* Earnhardt making progress at mid-season and enjoying series competition * Sprague finishes second to become series' first 'Six Million Man' DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2006) -- By some standards, 2006 could be seen as disappointing for...
* Earnhardt making progress at mid-season and enjoying series competition
* Sprague finishes second to become series' first 'Six Million Man'
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 14, 2006) -- By some standards, 2006 could be seen as disappointing for Kerry Earnhardt (No. 13 National Pork Board/Thorsport Chevrolet) but the third-generation competitor prefers to take the more optimistic view of his first full season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Earnhardt, who won the 2005 Budweiser Pole at Daytona International Speedway in his first series start, believes he's making progress as teammate to Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards/Energizer Chevrolet).
Crafton is 12th in a tight battle for the series' top 10 while Earnhardt stands 22nd in what arguably is the most competitive season top-to-bottom in the 12-year history of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Earnhardt has flirted with top-five and top-10 finishes and finally -- last Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway -- the stars aligned to put the driver in 11th-place at the checkered flag. The finish bettered by six positions the North Carolinian's career-best in the series.
"We've struggled at the short tracks and a little bit of it is because of me," said the 34-year-old son of seven-time NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Dale Earnhardt and brother of current star Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I'm too aggressive in the corners and the trucks are a lot different from the cars I'd been racing. I'm still working to figure it all out."
In Nashville, Earnhardt and crew chief Lance Hooper, a former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver, appeared close to finding the puzzle's missing pieces.
"Lance and the guys made some good calls in the pits and the breaks with the cautions allowed us to get up front," said Earnhardt, adding that some new-found patience also is helping. "I really just rode around and played the cat-and-mouse game."
Earnhardt believes the relationship with Crafton -- a veteran of 138 races and fifth-place finisher in the 2004 title race -- is paying dividends.
"We tested last week and our lines of communication have gotten much better," said Earnhardt. "We bounced ideas off each other at (Indianapolis) and again at Nashville and just having him to talk to is a big help."
He and the team are headed to Bristol Motor Speedway next week in a good frame of mind. "I am excited to have some momentum going there," he said.
Where Earnhardt's career goes from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is anyone's guess but for the moment he -- and wife Renee and their four children -- are pleased with his situation.
"I am having fun and I really enjoy the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," he said. "I like the shorter schedule because it gives me time to spend at home with my family. That's important to me (because) family is the most important thing and I wouldn't do anything differently."
NEWS AND NOTES, PART II
Jack Sprague (No. 60 Con-way Freight Toyota) became the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' "Six Million Dollar Man" following his second-place finish in Saturday's Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway. Sprague, who shares the series' total start mark of 238 races with Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford), won $31,050 to reach a series high $6,013,695.
That's $1.5 million more than the next highest career winnings of $4,503,750 logged by Dennis Setzer (No. 85 FlexFuel E85 Chevrolet) Setzer has won $4,503,750 in 208 appearances.
All of the current top five leading money winners are active drivers -- and each occupies a spot in the 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship chase. Ted Musgrave (No. 9 Team ASE Toyota) is highest ranked in fourth place.
The top of the career money list contains three former champions -- Sprague, Musgrave and Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet) -- counting a combined six titles.
Toyota adds to truck maker lead ... Johnny Benson's (No. 23 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota) victory at Nashville Superspeedway is Toyota's eighth of the 2006 season -- one short of the nine the truck maker put into the win column a year ago. With nine races remaining, Toyota can come close to -- but not reach -- the record 18 wins posted by Chevrolet in 1996. The overall competition remains close with Toyota leading current runnerup Ford by eight points, three more than after race No. 15. Also, the manufacturer's Tennessee win streak of five races continues heading into the Aug. 23 O'Reilly 200 where Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) is the defending champion.
ETC. ... Nashville winner Benson joined two clubs Saturday becoming the 33rd competitor to win a career $1 million in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Benson is the ninth driver to win $1 million in each of NASCAR's three national touring series. Thirty-three different drivers have won $100,000 or more so far this year -- three more than in any previous full season. ... Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates swept the front row starting positions in Nashville for just the second time in series history. Current freshman leader Erik Darnell (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford) posted a track record speed of 162.116 mph for a single lap around the 1.333-mile concrete oval. Chad McCumbee (No. 08 The GPS Store/Garmin Chevrolet) took the No. 2 position -- the highest ever by a driver in a Green Light Racing truck. ... Several competitors logged series-best finishes at Nashville including McCumbee (seventh); Earnhardt, 11th; and Boston Reid (No. 25 Woodard Racing Dodge), 14th. ... With Nashville's ninth caution extending the 150-lap scheduled distance there have been 62 green-white-checkered finishes representing 22 percent of the series' 283 races. ... Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) is the NASCAR Craftsman Truck points leader for the 12th consecutive week. His 12 times atop the leader board ranks 10th in series history. The all-time leader is Sprague, who has topped the points 52 times. Bodine's lead with nine races remaining is 144 points over Benson, who joined Bodine and Mark Martin (No. 6 Scotts Ford) as three-time winners in 2006. ... SPEED's expanded pre-race show will air prior to six of the final nine series events beginning with an 8:30 p.m. ET broadcast from Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday, Aug. 23. ... Four series drivers - Bodine, Crawford, Setzer and Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 SouthCoast Dodge) - will participate in a Goodyear tire test this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be the first to compete on the reconfigured, 1.5-mile superspeedway on Sept. 23.
"They're good friends, Todd and Mike -- at least they were." Jack Sprague's observation after Bodine and Skinner took each other out of contention for the win during a final, two-lap shootout at Nashville Superspeedway.
"I think this proves that our first podium result was not an accident and that with some momentum we could push for a race win by the end of the season." Marcos Ambrose, No. 20 Team Australia/Aussie Vineyards Ford, whose third-place finish duplicated his performance at Kansas Speedway and made the Australian V8 Supercar champion the first Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate to post two top fives in 2006.
IN THE LOOP
Points leader Bodine continues to dominate statistics with a leading Driver Rating of 107.7 (of 150.0). He's put down the most fast laps among all competitors -- 122. Standings runnerup Benson is seventh in Driver Rating (99.2) but with McCumbee, ranks third in series Closers with 19 positions.
What: O'Reilly 200 (Race 17 of 25).
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway.
When: 9:15 p.m. ET, Aug. 23.
Track layout: .533 -mile banked concrete oval.
Race length: 200 laps/106.6 miles.
Posted awards: $481,962
TV: SPEED Channel, 8:30 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2005 winner: Mike Skinner.
2005 polesitter: David Reutimann.
Top 10 drivers: 1.Todd Bodine 2,454. 2. Johnny Benson 2,310. 3. David Reutimann 2,260. 4. Ted Musgrave 2,215. 5. Rick Crawford 2,199. 6. Jack Sprague 2,152. 7. Terry Cook 2,148. 8. David Starr 2,140. 9. Ron Hornaday Jr. 2,139.10. Dennis Setzer 2,063.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Wednesday --Practice 11 a. m. -- noon. Rookie Practice 12:30 p.m. -- 1 p.m. Final Practice 1 p.m. --2 p.m. Qualifying 5:30 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.