Atlanta: Toyota preview

Toyota's teams and drivers in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series roll into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 on March 13, fresh off a second-place finish at the season-opener in Daytona Beach and after a strong...

Toyota's teams and drivers in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series roll into Atlanta Motor Speedway for the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 on March 13, fresh off a second-place finish at the season-opener in Daytona Beach and after a strong test session at Texas Motor Speedway.

LAST RACE: In the first race of the 2004 NCTS schedule, the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway (Feb. 13), Toyota made its Truck Series debut with four teams -- Bang! Racing, Bill Davis Racing, Innovative Motorsports and Darrell Waltrip Motorsports -- fielding seven Toyota Tundras. Last year's Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil was the first Toyota driver to cross the finish line, just .141 seconds behind race winner Carl Edwards. Along with Kvapil's second-place finish, three other Toyotas finished in the top-20 at Daytona -- David Reutimann (9th), Bill Lester (16th) and Hank Parker Jr. (18th).

FIRST LEAD COMES FAST: The first time a Toyota Tundra led the field in a NCTS race was when Travis Kvapil led lap eight of the season opener in Daytona. Kvapil would go on to lead the race four times for a total of 15 laps in his No. 24 Bang! Racing Toyota.

KVAPIL COMMENTS: "Heading into Daytona, our goal was to try to run in the top-10 and have a good race and a good finish," says Kvapil. "Our performance in the race really exceeded all our expectations. We qualified third, ran in the top-five and top-10 most of the day, led a few laps, and finished second. I'm not sure anyone thought we'd do that well in Toyota's very first race. We started really strong and it's made everyone on the race team even more excited about the rest of the season."

AT ATLANTA: This will be the inaugural race for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

TOYOTA: Toyota will have seven trucks in the first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Atlanta EAM: Motor Speedway. The teams and drivers fielding Toyota Tundras are:

Bang! Racing:
Travis Kvapil No. 24 Line-X Toyota Tundra
Mike Skinner No. 42 Toyota Tundra

Bill Davis Racing:
Shelby Howard No. 23 Toyota Tundra
Bill Lester No. 22 LidRock Toyota Tundra

Innovative Motorsports:
Robert Huffman No. 12 Toyota Tundra
Hank Parker Jr. No. 21 Toyota Tundra

Waltrip Motorsports:
David Reutimann No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota Tundra

ATLANTA: EXPERIENCE: Although the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be making its first appearance at Atlanta Motor Speedway, several Toyota drivers have experience at the track in other series. Last year, Shelby Howard finished second in the ARCA race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3-8-03), completing all 162 laps and finishing 2.11 seconds behind race-winner Mark Gibson. A year ago, Hank Parker Jr., started eighth and finished fifth in the NASCAR Busch Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (10-25-03). It was his best finish at the Georgia track in three Busch Series starts over the past three years. Mike Skinner, who has driven Nextel Cup cars for Richard Childress Racing and Morgan-McClure Racing, has made multiple starts at Atlanta, including a sixth-place finish in the 2000 season finale at the track.

TOYOTA'S 1st TITLE: Atlanta Motor Speedway is where Robert Huffman clinched the first NASCAR championship for Toyota, as well as his fifth NASCAR Dash Series title. Huffman, who drove a Toyota Celica in the Dash Series for four years (2000-03) before moving into the NCTS, is second on the NASCAR Dash Series all-time win list with 41 victories. Ten of those wins came while he was behind the wheel of a Toyota Celica.

LEARNING ATLANTA I: This year marks the first time the NCTS will race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. How will the the Toyota Tundra drivers who have never raced at Atlanta adjust to the racetrack? "I've never raced at Atlanta before, although a few years ago I did a test at the track," says Kvapil. "When going to a new track I've never been to before, I like to watch the Busch and Cup races on TV from that track. It gives me a chance to learn as much as I can about the different racing grooves, adjustments teams make in the pits, and tire wear. Once I get to the track, I may ask a driver I know who's raced Atlanta a few questions."

LEARNING ATLANTA II: Hank Parker Jr. has raced in the Busch Series at Atlanta in each of the past three years, including a fifth-place finish in last year's race at the track. However, he is not sure how much his experience at the track will help when the NCTS visits Atlanta. "What I've found in testing and at Daytona is that the trucks drive differently than the Busch cars. The trucks seem to have more `drag' than the cars. So, even though I've raced at the track, it'll still be like starting over because I'm working with a new race team and I'm racing in a different series."

TEXAS TEST I: Following the season opening race at Daytona, Toyota teams tested at Texas Motor Speedway. "Texas is a very similar racetrack to Atlanta," says Hank Parker Jr. "We got to make plenty of laps which will really help us with our qualifying set-up and our race set-up in Atlanta."

TEXAS TEST II: "Texas is like Atlanta in a lot of ways because both are mile-and-a-half tracks, and both are high-banked tracks," says Travis Kvapil. "It was a really good test for us at Texas, not only because we were able to run some laps, but because it gave us more time to work together as a team."

HOME RUN: Although he was born in California and attended college in Berkeley, Bill Lester now makes his home in Atlanta, and he is keeping busy with the upcoming NCTS race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "It's been a very busy time for me, between family and friends needing race tickets, and the local media wanting to conduct interviews," says Lester. "I'm really looking forward to the race and think it represents another excellent chance to get a victory."

WAITING AND ANTICIPATING: One of the most difficult adjustments Hank Parker Jr. has had to make to driving in the NCTS is the schedule at the start of the season. "It's not what I'm accustomed to when I was in the Busch Series," says Parker Jr. "Once the season started, there were just a few off weekends. I think the reason I'm having such a tough time adjusting is because I'm ready to race and I'm really excited about the season, my race team and Toyota."

TV TIME: Easycare Vehicle 200, Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 13, 1:00 PM (Eastern), SPEED Channel

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Mike Skinner , Hank Parker Jr. , Shelby Howard , Mark Gibson , Bill Lester , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Robert Huffman , Travis Kvapil
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Bill Davis Racing , CIP