Raines earning respect, recognition By Shawn A. Akers

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 9, 1998) Steadily, Tony Raines is making his way up the NASCAR ladder. And if he continues to progress at this pace, he'll reach his ultimate goal of driving in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series full-time in no time. After earning his first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory in 1997 and finishing a respectable 15th in the series point standings in his first full season on the circuit, Raines more than impressed in his sophomore year in 1998. Only two years removed from the American Speed Association, where he won a championship in 1996, the driver of the No. 19 Pennzoil Ford visited Victory Lane three times this past season, scored one Bud Pole and earned nine top-five and 15 top-10 finishes on his way to finishing fifth in the overall series point standings for team owner Kurt Roehrig. Raines will be among the drivers who will appear on stage to make speeches and receive their point-fund checks this weekend at the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series post-season awards banquet. "This is a hell of a team we've got here and I'm pretty fortunate to be driving this vehicle," Raines said. "I couldn't be happier. This team has made great strides this season and I was definitely proud to be a part of it." The No. 19 Pennzoil/Yellow Freight Ford team got off to a slow start with a pair of mediocre finishes at both Walt Disney World Speedway and Homestead to begin the season, but a pair of top-10 runs at Phoenix and Portland to follow got it on the right track. Three weeks later, Raines visited Victory Lane for the first time in 1998, the same place he earned his first career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win -- at I-70 Speedway in Odessa, Mo., in the Yellow Freight 200. "I could get used to this winning stuff," Raines said after his win at I-70 Speedway. "I want to race here every weekend. It was a storybook weekend. To be able to hit a 1-2 punch of pole and win with one of our team sponsors bringing in so many people to watch us, you can't ask for much more. Except another one, of course. It's nice to recognized during the biggest racing weekend of the year." A 12th-place finish at Watkins Glen sandwiched in between, Raines earned perhaps his toughest victory of '98 on June 5 when he edged Cintas Rookie of the Year candidate Andy Houston out for a win in the Pronto Auto Parks 400K under the lights at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway. The race was full of attrition, and marred by nine caution flags. Raines remained consistent over the next 10 weeks, with six top-10 and eight top-15 finishes. His final win of the year came at Louisville (Ky.) Motor Speedway, in the Kroger 225. Raines dominated the 200-lap event, leading all but 17 laps, including the final 176. Although he would complete the year with four top-10 finishes in his final eight races, it wasn't the ending to the season Raines had hoped for. The four times he didn't finish in the top- 10, he didn't even finish in the top-20. Three of those were 25th-place finishes or worse. In addition to having Raines behind the wheel of his No. 19 Ford in the truck series, Roehrig also made provisions for Raines to attempt to make a few NASCAR Winston Cup starts in 1998. Although he failed to make the field for any, Raines' confidence in his driving ability remained undaunted. Raines will be one of the leading contenders for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in 1999.

Source: NASCAR Online