DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 13, 2003) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has been in action since February, but it's reasonable to say the season begins in earnest with Friday's inaugural Hardee's 200 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. The $473,250 race...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 13, 2003) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has been in action since February, but it's reasonable to say the season begins in earnest with Friday's inaugural Hardee's 200 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
The $473,250 race -- the first in North Carolina since 1996 -- signals a run of 11 events over a 13-week span culminating in mid-August.
Conversely, series competitors have been in action just four times this year -- most recently on April 12 at Martinsville, Va.
Teams have used the five-week break to finish some new trucks, practice pit stops, test and chart strategy.
"We look at Lowe's Motor Speedway as a kick off to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season," said veteran Terry Cook (No. 29 Power Stroke Diesel/Oil Mate Ford). "It's hard to get a season started when you race then you have a month off then you race again.
"To build momentum we look at back-to-back races and Lowe's kicks that off."
Cook got as high as second in last season's point standings before sliding back to an eighth-place finish. Darlington winner Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Square D Dodge) is the current championship leader with Cook ranked seventh.
Hamilton logged the fastest unofficial speed -- 171.958 mph -- during last week's open test at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Cook, active on the series since 1996, trails Hamilton by 113 points but believes that the grueling schedule of the next three months actually favors his Detroit-based K Automotive team.
A year ago, he was 184 points off the lead on June 1 and cut the deficit to just five by early August.
"The more races we run together the better we are and, with some teams, it's just the opposite," said Cook, who's four-for-four in top-10 finishes so far in 2003 with a season best eighth at Darlington Raceway. "As a driver, I like racing every single weekend because when you have a good run you carry that momentum to the next race."
Cook, 35, isn't even thinking of position or points at this stage of the season. But his goal is to win the championship. That's why he's not overly concerned about Hamilton's fast start.
"If you get caught up in the points race at the beginning of the season, you will just beat yourself," he said. "Take the 2002 season for us as an example. We ended up last in points after Daytona and we were pretty much near last in points after (an engine failure at) Darlington.
"I mean, we could have given up at the first part of the season and said our season was over but -- at that point -- all we said was let's just go to the next race and try to win races and we did win (four) races. It was a remarkable comeback."
Cook's team will be quarterbacked at Lowe's Motor Speedway by veteran crew chief Rick Ren. Ren is spelling K Automotive co-owner Bob Keselowski, who attended last week's test as he recuperates from a heart-related ailment suffered in early April. Ren is a six-time winner on the series with Travis Kvapil and Andy Houston.
"We are fortunate to have him on board and we now have two superior individuals working together to get the job done," said Cook.