Preseason Test: Day two report

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Preseason Thunder Day 2: Series is 10 Years Tough Entering its Second Decade DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2005) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series enters its second decade of competition in 2005 with a decidedly ...

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Preseason Thunder Day 2: Series is 10 Years Tough Entering its Second Decade

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2005) -- The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series enters its second decade of competition in 2005 with a decidedly veteran flavor spiced by its first three champions.

Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) and Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) -- winners of six titles and 74 races -- will keynote a season-long celebration of a "10 Years Tough" campaign beginning with the Feb. 18 Florida Dodge Dealers 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

They'll be joined by 2004 champion Bobby Hamilton (No. 4 Dodge) to mark the first time that four former titleholders have gone head-to-head for season laurels.

The 2005 season's opening race takes place 10 years and 13 days after Skinner edged NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Champion Terry Labonte by .09 of a second to capture the Feb. 5, 1995 inaugural event at Phoenix International Raceway.

Competition at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway was the furthest thing from the minds of those participating in a brand new series proposed to NASCAR by four off-road truck racers from southern California.

Several of them were skeptical of the series' long-term prospects.

"When I first heard about this deal, I honestly thought it was a joke," said Sprague. "I thought this is going to be funny, people racing trucks, that it would be a flash in the pan and be gone. I think a lot of people thought that."

Others -- among them NASCAR NEXTEL Cup team owners Richard Childress, Dale and Teresa Earnhardt and Rick Hendrick -- saw unlimited potential in a concept that capitalized on America's exploding love affair with pickup trucks and sports utility vehicles.

Skinner won the 1995 championship for Childress, Hornaday the 1996 title for DEI and Sprague the 1997 crown for Hendrick.

The series, buoyed by live television and radio coverage and sponsorship of Sears' Craftsman Tools brand, was off and running. An initial season of 20 races that drew approximately 400,000 fans has grown to 25 events and 2004 attendance of 1.1 million.

Nine of 10 championship battles have gone to the final race. The closest decision saw Hornaday beat Sprague by three points in 1998 to win his second championship. Sprague added titles in 1999 and 2001 to more than overcome his initial misgivings about the series.

"I'd said to myself (in 1995) that I need a job and, what the heck, I might as well try it," said Sprague, whose performance at the wheel of Bruce Griffin's unsponsored Chevrolet led to a 1996 contract with Hendrick Motorsports. "I was scared to death we wouldn't make the (Phoenix) race having spent all the money to drive all the way from the east coast because we couldn't afford the plane tickets.

"And I thought, wow, this is really cool and have been loving it ever since."

Hornaday, meanwhile, left the series in 2000 to compete on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series with A.J. Foyt and on the NASCAR Busch Series for Earnhardt and Childress.

He returns to the series this season to rejoin Sprague and Skinner, who came back in 2004 to finish seventh and 11th in NASCAR Craftsman Truck point standings.

"Five years ago, they were asking me where I thought the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was going to go and I told them then that the sky is the limit," said Hornaday, the series' all-time winner with 26 victories. "Now, they are asking me after there are 10 years down where it is going to go and my answer is the same."

NEWS OF NOTE

Finally, track activity at Daytona ... Foul weather that settled over Daytona International Speedway on Saturday and canceled all activities lifted shortly after noon on Sunday, allowing NASCAR Preseason Thunder to resume at 3:50 p.m. EST. Ricky Craven's No. 99 Superchips Ford, the defending Florida Dodge Dealers 250 winning truck, was the first to complete a lap. Testing was to continue Sunday evening under the lights and resume Monday for a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. session.

Random times on the board ... Here are some random speeds (single truck laps and drafting, at team's discretion) recorded during Sunday's NASCAR Preseason Thunder: Ted Musgrave (No. 2 Team ASE/ Carquest Dodge), 187.555 mph; Chad Chaffin (No. 30 Germain/Arnold Toyota), 187.527; Brad Keselowski (No. 29 K Automotive Ford), 186.216; Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford), 186.216; Brandon Whitt (No. 38 Werner Ladders/Cure Autism Now Toyota), 186.154.

Former Winner Crawford Expects Upswing ... After experiencing a down season, 2003 Daytona winner Crawford expects to challenge for this season's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship. The Tom Mitchell-owned team, runnerup finisher to 2002 series champion Mike Bliss, has added Kevin "Cowboy" Starland as crew chief. Starland teamed with Roush's Carl Edwards to win last year's Florida Dodge Dealers 250. "You need a veteran crew chief, one that has proven himself. Two, you need to be prepared in the shop," said Crawford, due to start his 199th consecutive series race next month. "If you put all of that together you can win the championship and we felt bringing Kevin on board would accomplish both of those objectives." Crawford finished 12th a year ago with a win at Martinsville Speedway.

Raybestos Rookie of the Year happy to have teammate ... The 2005 season opener marks a first for David Reutimann (No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota), last year's Raybestos Rookie of the Year. Reutimann, who finished ninth in last year's Daytona race, will have a teammate, Robert Huffman (No. 12 Toyota). "I've never been in a position to have a teammate in any form of racing," said Reutimann. "It's always been me and I've only had to worry about myself," he said. "Last year I didn't really have anyone in the garage to talk to about my truck. I could go around and talk to some other guys but it wasn't a teammate. It's much easier talking to someone working out of the same shop as you -- who drives for the same team."

Fast Facts

What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder.
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
When: Jan. 11-24.

Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval superspeedway.

Test schedule: Jan. 15-16 -- NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; Jan. 18-20 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (Even-number car owner 2004 point standings finishing positions); Jan. 22-24 -- NASCAR Busch Series.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Terry Labonte , Mike Skinner , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave , Ricky Craven , Jack Sprague , Rick Crawford , Chad Chaffin , Mike Bliss , David Reutimann , Carl Edwards , Brandon Whitt , Robert Huffman , Brad Keselowski , A.J. Foyt