Off-week news and notes 2005-03-21

* Tradition of close finishes continues in NASCAR Craftsman Trucks * Series grads Edwards, Biffle started national sweep with truck win DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 21, 2005) -- The more things change, the more they stay the same. The NASCAR ...

* Tradition of close finishes continues in NASCAR Craftsman Trucks
* Series grads Edwards, Biffle started national sweep with truck win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 21, 2005) -- The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, "10 Years Tough" in 2005 and beginning its second decade as a NASCAR national touring series, is decidedly higher profile than in its inaugural season with events at many high-speed tracks like Daytona International Speedway and -- most recently -- Atlanta Motor Speedway.

But the racing remains fiercely competitive, whether on short track or superspeedway.

And the list of series stars has come full circle, along with the tough competitors they've been able to beat.

Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) edged Terry Labonte by .090-second to win the inaugural race in 1995.

Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) prevailed by .008-second -- about a foot -- to beat Bobby Labonte (No. 47 Chevrolet All-Star Chevrolet) in the March 18 World Financial Group 200 on Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval.

The Phoenix decision remains fifth-closest in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history. Atlanta's margin of victory is third-closest -- and tightest ever on a track of a mile or more in length.

Hornaday, who won championships in 1996 and 1998, is well on his way to disproving the adage of not being able to return home successfully. The victory was a record-extending 27th and added Hornaday to a short list of competitors -- Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) -- who have won in seven seasons. He also climbed to fifth in series point standings.

The 46-year-old Californian, who left the series in 2000 to compete in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series, is back for a possible third title and wheeling a truck owned by DeLana Harvick, wife of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup star Kevin Harvick. She becomes just the sixth female owner to score a victory on the series.

And that might give Hornaday a bit of a dejà vu moment: He previously posted victories for Teresa Earnhardt.

Hornaday's last win came in 2002 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He's one of four drivers who have taken trucks to victory lane for three different owners: Earnhardt, Harvick and Dave Fuge.

The current campaign is the first since 1996 in which the three "original" champions -- Hornaday, Skinner (1995) and Sprague (1997, 1999 and 2001) -- are going head-to-head for the championship.

That's a bonus for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series fans and absolutely fine with Sprague, Hornaday's fierce rival on track but loyal friend when the engines aren't running.

Hornaday beat Sprague for the 1998 championship by three points, the closest title decision in series history. But the pair celebrated at California Speedway a year later when Hornaday's late race pass of Greg Biffle helped Sprague win his second title.

Appropriately, Sprague was close enough to Hornaday -- finishing eighth at Atlanta - to give the winner a friendly fender rub on the cool-off lap.

"My ol' buddy Jack came up and gave me a congratulatory bump which brought back a lot of great memories," said Hornaday. "He and I had some great battles in the old days; lots of races just like this."

Looks like the "old days" have morphed into the "new days."

The saga continues April 9 at Martinsville Speedway where, amazingly, Hornaday and Sprague haven't been able to win despite their combined 51 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories, 26 of them on short tracks. Sprague won the Bud Pole for last year's Kroger 250.

NEWS & NOTES, PART II

Edwards latest series grad to strike gold ... With an unprecedented weekend sweep at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 2003 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Carl Edwards becomes the 11th competitor to win in all three of NASCAR's national touring series. Edwards and Roush Racing teammate Biffle, the 2000 NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion, are the only members of the "elite 11" to post their first NASCAR national touring victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

ETC. ... Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge) continues to top the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship standings. He leads Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge) by 65 points. Hamilton has ranked among the top 10 in points for a record extending 53 consecutive races beginning in 2003. ... Hornaday's winning average speed of 142.424 mph at Atlanta is sixth-fastest in series history. ... The series has seen 13 different winners in the past 15 events, a streak that began on Aug. 6 at Indianapolis Raceway Park. ... Sprague finished eighth at Atlanta in his 200th series start. Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) was 14th in his 100th appearance. 10 YEARS TOUGH

Close finishes have been the signature of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series thanks, in part, to a green-white-checker rule (since adopted by NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and NASCAR Busch Series). The format, used where possible when the race is under caution at the scheduled distance, has come into play 49 times in 245 races including both Atlanta events. Hornaday has figured in 10 such finishes -- winning seven. ... Although the Labonte brothers have competed in a total of just seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races, the former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champions have been involved in three of the series' six closest finishes with a record of 1-2. Terry Labonte lost to Skinner at Phoenix International Raceway but returned in September 1995 to nip Geoffrey Bodine by .006-second at Richmond International Raceway. The latter finish remains second closest on the series to Butch Miller's .001-second victory over Skinner in July 1995 at Colorado National Speedway.

Fast Facts

What: Kroger 250 (Race 4 of 25).

Where: Martinsville Speedway.
When: 1:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 9.

Track layout: .526-mile paved oval.
Race length: 250 laps/131.5 miles.

Posted awards: $465,155.

TV: SPEED Channel, 1 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

2004 winner: Rick Crawford.
2004 polesitter: Jack Sprague.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice 9:00 a.m. -- 11:15 a.m. Qualifying 4:45 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.

Top 10 drivers: 1. Bobby Hamilton 525. 2. Ted Musgrave 460. 3. Ricky Craven 439. 4. Jimmy Spencer 438. 5. Ron Hornaday Jr. 433. 6. Dennis Setzer 414. 7. Matt Crafton 401. 8. Johnny Benson 401. 9. David Starr 389. 10. Robert Huffman 378.

-nascar-

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