Martinsville II: Round 21 preview

Martinsville II: Round 21 preview
Oct 14, 2008, 8:41 PM

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series News And Notes -- Martinsville * Kroger 200 Marks Series' 20th Visit To Martinsville * Setzer, Skinner Eye Record-Matching Fourth Victory * Hornaday, Benson Pace Short Track Loop Data ...

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series News And Notes -- Martinsville
* Kroger 200 Marks Series' 20th Visit To Martinsville
* Setzer, Skinner Eye Record-Matching Fourth Victory
* Hornaday, Benson Pace Short Track Loop Data Categories

Martinsville Truck Race Started Big And Grew From There

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2008) -- Martinsville Speedway's Clay Campbell wasn't among the doubters when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was created.

The track was among its charter hosts in 1995 and added a second event to the schedule in 2003.

Saturday's Kroger 200 marks the 20th time series drivers have competed at the south Virginia track -- second only to Texas Motor Speedway's 21 races.

"We knew the series would be good and it would be big," said Campbell. "We just didn't have any idea how big and how good it would be."

Martinsville's race was one of 17 short track races on the inaugural schedule. Just six remain; two on the flat, .526-mile oval.

To say that action is constant is an understatement.

"Our two truck races have grown into huge fan favorites," said Campbell. "Fans know when they come to Martinsville Speedway for a truck race, they are in for a special show.

"Some of the best races we've ever had can be found in those (19) truck races that have been here."

Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) nearly won Martinsville's inaugural race. He's one of seven drivers competing this week who participated in the 1995 event.

Three of them -- Skinner, Dennis Setzer (No. 18 Dodge Dealers Dodge) and Jack Sprague (No. 60 Toyota) -- are among 15 Martinsville Speedway winners.

Skinner's eldest son, Jamie, made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck debut in 1997. The driver's second son, Dustin, hopes to do likewise on Saturday.

"It'll be a real special weekend for me because it'll be the first time I've got to race against one of my sons in a NASCAR race, or any race for that matter," said Skinner.

Fathers and sons have competed in 16 races -- the last in 2007 when Bobby and Bobby Hamilton Jr. participated at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Setzer Says: Drive With Care And Follow Directions

It can be said that Martinsville Speedway is Dennis Setzer's personal playground.

Setzer added a third Martinsville victory to his resume when he captured March's Kroger 250. The North Carolina native has seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes and has led 458 laps in his 17 Martinsville appearances.

He's failed to finish just once -- his first race in 1995.

Setzer is one of two drivers in this week's field bidding for a record-matching fourth victory at a single track. Mike Skinner swept both Martinsville races in 2007, adding to a 1996 victory.

"I think it takes two things to have success at Martinsville; the first being track position and second taking care of your equipment," said the 48-year-old Setzer. "It is easy to get aggressive during practice and use up your brakes and tires."

Ultimately, Setzer thinks the make-or-break factor is the crew chief. Saturday's Kroger 200 likely is a one-stop affair and pit timing is crucial.

"Track position is so important. I think the crew chief is more important than the driver now," he said. "He has to make the call when to come down pit road and when to stay out."

Director's Take: Wayne's Words

"Like many of my generation, I grew up attending NASCAR races at Martinsville Speedway. Everyone has a favorite track for many reasons but Martinsville always has stood out with me -- particularly because the fans are so enthusiastic.

"Racing at Martinsville is pretty basic: Get your track position and protect it but at the same time, keep the nose on the truck. Sometimes that's a pretty tall order, especially as competitive as the racing has become in 2008.

"It's an old story but one that bears repeating visit after visit to Martinsville. No matter how much the technology advances and how big your brakes become, it doesn't mean a driver can abuse those brakes.

"You never can have enough pedal, especially in the closing laps.

"Pit strategy has become extremely important with the increased durability of the Goodyear Wrangler tire. Speeds just don't fall off like they once did and track position usually trumps fresh rubber even with more than half a race to go.

"That puts a tremendous burden on the crew chief to chart a strategy that will get his driver in and out with both track position and enough Sunoco fuel to carry the truck to the finish.

"That doesn't mean everything's out of the driver's hands -- especially on pit road. The best strategy can be foiled by a speeding ticket or bad luck. The pits are tight and the potential for being boxed in or a collision is always there."
    Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director

Martinsville Speedway is one of four tracks to host a race in each of the series' 14 seasons. It's also one of three to appear twice on the 2008 schedule. The .526-mile layout is one of five tracks of less than a mile in length currently scheduled.

In The Loop:

The statistics say this will be the perfect matchup this weekend: Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) vs. Johnny Benson (No. 23 Toyota Tundra Toyota); head-to-head, for the coveted top spot as the season quickly winds down.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has raced at five short tracks this season, with the sixth and final bout on tap for this weekend.

Two drivers are the class of the short-track field: Hornaday and Benson. The two lap the field in short-track stats this season -- much like they have everywhere else in this bitterly-fought championship campaign.

At those tracks under a mile, Hornaday and Benson's stats mirror each other. Each has one win, two top fives and three top 10s.

But Hornaday is slightly better at the short tracks this season. In the five races, he has a Driver Rating of 114.0, an Average Running Position of 10.1 and 146 Fastest Laps Run.

Benson has a Driver Rating of 109.8, an Average Running Position of 10.5 and 119 Fastest Laps Run.

No driver has registered a top 10 in all five of the short tracks this season, but Mike Skinner has done it in four. Plus, he swept Martinsville last season, scoring a perfect Driver Rating of 150.0 in the spring race. Count on him making a run for Victory Lane. In the four short-track races this season, Skinner has a Driver Rating of 91.0, an Average Running Position of 10.8 and 30 Fastest Laps Run.

Manufacturers' Battle:

Between the 2004 Kroger 200 and the Kroger 250 in 2006, each of the series' four manufacturers won at Martinsville Speedway.

Since then, however, the scoring has been decidedly lopsided. Toyota, the current Manufacturers' Championship leader, won four straight races beginning in the spring of 2006, a streak broken by Dennis Setzer's Dodge in March.

With a 12-point lead with five races remaining, Toyota would appear to have a significant edge.

The truck maker's closest rival Chevrolet, despite owning a Martinsville-high six victories, last won with Bobby Labonte in the spring of 2005.

Toyota has won 11 of the season's 20 races. Each has a pair of victories on short tracks.

For Title Contenders, The Kroger 200 Means Playing Defense

Neither Ron Hornaday Jr. nor Johnny Benson has a Martinsville Speedway victory on his resume.

But looking at the big picture -- the 2008 championship -- a solid performance likely will satisfy both.

Fact is, with five races to go and the title contenders separated by 39 points, winning probably isn't foremost in their minds.

That's what one previous champion guesses.

"Heading into Martinsville protecting your points position means you want to leave Martinsville with a top-five finish," said Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota), who (along with two other champions; see chart) wasn't able to do that in 2006. "You have to be protective about your racing.

"Basically, you are there to qualify decent, make laps and stay out of trouble. If someone is pushing the issue to pass you, you're gonna let them go. You don't put you or your truck in position to not have a good run."

Bodine "escaped" the Kroger 200 despite his finish for one simple reason: He entered the race with a 91-point lead. Hornaday doesn't have that luxury. One slip and the advantage swings back to Benson.

"Overall, I've had some success at the track," said Hornaday, who finished third in 2007 and has seven top-10 finishes in 12 previous Martinsville appearances. "So hopefully we can take care of business this time around."

Adds his crew chief, Rick Ren, "There is also a chance this will be a one pit stop race so it's very important to have a 'money stop' and keep your driver up front."

Bodine, who would like to join elder brothers Geoffrey and Brett as Martinsville winners, figures all of that is well and good -- until you factor in the variables.

"You can have a really good truck, excellent pit stops, be running up front and get a flat tire, have an issue with a lapped truck or a brake failure," he said. "A million things that you can't control can go wrong. If you don't have a good run there, it can kill your points chase."

Etc. & Quotable:

Final Short Track 'Go' ... The Kroger 200 is the season's sixth and final short-track race. Both Hornaday (Memphis) and Benson (O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis) are among the year's five winners.

Seven Winners In The Field ... Joining Setzer and Skinner this week are Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar/Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford), Jamie McMurray (No. 09 Zaxby's Ford), Jack Sprague, David Starr (No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota) and Jon Wood (No. 21 The Barnhill Group Ford). This is McMurray's first appearance since his Oct. 23, 2004 Martinsville victory at the wheel of Jim Smith's Team ASE/Carquest Dodge.

New Rides For Two ... Sprague will be back in the truck in which he won the 2006 Kroger 200 following his release Oct. 6 by Kevin Harvick Inc. Terry Cook, Wyler Racing's previous driver, moves to the No. 59 Team ASE/Harris Trucking Toyota based in Martinsville.

'Visitors' Eye Martinsville Win ... Kevin Harvick replaces Sprague in the No. 2 R&L Chevrolet. Harvick last appeared at Martinsville with a third-place finish in the 2007 Kroger 250. Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee/NOS Energy Drink Toyota) looks for his fourth series win of the year. Busch's fifth-place finish in his 2005 Kroger 200 debut is his track best. Set for his series debut is Sam Hornish Jr. who'll belt up in the No. 4 Ford out of the BHR-VA stable.

Caisse Tries Again ... NASCAR Camping World Series East veteran Sean Caisse (No. 9 Toyota) failed to make his debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when inclement weather washed away qualifying. "I've always thought Martinsville Speedway was the ideal track for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," said Caisse. "It's a really cool bumping, banging and aggressive track." Talent Identified Here

Martinsville Speedway has a way of identifying rookie talent. Raybestos Rookies of the Year Travis Kvapil, Carl Edwards and Todd Kleuver each posted second-place finishes at the .526-mile track -- Edwards and Kleuver in the Kroger 200.

This spring's Kroger 250 saw two Raybestos candidates log top-10 finishes. Donny Lia (No. 81 NationRides Chevrolet) was ninth; Scott Speed (No. 22 Red Bull Toyota) was 10th.

Not so coincidentally, perhaps, each subsequently recorded a NASCAR Craftsman Truck victory. Lia won at Mansfield Motorsports Park on May 24 followed six days later by Speed at Dover International Speedway.

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

Have you cast your vote yet? 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. More than 50,000 votes have been cast since voting began July 5. Voting ends Oct. 31.

Up Next:

Kyle Busch eyes his fourth Atlanta Motor Speedway victory -- and third win in a row at the Hampton, Ga., facility -- when the series makes its second stop of 2008 at the 1.54-mile track. Current championship leader Ron Hornaday Jr., AMS' spring 2005 winner, finished second to Busch in March and in last fall's Atlanta 200.

Fast Facts

The Race: Kroger 200

The Place: Martinsville Speedway
The Date: Oct. 18, 2008

The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: SPEED, 2:30 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 105.2 miles / 200 laps
Track Layout: .526-Mile oval

2007 Winner: Todd Bodine
2007 Pole: Todd Bodine

Friday: Practice, 11-11:50 a.m. and 1:45-3:30 p.m.
Saturday: Qualifying, 10:10 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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