* Memphis Boasts An Impressive Group Of Winners * Season A Roller Coaster Ride For Title Contenders * Wayne's Words: Drivers Love Elvis Presley Trophy In Memphis, The Champions Rule DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 23, 2008) -- There will be at...
* Memphis Boasts An Impressive Group Of Winners
* Season A Roller Coaster Ride For Title Contenders
* Wayne's Words: Drivers Love Elvis Presley Trophy
In Memphis, The Champions Rule
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 23, 2008) -- There will be at least five former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champions in the field when the green flag drops on Saturday's O'Reilly 200 at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Odds are pretty good one of them will wind up in Victory Lane.
Nine races have been run in Memphis since Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) won the inaugural event in 1998 -- the same season Hornaday won his second of three championships.
Champions -- or champions to-be -- have gathered in seven of those nine races.
Memphis Motorsports Park, at a distance of 3/4-mile, is unlike any of the other four short tracks on the 2008 schedule. The configuration, dissimilar front and backstretch and tight turns, favors veteran drivers -- elite veteran drivers.
And it can frustrate some of the series' top winners including Mike Skinner (No 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) , who finished 26th and 29th in his first two cracks at MMP. He finally got untracked a year ago finishing fourth.
What did Skinner learn?
"Man, I don't know. We were just so happy to get a good run and to actually lead some laps," he said.
Most series drivers consider themselves short- track veterans by the time they reach the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
That only means more schooling is ahead according to Skinner, a 15-time short -track winner.
"They have not been running on radial tires and they have not had the horsepower," said Skinner. "They find out the trucks want to spin the tires when you hit the throttle, they won't stop and they won't turn."
Down By The River Side
NASCAR Craftsman Truck champions have won eight of 10 races held at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Greg Biffle 1999
Bobby Hamilton 2004*
Ron Hornaday Jr. 1998*
Travis Kvapil 2002, 07
Ted Musgrave 2003
Jack Sprague 2000, 06
* Championship Season
Johnny Benson: Season Winner No. 9 And Counting
In the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the winners just keep on coming.
Johnny Benson's (No. 23 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota) third consecutive victory at The Milwaukee Mile on June 20 upped the total to nine winners in the season's first 11 races.
That's a record. The count was eight-for-11 in three previous seasons including 2007.
Bill Davis Racing has won 19 times since entering the series in 2004. The total matches Bobby Hamilton Racing VA for second most wins among active teams.
Ironically, considering his record a year ago, the only BDR driver of three without a victory is Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota).
No team has ever posted wins with three different trucks in the same season.
Roller-Coaster Finishes Add To Championship Drama
A year ago -- and in most years -- finishes of 22nd and 28th during the season's first six races would make a title run unlikely.
Not in 2008 where first through 10th, separated by 221 points, is the second-closest ever. In 2003, the spread was 217 points.
Johnny Benson has overcome those finishes to lead 2006 champion Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) by 50 points. In the last five races, Benson is the only driver to lead two consecutive weeks.
Everyone, it seems, has had a roller coaster type of season so far.
Bodine has finishes of 23rd and 29th. Fourth-place Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) has won twice but has four finishes of 23rd or worse. And Hornaday trails Benson by only 70 points.
"When we won the championship, we opened with three top-three finishes. By race 10, we hadn't finished worse than 15th," said Bodine. "Nobody is above bad luck this season."
Benson said, "Usually by this time in the season, there are two or three front runners but with the competition this year, there are still 10 or 12 teams with a legitimate shot at winning the championship."
VIP Tour For Memphis Fans
Four fans chosen at random by Memphis Motorsports Park will become honorary pit crew members for the O'Reilly 200.
Each fan and a guest will receive a VIP experience: attend the drivers' and crew chiefs' meeting; tour the team hauler; meet their driver and attend driver introductions.
The four fans and their drivers are:
Cliff Sink, Oxford, Miss. (Brendan Gaughan)
Bill Thorsberg, Germantown, Tenn. (Dennis Setzer)
Sammy Wright, Dumas, Miss. (Mike Skinner)
Glenda Arnold, Jackson, Mo. (Jack Sprague)
Etc. And Quotable
St. Jude Visit Slated ... Drivers Stacy Compton, Rick Crawford (No. 14 Power Stroke Diesel Ford), Brendan Gaughan (No. 10 MAXX Force Ford) and Dennis Setzer (No. 18 Dodge) will visit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis Friday .
"This short track is a lot of fun to race on but can get pretty intense out there trying to get up front. This team has really kicked it into another gear the last two weeks and I hope it continues." -- Erik Darnell, No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford, whose finishes of first and fourth have boosted Darnell from 12th to eighth in the championship.
"They are a top-notch team and will do everything it takes to get the job done. I hope we can get a good finish for everyone involved." -- Willie Allen, No. 46 Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau/Lowery Plumbing Chevrolet. Allen, the 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year, finished sixth in his series debut with Morgan-Dollar in 2005.
"This will be a good opportunity for us to gain some points back that we've lost this year. We just need to take one race at a time and keep doing what we've been doing." -- Ron Hornaday Jr., who finished third last year.
"Survival. You can't say Memphis without focusing on staying out of trouble," -- Mike Hillman Jr., crew chief for Todd Bodine.
"The funny thing is I really hate qualifying. It is one of the most nerve-racking things we do as race car drivers." -- Jack Sprague, No. 2 American Commercial Lines Chevrolet, winner of three Memphis poles and two races.
"Memphis is a hot, tough race so everyone has to be prepared mentally and physically. -- Bobby East, No. 09 Zaxby's Ford.
Tennessee's "home team," Bobby Hamilton Racing VA, returns to the Volunteer State with mixed emotions, having moved to Virginia during the past winter.
"At the end of last season, it became apparent that in order for (the team) to move in the direction Bobby Hamilton Sr. would have wanted it to, we had to move closer to the NASCAR hub," said owner Lori Hamilton.
Jonathan Ellis, rear tire changer for Stacy Compton's No. 4 Dodge, is from Hixson, Tenn.
"No matter what area your race team calls home, you always want to do good in front of the home town crowd," said Ellis. "For those of us who worked at Bobby Hamilton Racing in the past, we are lucky enough to call two states home."
Memphis Pays Future Dividends For Raybestos Rookies
A Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate hasn't won at Memphis Motorsports Park -- yet.
But two former rookies-of-the-year, Greg Biffle and Travis Kvapil, posted victories in their sophomore visits to the track in 1999 and 2002, respectively. Biffle's win was his first .
That statistic could bode well for 2007 Rookie of the Year Willie Allen; Allen was 23rd a year ago.
Michigan winner Erik Darnell owns the best rookie finish on the 3/4-mile track. He was second in 2006.
Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) continues to head Raybestos award standings. Marc Mitchell (No. 15 Hyprene Ergon Toyota) topped rookies at Milwaukee with a 15th-place finish. He also led two laps -- the first Mitchell has headed in series competition.
Teams take a well-deserved break after Memphis before heading to Kentucky Speedway for the July 19 Built Ford Tough 225 presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers.
Eight races have produced eight different winners including Ron Hornaday Jr., Dennis Setzer and Mike Skinner, the only three expected to compete in this year's event.
In The Loop:
Johnny Benson's win at The Milwaukee Mile made it nine different winners in the 11 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races this season.
But the drivers who rank two and three on the all-time wins list are noticeably absent from the 2008 victory roster -- Jack Sprague and Mike Skinner.
Will that change this weekend at Memphis Motorsports Park? Statistically, for both it's a possibility -- more so for Sprague than Skinner.
Sprague, a two-time winner at Memphis (2000 and 2006), has earned some of the top Memphis statistics over the past three seasons. Since 2005, he has a Memphis Driver Rating of 112.6, an Average Running Position 7.8, 43 Fastest Laps Run and has a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 86.3 percent.
Skinner has improved over the last three Memphis races, but still his stats lag behind some of the front runners. He finished fourth there last season and ninth in 2006, but those two top 10s followed a 29th-place finish in 2005.
Over the last three years, Skinner has a Driver Rating of 92.2, an Average Running Position of 10.4, 14 Fastest Laps Run and has run 76.8 percent of the laps in the top 15.
One other possibility: a first-time series winner. There have been two first time winners at Memphis -- Greg Biffle and Brandon Whitt -- and last year Brad Keselowski made a name for himself with a pole win and strong race.
The stats say it's doubtful, though. Of those in this weekend's field, series wins leader Ron Hornaday Jr. ranks first in Driver Rating with a 113.4 and the most of stats leaders at Memphis all have wins in their careers.
Director's Take: Wayne's Words
"There are two trophies every driver wants on his mantle: the Gibson guitar in Nashville and the Elvis Presley trophy in Memphis.
"That's part of the reason the series is so popular in Tennessee. The series will be running in there for the 33rd time, the most of any state.
"The Elvis Presley statue definitely is one of the biggest prizes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"The Memphis race changed quite a bit several years ago when the track brought in lights.
"In addition to making things a lot more comfortable for the drivers, crews and fans, dusk-to-dark brought a whole different race to Memphis Motorsports Park.
"Qualifying takes place in the late afternoon. It's also daylight when the O'Reilly 200 field takes the green flag.
"But as darkness falls, the track begins to change. That's a real challenge for a crew chief -- especially since we don't have that many pit stops and opportunities to make major changes.
"Every year, it seems to come down to the last 10 laps. It should this year as well." -- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director.
Memphis Rewind: Substitute Got Noticed
Last year's O'Reilly 200 was the coming out party for Brad Keselowski.
He just didn't know it at the time.
Keselowski, then 23, had competed in the series 41 times for his parents' K Motorsports Team.
Subbing for Ted Musgrave in the No. 9 Germain Racing Toyota, Keselowski won his first pole and came within 10 laps of victory
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was impressed enough by what he'd seen that Keselowski was quickly signed to drive the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Two weeks ago, Keselowski won his first race for Earnhardt at Nashville Superspeedway and ranks second in series points behind Clint Bowyer.
Toyota Regains Lead
Toyota's fifth victory of the season put the Tundra back in the Manufacturers' Championship lead.
The truck maker's lead, however, is just a single point over Chevrolet. The GM brand previously held the top spot.
Toyota has won two of the last three races in Memphis.
The Race: O'Reilly 200
The Place: Memphis Motorsports Park
The Date: June 28, 2008
The Time: 9 p.m. ET
Race Distance: 200 laps / 150 miles
TV: SPEED, 8:30 p.m. ET
Track Layout: 3/4-mile oval
2007 Winner: Travis Kvapil
2007 Pole: Brad Keselowski
Friday: Practice, 5-6:15 p.m. and 7:30-8:45 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 5 p.m.