St. Louis: Round five preview

Tough tracks like Gateway International motivate Ron Hornaday Jr. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 25, 2005) -- No racetrack on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule is simple. Gateway International Raceway, an egg-shaped, 1.25-mile layout ...

Tough tracks like Gateway International motivate Ron Hornaday Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 25, 2005) -- No racetrack on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule is simple.

Gateway International Raceway, an egg-shaped, 1.25-mile layout hosting Saturday's Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200, is more difficult than most.

Considerably more difficult.

Since joining the series in 1998, Gateway has produced seven different winners -- each among the most seasoned of NASCAR Craftsman Truck veterans.

This week's race figures to have the same characteristics to it as defending champion Bobby Hamilton (No. 04 Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers Dodge), two-time series titlist Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Ricky Craven (No. 99 Super Chips Ford) and Jimmy Spencer (No. 2 Team ASE Dodge) are among those hoping to join the victor's list.

Gateway's degree of difficulty suits Hornaday just fine; even to the point of giving him extra motivation. Hornaday, a second-place finisher at Gateway in both NASCAR Craftsman trucks and the NASCAR Busch Series, counts victories at other tough tracks such as the now-closed Flemington, Nazareth and Louisville speedways.

"These were some of my favorite tracks," said Hornaday, winner last month at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "At Gateway, I'll be even more motivated because I have come so close but have not yet gotten to victory lane."

The Gateway layout -- and others like it -- trims the list of those with a realistic chance to win, according to Hornaday.

"These tracks are different than what a lot of people are used to so it takes attention to detail to learn the track," said Hornaday,. "You have to have a strategy and you have to understand the racetrack.

"You will see drivers who aren't used to it overdrive the corner on the frontstretch and lock up the brakes. This will cause them to hit the outside wall. Hitting your marks is essential."

Fellow champion Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) agrees. Sprague won the race in 2000.

"It is not so much that the track will reach up and bite you as it is the driver having to remember his truck is only going to work very well on one end or the other and having to finesse it through the other end," said Sprague.

Brendan Gaughan (No. 77 Jasper Engines and Transmissions Dodge) won the last time he competed at Gateway in 2003. Gaughan edged Jason Leffler by .222 of a second in Gateway's closest series decision.

"One thing that made us good was we had a really good suspension package ... a really good front end setup that made it stick through the really tight turns one and two but not get real loose over in turns three and four," said Gaughan. "We found the medium ground really well and we were just a rocket ship."

Whether Gaughan can duplicate that feat remains to be seen -- especially with this year's gear rule that effectively does away with road course-style downshifting to assist braking and maintaining engine rpms.

"We were never really nervous about blowing an engine there so we could run a lot of horsepower, turn at all those low rpms and get it on the horsepower band," he said, doubting that one gear will fit both sets of corners.

"It's just going to be wait-and-see this year."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Bobby Hamilton , Jason Leffler , Jimmy Spencer , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ricky Craven , Jack Sprague , Brendan Gaughan