Offweek news of note 2007-09-04

* Benson Finds Cut-Rate Path To Victory Lane * New Leader In Second Closest Title Race * Team Pronounces Villeneuve's First Test Success News Or Used, It Makes No Difference to Benson, BDR DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 4, 2007) -- The Toyota...

* Benson Finds Cut-Rate Path To Victory Lane
* New Leader In Second Closest Title Race
* Team Pronounces Villeneuve's First Test Success

News Or Used, It Makes No Difference to Benson, BDR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 4, 2007) -- The Toyota Certified Used Vehicles logo Johnny Benson's No. 23 Toyota carries on its flanks could just as well describe the horsepower under the Tundra's hood.

Benson, winner of the Sept. 1 Missouri/Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 at Gateway International Raceway, went to Victory Lane for the second race in a row powered by a two-race engine. He also won at Bristol.

It's believed that hasn't happened since the series' infancy in the late 1990s.

Benson says it's business as usual for Bill Davis Racing. "We'll run them more than one race before they rebuild them and it should be that way," he said. "I think it's good for the sport for us to be able to do that.

"And if the other teams aren't doing that, hopefully they'll see us doing it ... because it definitely saves costs."

Laerta Zatta, Toyota's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series manager, says the engines are rated for 800 miles and require normal maintenance within the cycle. "We're able to offer a discounted price to the teams," he said.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director Wayne Auton called it "a win-win situation.The engine performs well and it's cost-effective for the owners."

Hornaday Leads Title Race For First Time Since 1999

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship battle, which has gone to the final race for a decision in 11 of the 12 seasons, has a way of tightening -- no matter how large the margin.

In 2005, Dennis Setzer (No. 75 Spears Manufacturing Co. Chevrolet) enjoyed a virtually unheard of 225-point cushion after race No. 15.

And Setzer didn't win the title.

The 2007 "shuffle" has begun with Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) losing all of a 92-point lead and then some due to Saturday's early-race cut tire and accident at Gateway International Raceway.

Skinner's misfortune -- he'd completed every lap entering the year's 17th race -- handed the point lead to 1996 and 1998 champion Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet).

Hornaday last led the standings on May 16, 1999 and Chevrolet, despite its six manufacturers' championships, hadn't seen one of its drivers in the top spot since Sept. 24, 2005 when Setzer led following the stop at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

"Pretty excited," is how the 49-year-old Californian described his post-race mood. "We needed a good points day and we got it."

Hornaday's four-point margin is second closest in series history after 17 races.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Closest Point Races After Race 17 Season Point Margin Driver 2001 1 Scott Riggs 2007 4 Ron Hornaday Jr. 1997 5 Jack Sprague 2003 5 Brendan Gaughan 1995 25 Mike Skinner* * Won Championship

International Champion Villeneuve Joins Bill Davis Racing

The announced debut of Formula One and Indianapolis 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 22 was a surprise to the racing world.

It is no surprise, however, that team owner Bill Davis is using the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to prep the 36-year-old Canadian for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competition in 2008.

With NASCAR's new car sharing handling characteristics with the Toyota truck Villeneuve will drive in the season's final seven races, the connection is obvious.

Villeneuve's test last week at Chicagoland Speedway impressed teammate and mentor Mike Skinner.

The "rookie" ultimately got within 0.2 second of the 1995 champion and current standings leader's best lap times.

"We had our ups and downs but after going back to the basics, we were very pleased," said Skinner.

"You have to look at the truck racing -- they (BDR) are leading the championship and doing really well," Villeneuve said about the value of racing in NASCAR Craftsman trucks. "So that is the best place to start to get mileage and to get used to running at those speeds in traffic."

Villeneuve is the third Indianapolis 500 champion to compete in the series joining A.J. Foyt and Buddy Rice.

The Canadian isn't the first Formula One veteran to race a NASCAR Craftsman Truck. Eliseo Salzazar of Chile finished 17th at Watkins Glen International in 1997.

NCTS Etc.

* Skinner Wins Bud Pole -- Again. Or, put another way, one down and five tracks to go. Skinner eliminated Gateway from his list of current tracks on which he'd failed to capture fast qualifier honors. He can reduce the number to four in October at Talladega Superspeedway. The others -- Daytona, Kentucky, Mansfield and Memphis -- will have to wait until 2008.

* And One Shy Of His Own Record, Too. -- Skinner's Gateway pole was the ninth of the current season, one fewer than the record 10 he won in 1995. Skinner admits to wanting to break his own mark, thus giving Bill Davis Racing the season pole record in two of NASCAR's national series. Jeff Gordon won 11 Busch Poles for BDR in 1992. BDR is No. 3 in NASCAR Craftsman Truck poles with 30 -- all since joining the series in 2004. Ultra Motorsports is the overall leader with 45.

* A Repeat Winner -- Finally. Ted Musgrave (No. 9 Team ASE Racing Toyota) became the season's first two-time winner of the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award. His third-place finish at Gateway was 24 spots better than the 2005 champion's posting at Bristol on Aug. 22. Musgrave's finish matched his best of 2007.

* First Finish Under Caution This Year. Ryan Mathews' (No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota) final lap accident produced the series' first finish with the yellow flag waved since Oct. 7, 2006 at Talladega Superspeedway.

* Best Finishes For Smith, Wise. Regan Smith 's (No. 47 Ginn Resorts Chevrolet) fifth-place run was his first career top 10. Josh Wise (No. 00 Aaron's Lucky Dog Toyota) also recorded his best performance -- eighth.

* Crafton Perseveres. Never give up was the motto of Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet), who went a lap down after changing a cut tire under green at Lap 7. Crafton finally got the beneficiary lap back at Lap 132 and finished ninth -- his best since Memphis.

* Good Luck Charm. St. Louis Rams fullback Madison Hedgecock was an honorary member of Brendan Gaughan's No. 77 South Point Hotel Chevrolet team during last Saturday's race. Gaughan finished 10th -- the first time he's posted consecutive top-10 finishes since mid-2006. Gaughan drove his truck to a second-place finish Aug. 22 at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 12th-ranked driver is one of five battling for the final spot in the championship's top 10.

Toyota First Back-To-Back Winner At Gateway

Bill Davis Racing gave Toyota bragging rights as first manufacturer to win consecutive races at Gateway International Raceway. The trophy went to Germain Racing in 2006.

The victory was Toyota's ninth of the season matching the truck maker's 2005 total. Toyota won 12 times a year ago en route to its first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Manufacturers' Championship.

In The Loop:

With a second-place finish at Gateway International Raceway, Ron Hornaday Jr. launched into the top spot in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings. He overtook Mike Skinner, who finished 28th at Gateway, and now holds a four point lead.

Hornaday also caught up to Skinner in many of the Loop Data statistics as well.

Coming into Gateway, Hornaday trailed by 92 points in the series standings and had a 111.3 Driver Rating to Skinner's 122.2.

He shrunk the deficit this weekend -- Hornaday now has a 112.9 to Skinner's 120.3.

The same goes for Average Running Position. Prior to Gateway, Skinner was lapping the field with a dominant Average Running Position of 4.4. Hornaday held a fourth-best 8.2.

Skinner's number dropped to 5.3 after Gateway, while Hornaday improved to 7.8, which moved him into third place in the category.

Though Skinner lost the points lead, he remained on top of the charts in practically every key Loop Data category. Along with occupying the top spot in Driver Rating and Average Running Position, Skinner also leads in Fastest Laps Run (368) and Laps in the Top 15 (2,631).

Travis Kvapil also took advantage of the Skinner stumble at Gateway. His points deficit is now 194, down from 256 last week. He has the third-best Driver Rating (107.6) and the second-best Average Running Position (7.5).

Quotable

"All in all, I was waiting for the day when the 5 truck (Skinner) was going to have a bad day and I didn't know if it was ever going to come. The 33 (Hornaday) is going to have to have some bad luck. We just have to keep plugging along." -- Travis Kvapil (No. 6 K&N Filters Ford), who trails Hornaday by 194 points -- the first time the 1993 champion has been fewer than 200 points back since the third race of the season. Kvapil finished sixth at Gateway.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year Standings

Two points separate Tim Sauter (No. 07 Lester Buildings Chevrolet) and Willie Allen (No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet) as the 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year campaign enters its final eight races. In a bit of statistical irony, two points also separate the two competitors in overall NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings. Sauter is 16th; Allen 17th. The highest-finishing rookie candidate overall receives 10 Raybestos bonus points.

Up Next: New Hampshire

The big question as the series heads for New England for the Sept. 15 New Hampshire 200 is this: Will the 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway sees its 12th different winner?

NHIS and Homestead-Miami Speedway, which joined the schedule in 1996, have identical records as tracks where no previous winner has been able to revisit Victory Lane. That's probably bad news for seven NHIS winners expected to compete, including defending New Hampshire 200 champion Johnny Benson.

It's difficult -- if not impossible -- to explain why past winners have experienced such frustration in Loudon, N.H. Consider this, though: It's been the same story with the NASCAR Busch Series and in spades. Kevin Harvick became the track's 21st different winner when the series visited NHIS on June 30.

The track has no winners common to both series. David Green is the only NBS winner expected to compete in the New Hampshire 200.

FAST FACTS

Next Race: New Hampshire 200

The Place: New Hampshire Int'l Speedway
The Date: Sept. 151

The Time: 3:00 p.m. (ET)
TV: SPEED 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Track Layout: 1.058-mile oval

Race Purse: $558,210

2006 Winner: Johnny Benson
2006 Pole: Mike Skinner

Schedule:
Friday -- Practice 9:40 a.m. - 10:50 a.m., 11:20 - 11:50 a.m. (rookies) and 1:45 - 3 p.m.
Saturday -- Qualifying 10:05 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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