Starr, a winner of last April's Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway. "I just couldn't get this big smile off my face and it made my eyes squint shut."