Off-week news of note 2007-03-06

Johnny Benson, Wife Debbie, Take Break In Europe Ron Hornaday Has Good Vibes Heading For Atlanta This Old House Has Special Meaning For Crawford Todd Bodine, Ted Musgrave Sample Different Kind of Racing DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 5, 2007) --...

Johnny Benson, Wife Debbie, Take Break In Europe
Ron Hornaday Has Good Vibes Heading For Atlanta
This Old House Has Special Meaning For Crawford
Todd Bodine, Ted Musgrave Sample Different Kind of Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 5, 2007) -- It's dejà vu all over again for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' "original" champions.

Jack Sprague (No. 60 Con-way Freight Toyota), Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) and Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 AES HR Solutions Chevrolet) occupy three of the top four positions in the standings heading into the March 16 American Commercial Lines 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Is there another title in one of their futures?

Right now, the answer would seem to be yes.

Hornaday, in particular, is far ahead of his two-race performances of both 2005 and 2006 when the California native rebounded with top-10 title efforts.

Atlanta was the key to Hornaday's resurgence two years ago as he edged Bobby Labonte in the series' closest superspeedway finish.

Hornaday has a new crew chief, 11-time winner Rick Ren, and a partner operation at Kevin Harvick Inc. The No. 2 Camping World Chevrolet will be driven at Atlanta by Clint Bowyer.

"With having the second truck, it is really going to make our team shine this year. It's 10 times better than the start of last year," Hornaday said. "Now here we are in the top five in points. It gives us so much more of a head start than last year."

What Johnny Benson's Doing On His 'Vacation'

A two-week break in the 2007 schedule finds NASCAR Craftsman Truck drivers taking time off -- and not just in the United States.

Johnny Benson (No. 23 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota) and his wife Debbie flew to Switzerland to take in the sights and possibly test the ski slopes.

Their children, Katelyn and Mikayla, stayed behind to attend school thus giving the Bensons some couple time that's a rare commodity during the season.

"She doesn't get to come to the races because of the school hours," said Benson, whose pair of top-10 finishes at Daytona and California has planted last year's series runnerup a solid third.

Some might say that with the season only two races old, why would a driver need rest?

Racing, of course, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Benson, his Bill Davis Racing teammates and the rest of the series competitors spent January testing non-stop.

"I'm looking forward to the time off," said Benson, whose summer is filled with races and activity at Berlin Speedway, a Grand Rapids, Mich., track his father owns.

"Hopefully we can get some skiing in while we're there," he added, "but mostly we'll just enjoy each other's company.

News & Notes: Part 2

Driver, Crews Visit St. Jude's ... Bobby Hamilton Racing's two teams and Chase Miller, driver of the No. 4 Open Joist Dodge, visited St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis this week. They also toured the facility's Ronald McDonald House.

Roush Fenway Names Driver And Sponsor ... Roush Fenway Racing announced this week that Heathcliff® Cat Litter and driver T.J. Bell have struck a deal that will put the 26-year old driver from Reno, Nev. behind the wheel of the No. 50 Ford F-150 for 15 races during the 2007 season. The program will begin next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Viewership Goes Up ... With a rating of 1.1 according to Nielsen Media Research, the Feb. 23 San Bernardino 200 was SPEED's most viewed NASCAR Craftsman Truck non-Daytona race. The race also saw a 94 percent increase in viewership among men 18- 34 vs. last year's event.

Family Reunion ... Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Kelly Bires recently enjoyed a visit with his parents, Jim and Debbie, who hadn't seen their son in several years. The elder Bires was a Wisconsin short track star in the 1970s and 1980s, winning 72 of 90 features he entered at Wisconsin Dells and Lacrosse Fairgrounds speedways in 1984-85.

Lester Part Of CIAA Tournament Week Festivities ... Bill Lester (No. 15 Bowen Family Homes Chevrolet) attended the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association's 2007 basketball tournament played in Charlotte last week by teams from historically black colleges. He was a guest on Steve Harvey's national radio show, among other activities.

Series Alums Score In Mexico ... NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series alumni grabbed seven of the top 15 finishing positions in Sunday's telcel MOTOROLA 200 in Mexico City. New NASCAR Busch Series point leader Carl Edwards (fourth) led Jason Leffler (sixth), Marcos Ambrose (eighth), Jon Wood (10th), Todd Kleuver (11th), David Reutimann (12th) and David Ragan (14th).

Swamp Rat: Germain Racing's Todd Bodine, the 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, was the honorary starter for the first race of the Budweiser Spring Classic event March 4 at the Florida Sports Park in Naples, Fla. Teammate Ted Musgrave attended as well. The pair took an easy tour of the race course in an actual swamp buggy but it wasn't at a "get muddy and soaked" pace.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings

A year ago, Erik Darnell (No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford) finished eighth at Atlanta Motor Speedway and went on to claim Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors.

Bittersweet Move-In Day As Crawford Assumes Ownership of Legend's Home

Who's to say if Rick Crawford would be celebrating his 250th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start next Friday in Atlanta had racing legend Benny Parsons not been so hospitable.

Crawford moved his race team to Charlotte a decade ago and figured he'd be living out of a motel room for the foreseeable future.

It didn't happen -- after Parsons learned of the Alabama native's living arrangements.

Parsons invited Crawford to stay at his house -- and moved with his wife to their Florida home -- until Crawford got settled.

Turns out Crawford liked the home so well he offered to buy it when the Parsons decided to build near where the 1973 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion grew up.

The sale was consummated in November shortly before Parsons' death and Crawford moved in this past weekend.

"Everyone knows what happened to Benny and it really kind of took some of the luster off my new house, but it will always be a special place with us," Crawford said. "But to me, I would give back the house and live in a tent to have Benny back. If Benny was here, I wouldn't have to live in a tent because he would insist on me living in his house. That's just the way he was."

No Surprise

In The Loop

Last season, the standings battle came down to the last race with Todd Bodine barely fending off Johnny Benson.

It was a battle between two drivers who couldn't look any different. One -- Bodine -- could easily be mistaken for a New Jersey longshoreman. The other -- Benson -- could have doubled as your local tax accountant.

But there was one characteristic that they both had in common. They could drive the wheels off a truck.

And the change in season hasn't made a difference in that regard.

Both drivers are in the top five of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings and both find their name near the top of numerous Loop Data categories.

For instance, Benson has the third-best Driver Rating at 105.3. Bodine is fifth in the all-important category at 99.0.

But it doesn't stop there. One of the most telling categories calculated by the under-the-track scoring loops is the Average Running Position. And it's a stat at which both Benson and Bodine excel. Bodine has an Average Running Position of 6.340, meaning you'll rarely -- if ever -- see his truck outside the top 10. Benson ranks fifth in the category, running at an average of 7.525.

The consistency the two show is the most impressive stat of all. Both rank among the leaders in Laps in the Top 15. Bodine has the third most Laps in the Top 15 with 192, while Benson has the fourth most at 188.

Another key stat that has grown in importance and prestige is Quality Passes -- passes of cars running in the Top 15 while under green. Benson has 122 Quality Passes, which is tied for fifth best. Bodine is one off of that pace with 121 Quality Passes.

Quotable

"I'm looking forward to racing in Atlanta, especially since the track is similar to Texas where I got my first series win last season. I'll be pulling triple duty so hopefully I can start the weekend off right with a good run in the Camping World Silverado." -- Clint Bowyer.

"I have tested the waters in the NASCAR Busch and NEXTEL Cup series but trucks have been something special for me and a place that I can call home." -- Jack Sprague, who'll make his 250th series start next week in Atlanta.

"I've never run a NEXTEL Cup car here at Bristol so to me, this really feels like a Craftsman truck with more horsepower." -- David Reutimann, 2004 series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, during his Car of Tomorrow test at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Three Brands Have Won Races In Atlanta

With Manufacturers' championship runnerup Ford winless at Atlanta Motor Speedway, odds favor Toyota retaining or increasing its current lead in the standings.

Ford got close a year ago when Todd Bodine edged Mark Martin's F-150 truck to halt the latter's two-race winning streak.

Actually, Chevrolet is the favorite at AMS, having won three of the past four races. Bobby Hamilton's Dodge was the race's first winner in 2004.

FAST FACTS

Next Race: American Commercial Lines 200

The Place: Atlanta Motor Speedway

The Date: March 16
The Time: 9 p.m. (ET)

TV: SPEED 8:30 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 1.54-mile oval

Race Purse: $536,410

2006 Winner: Todd Bodine
2006 Pole: Todd Bodine

Schedule: Thursday, March 15 -- Practice 9:30 a.m. -- 10:30 a.m.; 11:50:1.m. -- 12:20 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. -- 1:30 p.m. Qualifying 5:15 p.m. (live on SPEED)

-credit: nascar

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