Houston Battles for Rookie Honors

Houston winning battle for rookie honors FLEMINGTON, N.J. (Aug. 6, 1998) Andy Houston is fighting a virtual "David vs. Goliath" battle for the Cintas Rookie of the Year title in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The 27-year-old, ...

Houston winning battle for rookie honors

FLEMINGTON, N.J. (Aug. 6, 1998) Andy Houston is fighting a virtual "David vs. Goliath" battle for the Cintas Rookie of the Year title in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The 27-year-old, second-generation driver from Hickory, N.C., has seen some pretty stiff competition for freshman honors over the first 15 races. The series is full of NASCAR Winston Cup Series operations who field truck teams as well: Hendrick Motorsports (Jack Sprague), Richard Childress Racing (Jay Sauter), Dale Earnhardt Inc. (Ron Hornaday) and Roush Racing (Joe Ruttman).

And then there's Roush's second team, the No. 50 Grainger Ford, fielded for rookie contender Greg Biffle. The season-long Houston-Biffle battle for rookie points supremacy came to a thrilling crescendo at Loudon, N.H. on Aug. 2. Houston won a late-race showdown with Biffle and captured his very first series victory. Score one for the "slingshot" set.

"I didn't think I was going to have time to catch him," Houston said. "With three to go, I made a run at him through (Turns) 3 and 4, and got up alongside of him. I got a little loose and he pulled back in front of me by about two or three truck lengths. I thought then that I was going to finish second. We came off the fourth turn, headed to the white flag, and he got into the fence a little bit and it broke his momentum. That gave me a chance to get another run at him.

"We got down into Turn 1 and I was able to get up under him. We got together, and we rubbed about the whole length of the backstretch. Greg is a great competitor. He was doing everything he could to try to win the race, and I was doing everything I could to try to win the race. We got down to three, and he pulled out in front of me just a little bit and I backed off a little early. We got down into the corner and I got into the back of him a little bit and just moved him up a lane. That gave me a hole to get underneath him. It was a pretty amazing deal."

Houston's first ride into Victory Lane aboard the Addington Racing Chevrolet with crew chief Rick Ren was sweet indeed.

"I was in shock. It was something I'd never experienced before," Houston said. "I'd won a lot of races (Houston was the '94 NASCAR Late Model Stock champ at Hickory, where he won 31 features before moving on), but to win something like this and to outrun the people we outran ... it was a feeling I'd never experienced before. It was really exciting."

Houston's "thrill of victory" lingered on after he returned home to Hickory. The shop's outer fence was draped in congratulatory banners, and the phone rang off the wall.

"It was unbelievable," Houston said. "I've won races on a local level in the past, and got some attention -- people calling you up on Monday morning or whatever. When I got home from New Hampshire, my answering had so many messages it had run out of tape. I came to work and never really got up from the desk, just answered phone call after phone call. I've had a lot of radio and TV and newspaper interviews ... it's a great feeling."

Houston not only leads the rookie points going into Saturday's Stevens Beil/Genuine Car Parts 200 at Flemington Speedway, but also sits in 10th in series standings. His accomplishments are reminiscent of those of last year's rookie king, Kenny Irwin. Irwin won three races and finished 10th in points to win the '97 rookie crown.

"To win the Cintas Rookie of the Year title would mean a lot," Houston said. "It's definitely been one of our goals. I think it would really say a lot for this race team. It would say a lot for me, as a driver. It's not going to be easy. We've got a lot of great rookies in the series: Greg Biffle, Wayne Anderson, Scot Walters. Those guys are all going to be pretty tough, and now we've got Kevin Cywinski here for the second half of the season. If we pull it off, it's going to say a lot for this team, to outrun someone from the Roush organization. It's still early -- the year's only half over. If people compare me to Kenny Irwin, that's fine, but right now, we're going to take this one race at a time."

Houston has an excellent coach behind him.

"My father (NASCAR Busch Series legend Tommy Houston) helps quite a bit," he said. "I think he's a real asset to our race team, having him there to talk to, as a sideline coach, so to speak. I can ask him what I need to do in certain situations, at different race tracks he's been to. It really helps. It's a plus to have someone like that, who can guide you along."

With 15 races in the books, Houston has earned one victory, one pole (at Fontana, Calif., where he also finished fourth), four top-fives and five top-10s.

And what of those "NASCAR Winston Cup Series truck" teams? "It's tough," Houston said. "Those teams really have their act together. If anything, I think it helps the independent teams. It makes us step up and be a caliber of team that can compete with a Winston Cup-type organization. Ours is a race team that's still growing. New Hampshire was our 19th race. It hasn't been that long since we reorganized and had Rick Ren come on as our crew chief. I think that was our 15th race together. We're going to try to keep doing what we're doing, and grow together, and maybe be able to step this whole operation up a level in the next year or two.

"I'm 27 years old -- I'm still pretty young in my career. I'd like to have a shot at Winston Cup -- a legitimate shot. The Craftsman Truck Series is great, I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm going to be patient, I'm not in any hurry to go anywhere anytime soon. The truck series is really a place where if a driver doesn't have aspirations to go Winston Cup racing, he can spend his whole life in the truck series and have a really good career ... and a lot of fun."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Greg Biffle , Jay Sauter , Andy Houston , Joe Ruttman , Wayne Anderson
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports