Martinsville has pivotal role in points

* Martinsville's Kroger 250 pivotal in top-30 owner points changeover * SPEED Channel's NASCAR Craftsman Trucks viewership grows DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 28, 2005) -- April 9 is judgment day for some. For others, however, it's been judgment...

* Martinsville's Kroger 250 pivotal in top-30 owner points changeover
* SPEED Channel's NASCAR Craftsman Trucks viewership grows

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 28, 2005) -- April 9 is judgment day for some.

For others, however, it's been judgment day at each of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' first three races of 2005.

Next month's Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway marks the fourth event of the year and the last in which 2004 owner points will be used to determine up to 30 of the 36 available starting positions. Teams currently eligible for guaranteed spots are racing to keep what they have; others are hoping to bump their way into the top 30.

Just 99 points cover 13th through 30th in 2005 owner rankings making Martinsville Speedway -- a tough track even under less pressure-packed circumstances -- an early pivot point on the 25-race schedule. Thirty-eight teams have attempted to qualify for all three of the year's first races to maintain eligibility for one of the guaranteed positions.

"Bubble" teams include that of 1995 series champion Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra) 28th in current points. 2004 Kroger 250 winner Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford) stands 31st. Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Dodge) ranks 34th after failing to qualify on March 18 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

"As a team not in the top-30 points at the beginning of the season, it has made for a tough start," said Chad Chaffin (No. 30 Germain Toyota/Arnold Development Toyota), who moved from an exempt team, Bobby Hamilton Racing, to a team with no guarantees. "Fortunately, this team is very talented and we get tremendous support from TRD."

Chaffin has ranked 10th in points in 2003-04 and won twice last year. The Germain/Arnold team, a reasonably comfortable 17th in 2005 owner standings, scored back-to-back victories last season with Todd Bodine (No. 66 Fiddle Back Racing Toyota) as a late season entry.

Chaffin's teammate, Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Shige Hattori (No. 9 AISIN/AISIN AW Toyota) has been less fortunate. Hattori has had little trouble qualifying for the first three races but with finishes of 34th, 30th and 27th is 47 points out of the current top 30.

"We focus on qualifying in our testing because we have to qualify well to be in the race," said Hattori, an Indianapolis 500 veteran. "I am still adjusting my driving style from open wheel to the trucks.

"It is difficult to balance practicing for qualifying and getting the experience of racing side-by-side."

Hattori's crew chief Tom Ackerman echoes his driver's sentiments.

"Trying to balance the two is what you need to do," he said. "You have to focus on qualifying without being guaranteed a spot but at the same time it hurts you. If you don't race any better you won't be in the top 30 in points.

"You could continue in that situation all year long."

Team owner Don Arnold can only watch from the sidelines, figuratively biting his fingernails.

"We have had quality teams and drivers be plenty fast enough under the old system to make these races but with the new one they went home -- it's very tough," said Arnold.

NEWS & NOTES, PART II

SPEED's coverage of series continues upward trend ... The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has Earned a 1.4 average rating on SPEED Channel in 2005 year to date, up 8 percent over 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research. An average of 875,000 households (+11 %) and 1.2 million viewers (+18 %) have tuned in to each event in 2005.

Eleven different winners and counting ... Jamie McMurray became the 11th consecutive, different winner when he captured last October's Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. The streak began with Travis Kvapil's Aug. 15, 2003 victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. Six of the 11 winners expect to compete in next week's Kroger 250. They are Chaffin, Crawford, Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge), Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge), Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet). Crawford is the defending winner of the Kroger 250.

ETC. ... Approximately 20 drivers tested during the past week at Martinsville Speedway. Prior to this year, private tests were not allowed except under a manufacturer's umbrella or after a track's scheduled race had been completed. ... Lowe's Motor Speedway has scheduled an open test for 3-10 p.m. April 26 in preparation for the track's May 20 event.

10 YEARS TOUGH

The 150th NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race was held at Martinsville Speedway on April 7, 2001. Scott Riggs, driving the No. 2 Team ASE Dodge for Jim Smith's Ultra Motorsports, took the lead on the 143rd lap and beat Travis Kvapil by .874-second. The victory was the first of five wins for the Bahama, N.C. driver who currently drives the No. 10 Valvoline Chevrolet on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

Fast Facts

What: Kroger 250 (Race 4 of 25).

Where: Martinsville Speedway.
When: 1:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 9.

Track layout: .526-mile paved oval.
Race length: 250 laps/131.5 miles.

Posted awards: $465,155.

TV: SPEED Channel, 1 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.

2004 winner: Rick Crawford.
2004 polesitter: Jack Sprague.

Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice 9:00 a.m. -- 11:15 a.m. Qualifying 4:45 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.

Top 10 drivers: 1. Bobby Hamilton 525. 2. Ted Musgrave 460. 3. Ricky Craven 439. 4. Jimmy Spencer 438. 5. Ron Hornaday Jr. 433. 6. Dennis Setzer 414. 7. Matt Crafton 401. 8. Johnny Benson 401. 9. David Starr 389. 10. Robert Huffman 378.

-nascar-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , Jimmy Spencer , David Starr , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Ricky Craven , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Rick Crawford , Jamie McMurray , Scott Riggs , Matt Crafton , Brendan Gaughan , Chad Chaffin , Jim Smith , Travis Kvapil