* Bodine still leads standings but challengers looming in his mirrors * Sprague's Memphis triumph makes nine for three-time champion DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) -- Last Saturday's O'Reilly 200 at Memphis Motorsports Park concluded the...
* Bodine still leads standings but challengers looming in his mirrors
* Sprague's Memphis triumph makes nine for three-time champion
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 17, 2006) -- Last Saturday's O'Reilly 200 at Memphis Motorsports Park concluded the longest stretch of the season for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors -- nine races on consecutive weekends.
Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota) headed the standings when the grind began at Lowe's Motor Speedway and he's still the leader.
Bodine, whose lead bulged to as many as 178 points, leads 2004 Raybestos Rookie of the Year David Reutimann (No. 17 Team Tundra Toyota) by 117 as teams spend the remainder of July prepping for the Aug. 4 Power Stroke Diesel 200 by Ford and International at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
Bodine's Germain Racing team, which also fields the No. 9 Team ASE Toyota driven by 2005 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ted Musgrave, has been solid through the season's first half, but has shown in recent weeks that even the best can have an "off night."
"Up until about three weeks ago, I would have probably given us a grade of 95 (out of 100)," said Germain general manager Mike Hillman. "Everything was clicking and everything was going well. I'd say right now we are probably around a 75 or 80.
"At the beginning of the season, everything we did turned out right and we didn't make any mistakes in our decisions. Now, during the last three weeks, everything we do seems to be wrong or not work."
Bodine finished worse than third only once in his first six races. He failed to reach the top 10 in two of his most recent four events, capped by a 15th at Memphis. More troubling, Musgrave dropped from second to fifth, but believes he's due to rebound.
"Sooner or later you're going to be on top and sooner or later you're going to be on the bottom," Musgrave said. "I kind of look at it as a sock in the dryer going around and around."
The past two months have spotlighted a number of drivers and teams that began the season on a down cycle but are headed back to the top. Some or all may give Bodine a solid challenge during the season's final 11 races.
Two-time series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet) has been the hottest commodity of late, winning at Kentucky Speedway and posting top-five finishes in his past four races.
He's the biggest "mover" over the nine-race span with 12 positions gained: 18th to his current ranking of sixth.
And Hornaday is proof at age 48 that experience is a big plus in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"I don't feel any different in the cockpit than I did a few years ago," said the Palmdale, Calif. driver, whose Kentucky victory was a career record extending 29th win. "It is easy to drive your hardest and do all you can for your team when everyone is on the same page and working as hard as they can to get the finishes and the wins.
"Some great (young) people were brought in for our team and it has just taken a little time for everyone really to jell and get the rhythm and the chemistry all moving in the same direction."
Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford) struggled through a miserable season in 2005 finishing a disappointing 16th after challenging for the series title as recently as 2002; he finished second to Mike Bliss (No. 16 Xpress Motorsports Chevrolet).
Like Hornaday, Crawford points to symmetry between driver, crew and his manufacturer's engineers.
"We needed to fix what was wrong with ourselves," said Crawford, who with Sprague shares the series' career start record of 236. "(Owner) Tom Mitchell has given us the green light to do what it takes. So it doesn't surprise me that we're doing so well."
Crawford also believes Bodine and others ahead of him in the standings can be overhauled.
"I really do and we're going to give it our best performance," he said. "I look forward to it. It's fun racing again. Last year's gone."
Finally, don't count out Johnny Benson (No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota). Eighth after the season's fifth race, Benson now sits five positions higher. He and Hornaday were the only double winners during the past nine races.
"We said at the beginning of the season our goal was to finish in the top five week in and week out and we're doing that," Benson said. "We need to lead laps and beat the guys leading points on a regular basis. We cannot make mistakes.
"If we do our homework, we'll get a chance to battle for the championship."
NEWS AND NOTES, PART II
ETC. ... Jack Sprague's (No. 60 Con-Way Freight Toyota) Memphis victory was noteworthy in several respects. It gave the 41-year-old driver wins in an unprecedented nine seasons as well as taking owner Jeff Wyler and crew chief Tony Furr to Victory Lane for the first time in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Sprague, who last won in June 2005 at Texas Motor Speedway, became the .75-mile track's first repeat winner after his 28th Budweiser Pole matched Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) for the career qualifying record. ... Sprague's 26th victory was the 20th for Toyota. All of the manufacturer's current five owners boast at least one series win -- four of them in the current season. ... Sprague is set to become the first NASCAR Craftsman Truck competitor to lead 6,000 laps. His career total is 5,954 after leading 133 laps at Memphis. ... The O'Reilly 200 marked the third time in 2006 that 35 of 36 starters were around to collect the checkered flag. ... Terry Cook (No. 10 Ford Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford) broke Crawford's series consecutive start record with his 211th straight race. As a bonus, Cook finished eighth to match the team's entire 2004 top-10 total of seven. ... The season's first 14 races have produced eight different winners and eight different Budweiser Pole winners. ... Erik Darnell (No. 99 Roush Racing Ford) came within .251 second of becoming the first Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate to win a race since Reutimann at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2005. His second-place finish was the best by a series rookie in Memphis. With 14 races in the books, Darnell and many of his rivals will begin tossing "worst" finishes when racing resumes in Indianapolis. ... Reutimann is the only competitor to complete every one of the season's 2,326 laps -- one more than Bodine.
IN THE LOOP
Bodine holds the series' best Driver Rating of 107.8 at the mid-summer break. Standings runnerup Reutimann is second at 105.8 while Skinner -- the only driver outside the top 10 with a Driver Rating inside the first 10 -- ranks third at 101.0. Crawford (100.2) and Benson and Sprague (99.8) complete the best top five rated competitors.
What: Power Stroke Diesel 200 by Ford and International (Race 15 of 25).
Where: O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis.
When: 8:45 p.m. ET, Aug. 4.
Track layout: .686 -mile paved oval.
Race length: 200 laps /137.2 miles.
Posted awards: $519,687
TV: SPEED Channel, 8:30 p.m. (ET).
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.
2005 winner: Dennis Setzer
2005 polesitter: Dennis Setzer
Top 10 drivers: 1.Todd Bodine 2,161. 2. David Reutimann 2,044. 3. Johnny Benson 1,998 4. Rick Crawford 1,930. 5. Ted Musgrave 1,913. 6. Ron Hornaday Jr. 1,905. 7. Jack Sprague 1,898. 8. David Starr 1,872. 9. Terry Cook 1,864. 10. Dennis Setzer 1,835.
Pre-race schedule (all times local): Friday--Practice 10 a.m. -- 11:00 a.m. Rookie Practice 11:30 a.m. -- 12 noon. Final Practice 12 noon -- 1 p.m. Qualifying 5:30 p.m. Trucks impounded after qualifying.