Mansfield: Andy Houston - NASCAR spotlight

Andy Houston marks 100th series start at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 2004) - Andy Houston (No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge) reaches the century mark next month but that hardly puts the North Carolina driver over...

Andy Houston marks 100th series start at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 28, 2004) - Andy Houston (No. 2 Team ASE/Carquest Dodge) reaches the century mark next month but that hardly puts the North Carolina driver over the hill.

Houston will celebrate his 100th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series start in the May 16 UAW/GM Ohio 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway. He's the 15th series competitor to hit the mark.

It may not exactly be the milestone Houston imagined reaching several years ago when he competed for part of the 2001 season in the NASCAR's premier series.

But that was then and this is now - and Houston, 33, couldn't be happier to be back in a NASCAR Craftsman truck.

"Even when I went to the Cup level, I missed the series," said Houston, who follows Jason Leffler, Mike Wallace and Mike Bliss in the Ultra Motorsports entry that's competed in all 220 series races. "When things didn't go well, I really missed the series."

Leffler's move to the NASCAR Busch Series opened the seat and Houston successfully auditioned for the fulltime ride by winning a Bud Pole and going six-for-six in top-10 finishes at the conclusion of the 2003 campaign.

"This series is the most fun for a driver and I still enjoy it immensely," he said. "I hope that I make my 200th start and my 300th start in this series."

Houston, a past champion at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway - a short track where the racing is close-quarters, as it's expected to be at Mansfield - hopes the next event will kick-start his 2004 season.

The team, which lost two trucks to accidents at Daytona International Speedway, has yet to finish among the top 10. Houston, however, is heading in the right direction, finishing 11th and on the lead lap at Martinsville Speedway April 17.

A NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship would be the ultimate payoff for Houston, a three-time series winner. But it will require that kind of accomplishment to trump his best memories - an epic, Raybestos Rookie of the Year battle with Greg Biffle in 1998.

That rookie chase - arguably the best in series history - went back and forth, then down to the last few laps of the final race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Biffle prevailed by 10 points. Ironically, the decision was overshadowed by Ron Hornaday Jr.'s late pass of Biffle that gave Hornaday the championship in the series' closest finish.

"My first win at New Hampshire was probably my most memorable moment. We had a great battle with Biffle, my mom and dad were there as part of the race team, we were without a sponsor at the time and it was just an awesome day," said Houston, son of NASCAR Busch Series legend Tommy Houston, a 24-time winner. "We had to overcome a bunch of problems that day. We had some plug wires crossed, we ran out of fuel and I collided with Ron Hornaday on pit road and crushed in the side of the truck.

"Despite all that I came off pit road with 30 laps to go and Biffle was 11 seconds ahead. I caught him with five laps to go. That was a feeling you don't forget."

Houston finds the series unchanged in one respect - hard racing but a place where great competitive relationships are forged. "You end up creating friendships with guys that you really didn't think you would end up being friends with," he said. "Ron Hornaday and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) are two prime examples."

Yet in another respect, Houston is amazed at how far the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has grown, both competitively and in the eyes of NASCAR fans.

"With renewed manufacturer interest and an influx of high quality teams, it seems as if it is as competitive if not more so than ever before," he said. "The last three or four races [the grandstands] have been just packed. We have some great teams, great drivers and we are having great races. The series has come a long way in a relatively short period of time."

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Jason Leffler , Greg Biffle , Mike Wallace , Andy Houston , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jack Sprague , Mike Bliss