Teams find Top 10 ranking tougher to achieve in 2004 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2004) -- A top-10 finish always has been indicative of a solid season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. But in 2004 it will be very solid -- and then ...
Teams find Top 10 ranking tougher to achieve in 2004
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct. 13, 2004) -- A top-10 finish always has been indicative of a solid season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
But in 2004 it will be very solid -- and then some.
With eight new fulltime teams, the series arguably has reached a competitive zenith in its 10th season, which means some very good competitors will be on the outside of the top 10 when the season ends with the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19.
Currently, only 72 points cover 10th through 14th in the standings, with three-time series champion Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) in 10th and Raybestos Rookie of the Year leader David Reutimann (No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota) in 14th heading into Saturday's Silverado 350K at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sandwiched between are 1995 series champion Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) in 11th place, all-time starts leader Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Motel & RV Park Ford) in 12th place and Shane Hmiel (No. 15 Billy Ballew Racing Chevrolet), this season's youngest winner at age 24, in 13th place.
"In the past several years you've had five or six teams fighting for the top spots," said Crawford, who's only 31 points behind Sprague. "This season you have 12 or 15 that are up front week-in and week-out. It's been the sharpest increase in competition the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has ever had."
Crawford finished second in the standings in 2002 and seventh a year ago. Like other veterans such as Sprague and Skinner, he's been on a roller coaster ride since winning in April at Martinsville Speedway.
Sprague has a victory, too, but has been victimized by three engine failures. Skinner has come close on several occasions -- finishing second in Atlanta and third at Michigan International Speedway -- but predictably has faced the challenge of driving for a first-year manufacturer.
"We just seem to be on somewhat of a yo-yo," said Sprague, whose last three finishes have been second, 36th and third, respectively. "It is hard to say if this is the point where we can turn our season around, but we all want it to be."
Skinner, whose team went through a change in ownership from Bang! Racing to Bill Davis Racing, has brought aboard crew chief John Monsam in recent weeks.
"In my opinion, this race team is way better than a top-10 team," said Skinner. "The performance has been there. We just need to have some racing luck. "The people who follow the sport know that we've run well and have been very competitive so, if it (top 10) doesn't happen, we're not going to go stick our head in the sand."
Hmiel is just pleased to be making a run on the top 10 -- a plateau his Billy Ballew-owned team never has reached. Now in 13th place, the North Carolina competitor has been as high as 11th and low as 21st.
"The way Billy, (crew chief) Ritchie (Wauters) and everyone on this team has worked so hard without any major sponsors, I think it would mean a lot to them and me if we had a top-10 finish in overall points," Hmiel said. "I plan on doing everything on my end to be consistent, take care of the truck and hopefully win races."
Reutimann, whose first series race was February's season opener at Daytona, came out of the blocks fast with a Bud Pole and third-place finish at Atlanta. He and his Darrell Waltrip-owned team have battled the "rookie blues," but hope to build on a pair of recent Top-10 performances.
"It's the toughest thing I've ever done anywhere at any time," said Reutimann, a second-generation driver who frequently raced 50-plus times a season on pavement and dirt. "The team was good at the beginning and has gotten even better as the year has gone on. We're looking to finish the season strong, (but) I'm even more excited about next year because half the tracks we have been to this year I've never raced until this season."