* A year makes a big difference for Roush Racing's Todd Kluever * 1995 champion Mike Skinner finally gets elusive 17th victory DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2005) -- This will be a different kind of Labor Day weekend for Todd Kluever (No. 50...
* A year makes a big difference for Roush Racing's Todd Kluever
* 1995 champion Mike Skinner finally gets elusive 17th victory
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2005) -- This will be a different kind of Labor Day weekend for Todd Kluever (No. 50 World Financial Group Ford), who's gone from part-time competitor to NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star in less than a season.
A year ago, Kluever might have competed in a late model race close to his Sun Prairie, Wis. home. Or, more likely, he and his brother Tim would be serving their customers at Nora's Tavern, and watching the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race on television.
Kluever, however, won Jack Roush's "gong show" competition and the 27-year-old driver's life has changed dramatically. Now living in Huntersville, N.C., he's gone from wishing and hoping to living what had once seemed an impossible dream.
And with a pair of second-place finishes earlier this summer, Kluever appears on the verge of his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck victory, possibly in the Sept. 8 Richmond 200 at Richmond International Raceway.
Kluever is the first to admit he's had to change his mind-set. He's now in the same garage as the drivers he's read about or watched on television.
"I'm still star-struck to this day," said Kluever. "I hope that never changes."
Kluever, however, has no problem mixing it up with the veterans.
"It's just another truck and I'll pass it if I can," he said. "But it's still pretty neat to be able to walk the pits with the rest of the Roush guys and meet Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr."
August has been a busy month for Kluever. He's raced, tested and helped Roush Racing put the next "gong show" cast through its paces at Martinsville Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The winner among 24 finalists will become Kluever's teammate in 2006.
Kluever didn't have the money or sponsorship to step up to NASCAR's national touring level. Roush, however, didn't take that into consideration in choosing him -- or, for that matter, NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion Kurt Busch prior to the 2000 season.
"All of the guys (at Roush Racing) worked their way up from the bottom," said Kluever. "It's nice knowing that Jack's attitude is that he just wants the best driver for the job. It doesn't matter if you bring $5 or $5 million. The best guy succeeds."
Kluever, the current leader in Raybestos Rookie of the Year points, is making the best of the opportunity. After a slow start and crew shuffle which partnered Kluever with crew chief Mike Beam, the driver has fashioned five top-10 finishes and moved from 20th to 12th in championship standings.
Kluever's success already has quite an impact on Nora's Tavern, a neighborhood gathering place for a largely working class clientele. There's not a seat to be had during SPEED Channel's NASCAR Craftsman Truck broadcasts and a major celebration is sure to erupt when Kluever wins his first race.
His goal is to win a NASCAR Craftsman Truck title and ultimately make it to the Big Show.
"Hopefully, one day, they'll be having Sunday specials," Kluever said.
NEWS & NOTES, PART II
Skinner ends near-nine year drought at Bristol ... While it took Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) just 42 races to amass 16 victories, the road to the 17th win took a lot longer -- eight years, 10 months and 10 days to be exact. But Skinner finally broke what had become a 53-race winless streak with a dominating performance at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 24. The 1995 series champion led 190 of 200 laps to give Bill Davis Racing its first NASCAR Craftsman Truck victory. Only Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet) had led more laps at Bristol -- 200 of 200 in 1997. Skinner's last win came on Oct. 14, 1997 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.
Skinner, who'd finished fourth five times in 2005, is re-energized and already looking ahead. "If we can win a few more of these it will be a little insurance for Angela (his wife) and myself," he said. "I want to continue racing and I think I can for a few more years. I'm 48 but I still think I can beat these guys on the track -- and maybe off the track."
Point standings tighten as homestretch beckons ... The coming Labor Day weekend, during which the series takes a holiday break, traditionally signals the beginning of the homestretch in the drive for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Chevrolet Z71 Silverado Chevrolet) owns a healthy point lead -- but hardly the advantage he rolled up just two races ago. Setzer's fourth win of the year at Indianapolis Raceway Park gave the Newton, N.C. veteran a 227-point lead over Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Dodge). Finishes of 14th and 16th combined with Musgrave's second and sixth-place efforts have pared the margin to 143. Musgrave has gained 84 points in two races. The battle for the top five and top 10 remains the closest in series history. The difference between third-ranked Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Bailey's Dodge) and seventh place Skinner is 72 points. The gap between 10th and 15th is 73 points.
ETC. ... Bill Davis is the fifth owner to win a race on all three of NASCAR's national touring series. He joins Dale and Teresa Earnhardt, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush and Darrell Waltrip. ... Skinner is the 12th different winner of 2005. That's two shy of the record set in 1998. Thirteen competitors won races a year ago. ... Ricky Craven (No. 99 Superchips Ford) and owner Roush Racing have announced that Craven will not return to the team in 2006. Craven has posted three top five and seven top 10 finishes but none since June 4 at Dover International Speedway. "Ricky's experience, talent and professionalism have benefited our entire truck operation this year," said Roush. Craven said, "My goal right now is to get the (truck) in victory lane before the season ends." ... Musgrave's sixth-place finish at Bristol was his 80th top 10 in 116 series starts. ... Mike Bliss' first official start since winning the 2002 championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway gave the No. 6 MRD Motorsports Chevrolet an 11th-place finish at Bristol, the team's best in series competition. Bliss will drive the truck at Richmond and in several more races. The O'Reilly 200 marked the first time five former series champions had started a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race. 10 YEARS TOUGH
Richmond International Raceway hosted the first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race to be held in the mid-Atlantic region on Sept. 7, 1995. The event's largest field -- 38 trucks -- was a near-copy of the series' inaugural event. Four of the top-five finishers -- Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Mike Skinner and Ken Schrader -- also ranked among the top five at Phoenix International Raceway earlier in the season. Labonte won the race in his second and last appearance on the series. His .006-second victory over Bodine remains the series' second-closest margin of victory.
Next Event: Richmond 200. (Race No. 18 of 25)
Where: Richmond International Raceway.
When: 8:15 p.m. ET, Thursday, Sept. 8.
Track layout: .75-mile paved oval.
Race length: 200 laps/150 miles.
Posted awards: $411,829.
TV: SPEED Channel, 8:00 p.m. ET.
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2004 winner: Ted Musgrave.
2004 polesitter: Jamie McMurray.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Thursday -- Practice 11 -- 11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. -- 2 p.m. Qualifying at 5 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.
Top 10 drivers: 1. Dennis Setzer 2,515. 2. Ted Musgrave 2,372. 3. Bobby Hamilton 2,258. 4. Ron Hornaday Jr. 2,254. 5. Jimmy Spencer 2,235. 6. David Reutimann 2,190. 7. Mike Skinner 2,186. 8. Matt Crafton 2,144. 9. Todd Bodine 2,131. 10. David Starr 2,118.