* Steve Park ends four-year NASCAR victory drought in California * Two-time champion Hornaday to represent series in Mexico City DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2005) -- Redemption is the perfect description of Steve Park's (No. 62 Jasper Engines...
* Steve Park ends four-year NASCAR victory drought in California
* Two-time champion Hornaday to represent series in Mexico City
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 28, 2005) -- Redemption is the perfect description of Steve Park's (No. 62 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Dodge) drought-ending victory on Feb. 25 at California Speedway.
Park's rising star -- he won two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2000-01 -- made a detour after the driver suffered a serious injury at Darlington Raceway nearly four years ago. Many said Park, 37, couldn't again climb the mountain.
Park disagreed; so did NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team owner Michael Gaughan, who put the Long Island native behind the wheel of his Dodge last year. After an early season plagued by mechanical trouble, personnel changes and bad luck, Park clawed his way to ninth in the series' point standings with a best finish of third at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The faith of driver and owner finally paid dividends as Park, in winning the American Racing Wheels 200, became just the 10th competitor to post victories on NASCAR's three national tours -- NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Trucks.
Understandably, the victory was an emotional one for Park.
"From the time I came back I knew I could win races," said Park, whose victory came virtually four years to the day of his last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Motor Speedway. That track's date was switched to California this year; the change bringing with it the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race previously run in the fall.
"It seemed like nobody else had confidence," he said. "I'm hoping this puts closure to it. It's a story of winning races, getting hurt, losing your job (and) struggling back to winning races again."
Some said Gaughan, owner of several gaming resorts in Las Vegas, was taking a big gamble on Park -- and with long odds. Park thought otherwise both then and now.
"I felt from the time I got back in the race car with the right opportunity I could do that again," said Park, whose last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season was a 2003 split between DEI and Richard Childress Racing. "I was never given the opportunity until Mr. Gaughan called last year and said, 'I want you to come back and drive my truck.'
"There was [another] opportunity I was going to take but this just felt right in my heart."
Ironically, Gaughan's son Brendan -- a six-time series winner in 2003, who spent the past year on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- returned to the Orleans Racing team as both general manager and Park's teammate for 17 races. The younger Gaughan (No. 77 American Racing Wheels Dodge) finished 21st at California Speedway.
"Brendan and his dad are awesome people," said Park, who stands sixth in the championship standings after two races. "Their confidence never wavered. We've got confidence where we can not only win races with our race team but with Brendan's, too. It's great to have a friend like that."
NEWS & NOTES, PART II
ETC. ... NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series defending champion and points leader Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge) has led just one lap in finishing first and second to start the 2005 season. ... Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), the 1996 and '98 NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion, is the only fulltime series competitor entered in Sunday's inaugural NASCAR Busch Series Telcel MOTOROLA Mexico 200 at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. ... Mike Skinner's (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) Bud Pole at California Speedway is his 18th in series competition to join Mike Bliss as runnerup in career poles. Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) remains the leader with 26. ... A 14th-place finish in the American Racing Wheels 200 marked Rick Crawford's (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford) record, 200th consecutive series start.
"This will be big for him (Park) personally. To clear a hurdle -- and this should give him momentum -- this is a personal victory. When he came to the series he knew what he wanted out of it and I don't think last year met his expectations because he didn't win. But I've got to tell you, when I looked at the series last year and I saw the drivers that didn't win, it really got my attention. There are no gimmes over here." -- Ricky Craven (No. 99 Superchips Ford), on Park's victory and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in general.
10 YEARS TOUGH
Series alum Carlos Contreras of Mexico City, who'd like nothing better than to be the hometown winner of Sunday's NASCAR Busch Series event, is the first and only Mexican-born competitor to start a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. Contreras' debut came Oct. 30, 1999 at California Speedway. The 34-year-old driver competed in 70 series races with a best finish of seventh at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2001 and career winnings of $777,636.
What: World Financial Services 200 (Race 3 of 25).
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway.
When: 9:15 p.m. ET, Friday, March 18.
Track layout: 1.54-mile banked paved.
Race length: 200.2 miles/130 laps.
Posted awards: $495,082.
TV: SPEED Channel, 9:00 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2004 winner: Bobby Hamilton.
2004 polesitter: David Reutimann.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday -- Practice 9:00 a.m. -- 10:10 a.m. and 10:55 a.m. to 11:55 a.m. Qualifying 5:10 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.
Top 10 drivers: 1. Bobby Hamilton 355. 2. Ricky Craven 330. 3. Jimmy Spencer 321. 4. Ted Musgrave 310. 5. Matt Crafton 280. 6. Steve Park 279. 7. Johnny Benson 271. 8. David Reutimann 256. 9. Dennis Setzer 254. 10. Casey Atwood 251.