Las Vegas: Round 19 preview

*Gaughan Will Make First LVMS Start Without Family Team *Season's Final Segment Heavy On Intermediate Tracks *Benson, Hornaday Win Eight Of Last 10 Races For Brendan Gaughan, This Homecoming Like None Before DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 15,...

*Gaughan Will Make First LVMS Start Without Family Team
*Season's Final Segment Heavy On Intermediate Tracks
*Benson, Hornaday Win Eight Of Last 10 Races

For Brendan Gaughan, This Homecoming Like None Before

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 15, 2008) -- Las Vegas is Brendan Gaughan Country.

But his fans will have to adjust to his new look this week when Gaughan and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series roll into Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Saturday's Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350.

In years past, this was a busy week for Gaughan as he staged an open house at his family's race shop located on the LVMS grounds.

No longer.

For the first time, Gaughan won't be driving a family-owned truck at his home track. South Point Racing isn't fielding a team in 2008 and Gaughan is driving Circle Bar Racing's No. 10 International MAXX Force Diesel Ford.

"It will have a little bit different feel but it's Las Vegas and it's still my home. It's still where my family lives so everybody will be at the race," said Gaughan, who won the truck race in 2003 and a NASCAR Camping World Series West event two years earlier. So far, 2008 isn't the season Gaughan envisioned. He's 14th in the points standings with a best finish of third at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Not that he's putting any pressure on his team but Gaughan naturally wants to improve; and improve this week."I want to perform at every race every year but if there's one that (the team) can spend that little bit of extra time massaging the truck and doing little things, this is the one to do it," he said.

"I really want to win this one."

Las Vegas First Of Four Intermediate Tracks In Homestretch

With seven races remaining, it can be said that the 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has entered its homestretch.

The schedule features a short track, flat mile, superspeedway and four intermediates.

Las Vegas is the first of the 1.5-mile tracks which could play a key role in deciding this year's champion.

That certainly was the case in the past two seasons. Current leader Johnny Benson (No. 23 Exide Batteries Toyota) was on the threshold of a big points turnaround in 2006 at Atlanta Motor Speedway when leader Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) experienced early problems.

Instead, a broken driveline allowed Bodine to increase his lead and ultimately win the title.

A year ago, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) was motoring to his second championship until his truck shed a wheel. That allowed Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) to overcome a 29-point deficit in the season finale.

What does Las Vegas Motor Speedway have in store for the contenders?

For four who never have won there -- Benson, Hornaday, Rick Crawford (No. 14 Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford) and Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) -- a victory would do nicely as a start. The past nine races have seen nine different winners.

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway

By the numbers, how the current top five in the championship standings have fared at LVMS.

0 Wins by Johnny Benson, Matt Crafton, Rick Crawford and Ron Hornaday Jr.
1 Wins by Todd Bodine.
5 Most top 10s by Hornaday
8.3 Hornaday's average finish (best)
9 Best finish by Crafton, only driver without a top five at LVMS

Director's Take: Wayne's Words

"It's hard to believe but this is our first trip 'out west' since February when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competed at Auto Club Speedway. Seven months and 16 races is a long time and we're glad to be back for all of the West Coast fans.

"Las Vegas Motor Speedway is one of the first big tracks to come on the schedule in 1996, along with Homestead-Miami Speedway. Everyone was kind of holding their breath when we tested here with trucks that, realistically, were much better suited for short tracks than anywhere with speeds in excess of 160 mph.

"But, we had great races at both intermediate tracks. We didn't know it at the time, but Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a look into the future of the series. Nineteen of the 25 races now are held on tracks a mile or longer.

"When the series raced here in 1996, the facility was a few hammers and nails short of being completed. But nobody minded, especially with racing legends like Bill Elliott and A.J. Foyt in the field.

"A couple of years ago, the track had the 'under construction' sign out again. But this time, the project was much, much bigger. The Neon Garage and other improvements have really kicked Las Vegas Motor Speedway into a higher gear for both the teams and the fans.

"Everyone enjoys their trip to Las Vegas. Some more than others when you factor in luck, or lack thereof, away from the track. Win or lose, all will look back on this week as one of the season's highlights."

-- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway joined the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 1996 and has held 11 events. There was no race in 2000. The 1998 Sam's Town 250 decided the closest championship in series history. Jack Sprague won the race but Ron Hornaday Jr. finished second to claim the title by three points. The track was reconfigured in 2006 with banking in the turns increased from 12 to 20 degrees.

In The Loop:

With seven races left in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, and 74 points separating Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr., one bad finish could decide the championship.

That makes this weekend's race in Las Vegas a little more interesting, as both Benson and Hornaday have experienced the lows of Vegas bad luck.

Points leader Benson finished 33rd at Vegas in 2005, and a similar result would likely erase his ever-shrinking lead.

Second-place Hornaday finished 22nd last year in this race, at the time relinquishing his points lead to Mike Skinner.

In other words, there's precedent that Vegas has played a vital role in the championship hopes.

Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Benson has slightly better statistics than Hornaday at the 1.5-mile track.

Over the last three Vegas races, Benson has a Driver Rating of 105.7, an Average Running Position of 9.6, 31 Fastest Laps Run, 360 Laps in the Top 15 (81.1%) and has been passed just 47 times, which is the lowest of any driver who has run all three Vegas races since 2005.

Hornaday, who scored his fifth career perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 at New Hampshire last weekend, has a Vegas Driver Rating of 93.9, an Average Running Position of 10.8, five Fastest Laps Run and 337 Laps in the Top 15 (75.9%).

Though practically out of the championship hunt, watch for a strong run from Skinner. Skinner scored a perfect Driver Rating at Las Vegas during his win there in 2006.

Manufacturers' Battle

In some seasons, at least one manufacturer would be clicking the calculator to determine Manufacturers' Championship clinching scenarios.

Not this year.

Toyota and Chevrolet are locked in the same slugfest as their leading drivers, Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. Hornaday's New Hampshire victory was Chevrolet's seventh of the season and cut Toyota's championship lead to just four points.

Toyota could have edge this week having won two of the past three races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Chevrolet has four times but not since 2004.

Benson, Hornaday Padlock Victory Lane's Gates

Talk about domination.

Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr. are tossing punches back and forth like a pair of heavyweight fighters.

And neither shows any sign of getting knocked down or out.

Beginning with Hornaday's June 6 victory at Texas Motor Speedway, the pair has won eight of 10 races and distanced themselves from their championship rivals.

Only Erik Darnell (No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford) and Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Energy Drink Toyota) have stopped the Benson-Hornaday express.

Hornaday's got the hot hand right now, fashioning back-to-back victories at Gateway International Raceway and -- last Saturday -- at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

His latest win, Hornaday's third at NHMS and fifth of 2008, marked the fourth time the Californian has won consecutive races. Hornaday will go for a record-matching third victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he's winless in seven visits to the 1.5-mile track.

"I've had some good runs at Las Vegas over the years. I like the track," said Hornaday, who has won on all of the schedule's intermediate tracks -- except Las Vegas.

"I don't see why we can't have another good run on this type of track."

Benson, meanwhile, keeps piling up consistent finishes. Since June, he's finished worse than fourth just once and leads Hornaday by 74 points with seven races remaining. He owns a series-high average finish of 8.1.

Benson won at Kentucky Speedway in July. The track is similar to LVMS.

"I'm hopeful we can have the same outcome Saturday night," said Benson. "(Crew Chief) Trip Bruce and the guys on the Exide Batteries Toyota have been working overtime trying to bring trucks to the track that can win.

"We know we have to be on top of our game every week to be in contention in Miami."

For the 13th time in 14 seasons, it's apparent the decision will go down to the Ford 200 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

Etc. & Quotable:

Benson Taking A 'Dive' ... Before Johnny Benson takes to Las Vegas Motor Speedway at high speeds, he'll try speeds of a different sort. This Friday he'll hurl through an indoor air chamber at Vegas Indoor Skydiving located between the Strip and the Las Vegas Convention Center. The 11 a.m. PT event is open to the media.

Andretti In The No. 15 Toyota ... John Andretti rejoins Billy Ballew Motorsports for the Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350. He'll drive Ballew's Hyprene-Ergon Toyota. Andretti scored a pair of top-10 finishes for the team in 2005.

LVMS Hosts Six Winners ... Six drivers boasting seven victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway are expected to compete in this week's race including Jack Sprague (No. 2 Camping World Chevrolet), LVMS' only double winner. "Before they added the progressive banking, the track drove a lot like Kentucky does now," said Sprague. "Since they added the banking the track has gotten much faster and it has given us more racing grooves."

Qualifying Means A Lot ... The Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 has been won from the No. 1 starting position in each of the past two years and five times overall.

Toss A Blanket Over Them ... Positions four (Rick Crawford) and seven (Mike Skinner) are separated by just 21 points.

Perfect -- Again ... Hornaday scored a perfect, 150.0 Driver Rating at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. That's his third of the season and second at NHMS.

No Table Games For Braun

At age 19, Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) will have to do any Las Vegas gambling on the track.

And the rookie of the year leader may not have to do much of that since his truck, with Travis Kvapil at the controls, won last year's Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350.

"Since I'm not old enough to gamble, I'll have to hope my luck turns around on the track," said Braun, victim of a late-race accident in New Hampshire.

Brian Scott (No. 16 Albertsons Toyota) finished a career-best eighth in NHMS to move into third place in Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

Who Is The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' Most Popular Driver?

Have you cast your vote yet? Don't forget to make it count. For the first time in series history, voting for the Series' Most Popular Driver is in the hands of the fans. Be sure to check out and vote for your favorite. Nearly 40,000 votes have been cast since voting began July 5.

Up Next:

If there are horses for courses, place your bet on Todd Bodine at Talladega Superspeedway. Bodine is the defending winner of the Oct. 4 Mountain Dew 250 fueled by Winn-Dixie and captured this year's season opener at Talladega's sister track Daytona International Speedway.

Fast Facts

The Race: Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350
The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

The Date: Sept. 20, 2008
The Time: 9:30 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 350 kilometers / 219 miles / 146 laps
Track Layout: 1.5-Mile Oval

TV: SPEED, 9 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, Sirius. Listen locally on KCYE-FM 104.3 (WDOV-AM 1410 Dover)

2007 Winner: Travis Kvapil
2007 Pole: Travis Kvapil

Saturday: Practice, 9-10:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.-- 12 noon. Qualifying, 3:30 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers John Andretti , Bill Elliott , Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Colin Braun , Jack Sprague , Rick Crawford , Matt Crafton , Brendan Gaughan , Erik Darnell , Brian Scott , A.J. Foyt , Kyle Busch , Travis Kvapil