Memphis Motorsports Park plays into the hands of the most experienced DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 16, 2004) -- Memphis Motorsports Park has proven time and again that the .75-mile short track in Millington, Tenn., rewards the most elite drivers in...
Memphis Motorsports Park plays into the hands of the most experienced
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 16, 2004) -- Memphis Motorsports Park has proven time and again that the .75-mile short track in Millington, Tenn., rewards the most elite drivers in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Four of six previous winners of Saturday's O'Reilly 200 -- Ron Hornaday Jr., Greg Biffle, Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) and Travis Kvapil (No. 24 Line-X Toyota) have won a combined seven series championships. The other two -- Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Silverado Chevrolet) and defending winner Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge) -- list runnerup points finishes on their resumes.
Together, the six competitors have won 94 series races.
The Memphis oval hasn't come close to producing a first-time winner and only one Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender -- Carl Edwards (No. 99 Superchips Ford), fifth in 2003 -- has a top-five finish.
Most believe there are three keys to success at Memphis: experience, experience and experience.
"It's slippery and both ends are different," said Sprague, the 2000 O'Reilly 200 winner. "You have to compromise on your [truck's] setup. When we first started, we were terrible. And then we won."
Kvapil, who finished second to Musgrave last year after his 2002 victory, agrees.
"It's just a flat-out, challenging race track," said Kvapil. "It's got its own quirks and bumps. Having laps there is a big plus."
The 2003 champion adds: "The one thing I learned is that you have to come to the track with a good mindset. Otherwise, you won't run well there at all."
Setzer, however, isn't ready to call Memphis the toughest track on the schedule. "It's not, in my opinion. We hope that everyone else thinks it's a tough track," said the winner of last week's O'Reilly 400K at Texas Motor Speedway and series championship leader.
Setzer, though, does admit that "Memphis can be difficult for drivers who are not familiar with the track. It takes a lot of braking getting into the corners but then your truck must rotate just right in the middle and get the forward bite coming off.
"That can be a hard setup for a [less experienced] driver to relay to his crew chief."
Ultra Motorsports crew chief Gene Nead, who shared Musgrave's milestone victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' 200th race, calls Memphis Motorsports Park a venue that defines a team's mechanical abilities.
"If you can make a truck work there, you can make it work anywhere," Nead said.
Nead, a winner already in 2004 with Rick Crawford (No. 14 Sears Ford) at Martinsville Speedway before reuniting with Musgrave and owner Jimmy Smith several weeks ago, sees little coincidence that championship contenders taste success at Memphis.
"It's a pivotal point in the year," said Nead, whose team won the Bud Pole at Texas and finished second after leading 101 of 167 laps. "It helps you pick up the momentum you need for the rest of the season."
Setzer, the 44-year-old resident of Newton, N.C., whose average finish at Memphis is 3.4, puts it this way: "I guess the best way to describe how Memphis Motorsports Park plays into the championship is that it is a short track and the series typically has one-third or more races on short tracks. If you can't perform on a short track, you probably don't have a shot at the championship."