Mansfield: Round seven preview

*Crafton, ThorSport Racing End Long Victory Droughts *Jack Sprague Definitely Knows Mansfield Motorsports Park *Wild Night In Charlotte Rattles NASCAR Craftsman Truck Standings The Long Wait Is Over For Crafton, ThorSport Racing DAYTONA...

*Crafton, ThorSport Racing End Long Victory Droughts
*Jack Sprague Definitely Knows Mansfield Motorsports Park
*Wild Night In Charlotte Rattles NASCAR Craftsman Truck Standings

The Long Wait Is Over For Crafton, ThorSport Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 19, 2008) -- Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) didn't miss a beat after winning the May 16 North Carolina Education Lottery 200 and thereby erasing a 177-race winless streak.

"Finally, we can shut them up," he said of those who've asked the when question since Crafton joined the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in October 2000. "Now they can say, 'when's the next one coming?'"

Indeed, Crafton ended the series' longest run of frustration (see chart below) for a non-winner.

It hardly was a surprise. Crafton finished second in March at Martinsville Speedway and has had numerous third-place finishes during his seven-season career.

"Perseverance pays off," he said.

The trait also paid off for ThorSport Racing, a fulltime team since 1998. Terry Cook (No. 60 Wyler.com Toyota) posted its only victory on Aug. 8, 1998 at the now defunct Flemington (N.J.) Speedway.

Crafton won in the team's 237th start since that win.

"I can't thank Duke and Rhonda Thorson enough for the money they put out of their own pocket," said Crafton.

Jack Sprague Has Mansfield Motorsports Park's Number

Three-time champion Jack Sprague (No. 2 American Commercial Lines Chevrolet) is all smiles this week -- even if things didn't exactly go his way May 16 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Saturday's Ohio 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park is next on the schedule and Sprague's record at the .5-mile oval is nothing short of incredible.

Sprague has competed at Mansfield four times, winning in 2004. Since then, he's finished second in three consecutive races.

It might be the half-mile track. Sprague is third in series short-track wins (13) and is the only driver to have won at all five such tracks on the schedule.

Sprague can't completely explain his success at Mansfield but said, "Mansfield is a short track just like I grew up on. I have the most experience with these types of tracks and I am most comfortable racing at these venues."

Sprague, however, is candid in explaining one element.

"A lot of my success can be attributed to pit strategy," he said. "We have always had great pit stops and been able to make the right calls (for track position).

"Qualifying is very critical here. A good qualifying effort can set you up to have a great day."

Wild Night In Charlotte Tightens Title Race

Just about every driver among the top five had a shot at victory in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, but when the dust settled, Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) remained atop the standings.

But Hornaday's 23rd-place finish, after coming within a few laps of defending his 2007 victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway, has benefitted multiple challengers -- starting with veteran Rick Crawford (No. 14 Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford).

Crawford ended the event just five points behind Hornaday. In fact, the top six positions are separated by 66 points.

The biggest gainers -- no surprise here -- were Matt Crafton and Chad McCumbee (No. 8 MRD Chevrolet). They moved up three and two positions, to fourth and sixth, respectively.

While Kyle Busch finished eighth after leading a race-high 86 laps, the performance was good enough to put his team owner, Billy Ballew, back in the Owners' Championship lead.

Ballew is up by 32 over DeLana Harvick, Hornaday's team owner.

Etc. and Quotable

ThorSport An Outsider But. ... ThorSport Racing is based in Sandusky, Ohio and is the only fulltime team not headquartered in North Carolina or Virginia.

Whole Lot Of Leading Going On. ... A Lowe's Motor Speedway series record 11 drivers exchanged the lead 14 times in Friday night's race. Hornaday is the only driver to lead a lap in all six of the season's races.

Several Drivers Set for Mansfield Debuts. ... At least three drivers are bidding for their first NASCAR Craftsman Truck action on Saturday. They are John Wes Townley (No. 09 Zaxby's Ford); Scotty Crockett (No. 12 Mario Gosselin Chevrolet) and Angela Cope (No. 73 Dodge). Cope, 24, is one of two racing twins and the niece of 1990 Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope. Cope will drive the No. 74 team truck.

"The fans in Ohio look forward to this race all year, and they really let us know how much they enjoy having (us) visit. They treat the drivers like kings. It adds extra excitement being at our home track, less than an hour from our shop. There's just an electricity in the air." - Shelby Howard, driver of ThorSport Racing's No. 13 Chevrolet.

"At Mansfield, where the main thing is to stay out of trouble and go for the decent finish, leaving with a top-10 finish and very little damage to the Lumber Liquidators Tundra is a good day -- and you won't hear me say that often." - Todd Bodine, whose best Mansfield finish is 15th.

Short Tracks Up For Grabs. ... There have been five different winners in the most recent five short-track races. Go back six -- to Mansfield '07 -- and Dennis Setzer (No. 18 BHR VA Dodge) is the only double winner.

No Luck At Lowe's: Rookies Hope For Better Results

The five-race run of consecutive rookie finishes among the top 10 ended last week at Lowe's Motor Speedway where Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) was 15th with Andy Lally (No. 7 TRG/Adobe Road Winery Chevrolet) one spot behind.

Now it's on to Mansfield where there's been a rookie top-10 finisher (and two among the top five) in each of the four previous races.

Roush Fenway Racing's Todd Kluever performed the best: He ran fourth in 2005. Last year's best rookie finisher was 10th-place Kevin Hamlin.

Two Raybestos candidates finished among the top 10 in this year's only short-track race. Donny Lia (No 71 TRG Chevrolet) and Scott Speed (No. 22 Red Bull Toyota) finished ninth and 10th, respectively.

Howe Among Many Ohioans In NASCAR Craftsman Trucks

The state of Ohio may be hundreds of miles from the North Carolina/Virginia bases of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

But that doesn't mean the state isn't well-represented. Some might say Ohioans have more than their share of influence on the series -- starting with Jack Roush, a native of Manchester, whose trucks have won 48 times and sent Greg Biffle to the 2000 championship.

Among those whose Mansfield Motorsports Park visit will be a Buckeye homecoming is Doug Howe, crew chief of the No. 08 Gunbroker.com Dodge driven by Jason White.

Howe hails from Cuyahoga Falls -- a town located 70 miles northeast of the track.

Howe became interested in racing as a youth and volunteered as a crew member for local driver Scott Baker. What began as a weekend hobby evolved into a decision to move to Mooresville, N.C., and pursue a career in NASCAR racing.

He's currently with SS Green Light Racing and has worked with a number of teams including JR Motorsports and what became Germain Motorsports.

"He's worked for various teams but he always seems to come back to Green Light," said his wife Sheryl, who also works for the team in an administrative capacity. The Howes have two daughters, Crystal and Julia.

Both describe their father as "quiet."

"Doug is one of the hardest-working and most loyal people in all of racing," said Bobby Dotter, the team's general manager. "He brings a lot to our team. I don't think there is anyone in the garage area that doesn't like Doug."

Up Next:

Teams tackle the first of three concrete-surfaced tracks on May 30 with a visit to Dover International Speedway's "Monster Mile."

The AAA Insurance 200 marks the ninth appearance of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Dover.

Championship leader and 2007 champion Ron Hornaday Jr. is the defending winner of the AAA Insurance 200.

In The Loop:

Racing at Mansfield is hit-or-miss for past NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champions -- some are solid, some aren't.

The two best active drivers are Jack Sprague and Ron Hornaday Jr.

In the four series races held at Mansfield, Sprague has finished inside the top two -- including a win in 2004.

In his three races since, Sprague has a Driver Rating of 107.6, a series-best Average Running Position of 8.8, 21 Fastest Laps Run and a series-high percentage of Laps in the Top 15 (80.4%).

Hornaday, with a Mansfield win in 2006, owns the top average Mansfield Driver Rating of 120.1 over the last three races there. Additionally, he has an Average Running Position of 9.5 and a series-high 65 Fastest Laps Run.

But the success rate hasn't been so robust for champions Todd Bodine, Mike Skinner and Ted Musgrave. While none have fared poorly, there is only one top-five finish at Mansfield among them (Skinner's fourth-place finish last year).

Over the past three Mansfield races, Musgrave has the strongest statistics of those three drivers. Musgrave, whose best Mansfield finish was 12th in 2005, has a Mansfield Driver Rating of 93.1 and an Average Running Position of 12.7.

Bodine has a Driver Rating of 88.2, an Average Running Position of 13.0 and 35 Fastest Laps Run, which ranks second in the series at Mansfield. Skinner has a Driver Rating of 87.7 and a Average Running Position of 13.6.

Director's Take: Wayne's Words

"When we were a lot younger, it was always exciting when the circus came to our area of North Carolina.

"That's how I'd explain the response of residents in and around Mansfield, Ohio since the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series made its first visit to the community in 2004.

"We have been welcomed with open arms to say the least. It seems like the whole town turns out for the annual hauler parade and downtown street festival.

"Thousands of folks have taken the opportunity to meet our drivers, get autographs and tour team and NASCAR haulers.

"It harkens back to another era in racing -- when the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were in their infancies and visited tracks in small towns across the southeast.

"The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is definitely No. 1 in mid-Ohio during the fourth week of May.

"Mansfield Motorsports Park itself hasn't always been so welcoming to the drivers.

"The well-banked half-mile is among the most challenging short tracks on the schedule.

"A driver must be on top of his game and his crew chief more so.

"A year ago, Spears Motorsports gambled on a no-stop strategy and Dennis Setzer won. That won't happen this year as we've reduced the capacity of the fuel cell.

"One thing is certain. The fans will see a lot of close-up action." -- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director.

Chevrolet Rolls While Toyota 'Poles'

Toyota has ruled the roost, so to speak, since Todd Bodine's (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) win at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Chevrolet, however, knocked Toyota off its perch with Matt Crafton's victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway. General Motors bypassed its rival and carries a one-point Manufacturers' Championship lead into this week's Ohio 250.

Toyota, however, reached one milestone in the Queen City when Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Toyota) posted a qualifying lap of 179.045 mph to give the truck maker its 50th pole.

Busch's pole came in Toyota's 106th race -- and 96th time that the No. 1 position had been decided through time trials.

The latter figure gives Toyota a 52% success rate.

"That's an incredible number I think, (and) to have it happen in such a short time frame is a testament to the program," said Jim Aust, President/CEO of Toyota Racing Development.

FAST FACTS

The Race: Ohio 250
The Place: Mansfield Motorsports Park

The Date: May 24, 2008
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Track Layout: .5-Mile Oval
Race Distance: 250 laps / 125 miles

TV: SPEED, 12:30 p.m. ET

2007 Winner: Dennis Setzer
2007 Pole: Mike Skinner

Schedule:
Friday: Practice, 11:30 a.m.--1 p.m. and 1:30-2:30 p.m. Qualifying, 6:30 p.m.

- credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Derrike Cope , Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , Greg Biffle , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Colin Braun , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Bobby Dotter , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Matt Crafton , Andy Lally , Shelby Howard , Jason White , Scott Speed , Jack Roush , Todd Kluever , Kevin Hamlin , Chad McCumbee , DeLana Harvick , John Wes Townley , Donny Lia , Angela Cope , Kyle Busch
Teams Roush Fenway Racing , Toyota Racing , JR Motorsports