KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Regardless of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series commitments and conflicting events, Rick Hendrick has made it a point to be in his son Ricky's pit throughout the younger Hendrick's brief, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career. ...
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Regardless of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series commitments and conflicting events, Rick Hendrick has made it a point to be in his son Ricky's pit throughout the younger Hendrick's brief, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series career.
Which, of course, made Ricky Hendrick's first major NASCAR victory that much sweeter.
"I remember the first go-kart (race) he won and the first late model race he won. I think the first one Linda (Ricky's mother) was there and I was sick," recalled the proud father following Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 400 at Kansas Speedway. "I couldn't be at the track and I listened to it on the radio.
"When you remember him sitting on your lap or (Ken) Schrader's lap and now he's driving the car. He's like the mascot to a football team who ended up being the quarterback."
It's way too early to say where Hendrick goes from here - he's in a tight battle for Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year honors and is just 106 points off the NCTS championship lead at the season's halfway mark - but already there's speculation that a coveted seat in a Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Winston Cup Series car isn't far into the future.
"Everyone's goal is NASCAR Winston Cup," Hendrick admitted after winning in his 18th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start. "This is our first win but we have to prove we can win more. You have to be able to win week in and week out. I think that's exactly what my father would say, too.
"We have to take it step by step and I don't want to miss a step."
Hendrick joins an elite group of competitors who have won series races in their freshman campaigns. The late Kenny Irwin won twice in 1997, along with Tony Raines and Randy Tolsma. Andy Houston visited victory lane the following season while Kurt Busch, arguably the best rookie in NCTS history, won four times en route to a second-place championship finish a year ago.
Hendrick Motorsports is only the second organization to win a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event with three different competitors, Sprague, Hendrick and Terry Labonte. The record is five, by Roush Racing.
Joe Ruttman's stay atop the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points table was brief, a week - as was his hold on the tour's current longest finishing streak of 21 races. Electrical problems relegated his Bobby Hamilton Racing-prepared Dodge to a 24th-place finish and Ruttman's first DNF since July 1, 2000.
Despite finishing a lap behind in seventh, Scott Riggs moved back to the championship lead at mid- season * by 49 points over Ruttman. The title chase has become a genuine dogfight with a miserly 132 points separating Riggs from sixth-place Travis Kvapil.
Meanwhile, three competitors now lay claim to the consecutive finish string of 12 * Hendrick, Kvapil and Riggs.
Kansas Speedway positioned its NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Indy Racing League weekend as part of a season ticket package that sold out the 80,000-plus seat venue. And, despite a heat index of 110, there were few no-shows for the International Speedway-owned track's first major weekend of competition.
The turnout ranks third among estimated attendance at NCTS events, behind two Daytona International Speedway races of 2001 and 2000 and just ahead of last year's Kentucky Speedway inaugural that drew an announced 68,000.
His performance overshadowed by that of Hendrick, 19-year-old Jon Wood nonetheless proved he belongs on a NASCAR national touring series. Nonplussed by a lap 22 spin, with help from another competitor, Wood roared back to lead twice and finish fourth. His run was the best by a Roush Racing driver in 2001 and backed up the second-place finish Wood fashioned in June's NASCAR Winston West Series stop at Kansas Speedway.
"I think we earned some respect," said the son of Eddie Wood and third generation member of the famed Wood dynasty out of Stuart, Va. "I have a really good crew chief (Dan Binks) and that's what kept my nerves calm, otherwise (after the spin) it would have been four-wide and five-wide and that would have been a mess."
Hendrick, Wood, Billy Bigley and Kvapil made it four Raybestos Rookies among the race's top six finishers. That didn't really surprise Wood who was competing in just his fourth NCTS event. "My definition of a rookie is not a beginner totally but a beginner to a series," he explained.
Bigley's fifth-place finish was the first top five for Spears Motorsports since Marty Houston ran fourth at Kentucky Speedway on June 17, 2000. Bigley, a 39-year-old Raybestos Rookie, led his first laps at Kansas Speedway and landed a lead lap finish for the third consecutive race.
*** Sprague needs to win $22,664 to become the series' first $4 million winner. A fourth-place finish this week at Kentucky Speedway will do the trick. Journeyman Lance Norick, who will be competing in 121st series race, will be the 19th series driver to win $1 million simply by starting the Kroger 225. That start will tie him with Mike Bliss for the sixth greatest number of starts on tour.
Riggs and Ted Musgrave are the first two drivers to win $300,000 in 2001. Each is on course to challenge Greg Biffle's single-season money won record (without post-season awards) of $634,235.