Off-week notes 2009-03-31

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes ...

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes

#%Four Races Identify Contenders, Not Eventual Champion

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 31, 2009) -- Media prognosticators recently tabbed Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Longhorn Chevrolet) to win a record fourth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in 2009.

History, however, says the veracity of that prediction won't be known until mid-November when the checkered flag has fallen at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The title race has gone down to the final race in 13 of 14 previous seasons.

Four races into the schedule with the running of Monday's Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway, however, there are solid clues as to who the title contenders will be -- and which drivers must overcome mediocre starts to join the group. The record book says:

Kyle Busch (No 51 Miccosukee Resort Toyota), the current points leader, is unlikely to win the championship. Busch has no plans to pursue a full schedule. And more significantly, the leader after race No. 4 has failed to capture the title in 12 of 14 seasons and not since Jack Sprague in 1997.

A ranking among the first four positions is the most likely springboard to a title. Eight of the past 11 champions have ranked fourth or better after running four races.

Johnny Benson (No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota), however, was ninth at this point a year ago and still won the championship. Good news for Benson. He ranks seventh after entering Martinsville outside the top 10.

A triple-digit deficit can be overcome. Five champions have come from 100 or more points off the lead four races into the season. Benson (2008) and Hornaday (2007) each left Martinsville Speedway 144 points in the hole. One hundred twenty-one points is the difference between first and fifth this year.

Martinsville Race Ends 'Lock-Ins' From 2008 Owner Points

The collective sigh of relief heard following Martinsville Speedway's Kroger 250 came from a number of teams new to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series which did not possess locked-in positions based on the 2008 series owners' championship standings.

Two of those teams -- Randy Moss Motorsports and Red Horse Racing -- have past champions in their trucks so they weren't exactly working without a net. The switch to 2009 points, however, gives both Benson and Mike Skinner (No. 5 Bad Boy Mowers Toyota) top-30 positions.

Skinner and Benson hardly have missed a beat driving for new owners. Skinner ranks fifth in points after finishing third in the Kroger 250 while Benson, winner of last fall's Martinsville race, jumped from 11th to seventh on the strength of his fourth-place finish -- the defending NCWTS champion's first top five of 2009.

Also bumping into the guaranteed starter category are Terry Cook (No. 25 Harris Trucking Toyota) and Timothy Peters (No. 17 Hayes Iron and Metal Toyota). Cook is sixth, Peters ninth in current standings.

Andy Hillenburg's No. 48 Chevrolet also qualifies as a top-30 starter for next month's race at Kansas Speedway along with Dwayne Gaulding's No. 21 Dodge, David McClure's No. 47 Chevrolet and Norm Benning's No. 57 Chevrolet. All but Benning have employed multiple drivers during the season's first four races.

In The Loop

With Kyle Busch likely out of the No. 51 Toyota at Kansas Speedway for the first time this season, a three-way battle for the points lead emerges between three former series champions -- Todd Bodine (No. 30 Toyota), Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner.

All three have eclipsed the 600-point mark after four races and have racked up some of the best early season statistics.

All rank in the top five in most key Loop Data categories and usually follow Busch in the top four.

Hornaday, third in the points, has an Average Running Position of 5.1 (second-best), Driver Rating of 114.0 (second), 46 Fastest Laps Run (third) and a series-high 562 Laps in the Top 15 (96.7%).

Bodine, second in points, has an Average Running Position of 6.4 (third), a Driver Rating of 105.9 (fourth), 23 Fastest Laps Run (seventh) and 501 (86.2%) Laps in the Top 15 (fourth).

Skinner, fourth in points and having a stellar first season with Randy Moss Motorsports, has an Average Running Position of 7.3 (fourth), a Driver Rating of 106.3 (third), 40 Fastest Laps Run (fourth) and 544 (93.6%) Laps in the Top 15 (second).

The leader in most of those categories, of course, is also the point leader -- Busch.

Etc. ...

Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar/International Truck Ford) went to Martinsville Speedway in danger of failing to post a top-10 finish in the season's first four races for only the third time in eight campaigns. Crawford, however, finished a solid fifth after claiming his sixth Keystone Light Pole. Crawford also slipped into the top 10 in points -- a ranking he's held after four races in all but three seasons since joining the series in 1997. "This is really special for us because we've taken a bruising the first part of the year," he said. Crawford's rebound also gave Ford a spot in the top 10 for the first time since Daytona's opening race in February.

Crawford wasn't the only member of the Circle Bar team enjoying a Martinsville finish. Teammate James Buescher (No. 10 International Maxx Force Diesel Ford), who celebrated his 19th birthday on March 26, was 11th and the highest-finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender. "I think we should run better the next time we come back and see if we can get a top five or even a win," said Buescher, who ran as high as second. J.R. Fitzpatrick (No. 7 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet) finished two laps off the pace in 21st but maintains a four-point rookie lead over Buescher and Tayler Malsam (No. 81 One Eighty Toyota).

Mike Bliss (No. 40 Westerman Companies/ Chevrolet) became the eighth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver to compete in 200 races when he took the green flag at Martinsville. Bliss, who competed in the track's first race in 1995, finished 15th.

The Kroger 250 marked the third time a Martinsville truck race has been run on a Monday due to inclement weather. Joe Ruttman won the first in 1995. The late Bobby Hamilton was the winner in 2000.

Chevrolet's Martinsville victory snapped a four-race Toyota win streak dating to last year's finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Toyota remains the Manufacturers' Championship leader by six over Chevrolet. Ford is winless since Erik Darnell's Michigan victory in June 2008. Dodge last went to Victory Lane one year ago in Martinsville. Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford occupied at least one spot in the Kroger 250's top five.

In most seasons, Ken Schrader (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota) likely would be closing on double-digit racing starts. Monday's race was the veteran's first NASCAR appearance of 2009 and Schrader celebrated with a 10th-place finish.

Up Next

Midwestern fans get their first close-up of the 2009 season when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series swings back into action on Saturday, April 25 at Kansas Speedway.

The race annually draws a huge crowd to the 1.5-mile Kansas City, Kan., facility which has crowned eight consecutive different winners. Ron Hornaday Jr. is the defending winner of the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250.

Fast Facts

Next Race: O'Reilly Auto Parts 250
The Place: Kansas Speedway

The Date: Sat., April 25, 2009
The Time: 6 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 250.5 miles / 167 laps
Track Layout: 1.5-mile paved

TV: SPEED, 5:30 p.m. ET

2008 Winner: Ron Hornaday Jr.
2008 Polesitter: Ron Hornaday Jr.

Friday--Practice, 1:30- 2:30 p.m.; 3:30-5 p.m.
Saturday--Qualifying, 12:45 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Todd Bodine , Mike Skinner , Ken Schrader , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jack Sprague , Terry Cook , Rick Crawford , Andy Hillenburg , Joe Ruttman , Mike Bliss , Norm Benning , Timothy Peters , Erik Darnell , James Buescher , Kyle Busch
Teams TRG Motorsports , Red Horse Racing