* Kansas Speedway could send Hmiel, Ballew to first victory celebration DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 30, 2004) -- If history has a way of repeating itself, Shane Hmiel (No. 15 Whitaker Farms Chevrolet) figures the third time has to be the ...
* Kansas Speedway could send Hmiel, Ballew to first victory celebration
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 30, 2004) -- If history has a way of repeating itself, Shane Hmiel (No. 15 Whitaker Farms Chevrolet) figures the third time has to be the charm.
Saturday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway has produced the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' two youngest winners -- Ricky Hendrick in 2001 and Jon Wood (No. 50 Roush Racing Ford), each at 21 years of age.
The fact that the 1.5-mile speedway doesn't favor the more experienced competitors could bode well for Hmiel, 24, who'll be appearing in just his tenth series race.
"I'd like to add my name to that list," said Hmiel, who finished 15th in last year's NASCAR Busch Series standings but continues to pursue his first NASCAR national touring series victory. "I really think (Kansas Speedway) is a neutral advantage for both the veterans and the young guys, as they like to call us.
"I've said it before; I'm hungry for a win."
The North Carolina competitor nearly won each of his past two starts at The Milwaukee Mile and Memphis Motorsports Park. Hmiel also led at Texas Motor Speedway before engine failure sent his Billy Ballew-owned Silverado to the garage.
Ballew, an Atlanta resident whose team has competed full or part-time on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since 1998 also is ready to visit Victory Lane. Until Hmiel finished second at Memphis, the team's best performances were fifths with Rich Bickle at Richmond in 1998 and Andy Houston (No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge) a year ago at Daytona.
Ballew definitely has tasted the lows. Now he's enjoying the highs that come with running fender-to-fender with -- and frequently ahead of -- former series champions Travis Kvapil (No. 24 Line-X Toyota), Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota Tundra Toyota) and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet).
"To see us get out on the track and go and lead the amount of laps we led and having a shot to win is overwhelming," said Ballew. "It's like a payback for all the struggles you go through as a team owner or team member."
Ballew has completely revamped his team in 2004 -- from driver to crew to trucks. Hmiel's father, Steve Hmiel, technical director at Dale Earnhardt Inc., has made significant contributions.
"I've really enjoyed working with Steve and he's been a tremendous help to us," said Ballew, whose driver and team stand 16th in series standings with three top-10 finishes. "His unsurpassable amount of knowledge has been a great asset to Shane and the team."
Ballew also rehired veteran crew chief Richie Wauters and, despite not having a national sponsor, has pushed the team to the series' top tier with the help mainly of several Atlanta small businesses.
"Everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction and they also are friends," said Ballew. "It's not a 9 to 5 work atmosphere. What free time they have, they hang out and go to dinner and stuff like that. I think it's always that way if you have chemistry and everyone is on the same page."
Driver Hmiel, as well, is on top of his game. He did the Milwaukee Mile "double" and finished a glossy fourth -- leading more than 60 laps - in Saturday night's NASCAR Busch Series event as stand-in for Kasey Kahne. Hmiel was 12th in the Black Cat Fireworks 200 although the finish hardly was indicative of his performance. A lap 199 spin dropped Hmiel out of the top five where he'd run for most of the race.
"I just want to work hard and win some races," he said. "That's who I am; a racer through and through. As long as it has four tires and a steering wheel, I'm ready to drive it."