Off-week news 2008-09-22

* Mike Skinner Breaks Drought, Wins Big At Vegas * Championship Points Battle: Lady Luck Changes Up The Run For Title * Future Looks Good For Series With Roush Fenway Racing Duo Skinner Wins A Close One, Ending Drought DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

* Mike Skinner Breaks Drought, Wins Big At Vegas
* Championship Points Battle: Lady Luck Changes Up The Run For Title
* Future Looks Good For Series With Roush Fenway Racing Duo

Skinner Wins A Close One, Ending Drought

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 22, 2008) -- After a dominating 2007 season, this year has been anything but ideal for series veteran Mike Skinner. It had been 22 races since Skinner paid a visit to Victory Lane. With new crew chief Doug Richert and the experience of Slugger Labbe leading the way, Skinner broke the drought driving his No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota for the win Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It wasn't an easy victory for the driver who came across the start-finish line door-to-door with the No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford of Erik Darnell. Darnell, who led 56 laps of the race, had Skinner beat coming out of Turn 4 on the final lap.

Skinner knew he had to do something though; he wasn't going to let this one slip by. Down the frontstretch the 1995 series champion went to the bottom inside Darnell where they stayed side-by-side to the checkered flag. Skinner came up with the win by the nose of his truck.

"Wow," said Skinner about the close last lap. "Its just amazing. I've been beat many times when I had the fastest truck, and Darnell had the fastest truck," he added.

While glad to have his long winless streak over, Skinner felt the weekend, regardless the outcome, was going to bring a lot of gains for his team.

"If we'd finished fifth or 10th or whatever, I still think it was a successful day because of how much we've struggled all year," he said.

"Doug Richert did a phenomenal job calling practice and Slugger Labbe did a good job calling the race. He put us in position to win," added Skinner.

Lady Luck Has Her Way With Title Contenders

With six races remaining, it looks as though once again the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship is not even close to being locked up.

Lady Luck was not Johnny Benson's friend Saturday as a cut tire sent the No. 23 EXIDE Batteries Toyota into the wall. The damage put the team in the garage and out for the night.

With only a 74-point lead over Ron Hornaday, Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) going into the race, Benson's misfortunes left the lead for his rival to grab. While the two swapped the points lead a number of times throughout the night, Hornaday struggled to a fifth-place finish which left him second.

Benson doesn't have any cushion to find comfort in. He holds only a single-point lead over the reigning champion, the closest between first and second after 19 races in series history.

Speaking of making history, should Hornaday's momentum continue, the three-time champion has an opportunity to become the series' first back-to-back champion.

With the Benson-Hornaday battle heating up, a watchful eye should be kept on the three drivers right behind them who Lady Luck did seem to favor.

After a solid third-place finish at Las Vegas, Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menard's Chevrolet) hangs on to the third spot only 164 out of first.

Erik Darnell gave Skinner a run for his money in his second photo finish of the season. Skinner might have won but Darnell's runner-up finish moved him past the 1995 series champion in points. Now sitting fourth, the Roush Fenway Racing driver is 224 points behind Benson.

Looking at 2007, the remaining tracks appear to not bode well for Darnell. Judging the recent performance of driver and team though, with six top-five finishes, including three runner-up spots, and one top-10 all since his win at Michigan in June, the No. 99 will remain a contender.

Three points behind Darnell and only 227 points behind teammate Benson, Skinner possibly has a shot to add another series title to his resume. His win came just in time and has given his team the confidence they need for the remainder of the season.

"I've been hungry," said Skinner. "I got a lot of fire in this belly and I'm not done by any means."

Etc.:

By The Numbers ... Nine times this season the series has seen 10 or more lead changes. There were 18 lead changes at Atlanta, the most thus far in 2008. Las Vegas with 15 changes tied with Michigan for the second most.

Not-So-Usual Suspects ... Las Vegas produced not only a great race but great finishes for several drivers.

John Andretti, behind the wheel of the No. 15 Hyprene-Ergone Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports, came from starting 23rd through the field to finish fourth, his best finish in five series starts.

Veteran driver Jeff Green in the No. 40 Westerman Companies Chevrolet finished seventh, his best finish so far this season.

Making his 11th start for TRG Motorsports, Reno native T.J. Bell posted a solid run in the No. 7 Home4theholidays.org Chevrolet. Bell finished eighth, his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races.

Manufacturers' Battle

Toyota keeps the lead following Mike Skinner's big win at Las Vegas. The manufacturer should keep an eye on the rest of the competition, though.

Chevrolet drivers Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Matt Crafton are hard-pressed to make it back to Victory Lane before the season runs out.

Ford driver Rick Crawford would love to capture the checkered flag next week in his home state at Talladega where he finished second last year.

In The Loop:

The future of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was on full display Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Erik Darnell, 25 years old, and Colin Braun, 20 years old, battled up front all night long, giving a glimpse of what's to come in the series.

Darnell, a hard luck runner-up, was nipped at the line by winner Mike Skinner by .020 seconds. But his statistics were those of a race winner. In the event, Darnell had a Driver Rating of 121.2, an Average Running Position of 3.9, 21 Fastest Laps Run and led a race-high 56 laps. In the season, Darnell has a fifth-best Driver Rating of 95.6.

Braun ended the night in 12th, but the finish would have been better if not for a late-race accident. He led a lap, had a Driver Rating of 104.4 and had an Average Running Position of 4.3. He was also one of three drivers to run all 147 Laps in the Top 15 (Skinner and Darnell were the others).

Elsewhere, though, Johnny Benson lost almost his entire points lead because of an accident -- he now leads Ron Hornaday Jr. by a single point -- he had one of the strongest trucks of the night. He had the fourth-best Driver Rating on Saturday (105.6) and had a race-high 27 Fastest Laps Run.

Rookies

Rookie Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) looked as though he was on his way to finish among the top five before a last-lap accident sent the young driver into the wall and spinning across the finish line.

Despite the incident, Braun posted a 12th-place finish.

Braun's misfortune, however, opened the door for Donny Lia to be the highest-finishing rookie of the race. Lia, behind the wheel of Randy Moss' No. 81 Nationrides.com Chevrolet, had a strong night, finishing in 10th.

Up Next:

Teams might have thought they were rolling the dice last week in Vegas but the next stop on the schedule is known to be just as dicey. The series will return to action at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 4 for the Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Winn-Dixie.

Last year's winner, Todd Bodine, would like to make the trip back to Victory Lane. He's the only former winner expected to compete in the race.

Fast Facts

The Race: Mountain Dew 250 Fueled by Winn-Dixie
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Oct. 4, 2008
The Time: 4 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 250.04 miles / 94 laps
Track Layout: 2.66-Mile Speedway

TV: SPEED, 3:30 p.m. ET

2007 Winner: Todd Bodine
2007 Pole: Todd Bodine

Schedule:
Thursday: Practice, 12:15-1:30 p.m. and 2-3:15 p.m.;
Friday: Qualifying, 11:05 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers John Andretti , Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , Jeff Green , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Colin Braun , Rick Crawford , T.J. Bell , Matt Crafton , Erik Darnell , Doug Richert , Donny Lia
Teams Roush Fenway Racing , TRG Motorsports