Hornaday steps into the 'bull's eye' By Marty Smith MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 13, 2000) By following two-time defending NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the seat of the most coveted ride in the...
Hornaday steps into the 'bull's eye' By Marty Smith
MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Jan. 13, 2000) By following two-time defending NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the seat of the most coveted ride in the series, it goes without saying that Ron Hornaday enters his rookie year with a bull's eye on his back. And, oddly enough, he has every intention of keeping it that way.
"We expect a championship and a lot of wins," Hornaday said. "These guys have worked so hard, but we haven't tested yet so we still gotta find out what we need to do. We need a good top-5 finish at Daytona and let everybody know that we're gonna be there all season. That's what we're looking for.
"I think his (Earnhardt Jr.'s) success means a lot. We've got a couple of guys from his team, but this whole DEI organization is a big family. Everyone from the top to the bottom treats me real well. They respect my driving style and I respect the work they all do. Everybody at DEI is the best out there, and they all support me and they've given me great cars, so it's gonna be real exciting."
For Hornaday, his five-year stint in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series was quite thrilling. He won the 1996 and 1998 championships, joining the likes of Jack Sprague and Mike Skinner in building the "Tough Trucks" reputation the series now carries. During that time, Hornaday drove to Victory Lane 25 times -- a series record.
"I'm gonna miss the truck series just because we're all family," he said. "They opened their arms wide to me. The truck series made me. Otherwise I'd still be back in California racing Southwest Tour trying to win all the championships I can.
"But when Dale gave me that phone call five years ago to come run the truck series I got more well known by everyone, and he's the best owner you can have, so moving here and showing Dale the dedication I have to the sport was very important. I think that's got me where I am today. For the last couple of years there were a couple great drivers in California that didn't move and haven't made it yet."
Hornaday has certainly made it. He's the most celebrated driver ever to pilot a truck, and now he's making the jump to the ultra-competitive NASCAR Busch Series, where he'll attempt to leave a similar mark. With the likes of Jeff Green and David Green, Todd Bodine, Casey Atwood and Randy LaJoie breathing down his neck, that won't be easy. Even so, the opportunity has him giddy.
"This is just so exciting," Hornaday said. "I like to race. This is the hardest time off I've ever had because we didn't win the (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) championship, but we ran the best we ever ran. The truck was awesome, we had some fun in the Busch car, we won the ARCA race at Atlanta, so the guys are pumped up and we're ready to go racing in 2000."
The No. 3 NAPA Chevrolet team has yet to hit the track with the car, but plans to test several times before the NAPA Auto Parts 300 on Feb. 19 at Daytona International Speedway.
"We haven't done any testing yet with the Busch car," Hornaday said. "We feel that we don't need to right yet because they're still making some small rules changes with the air dams and how we get the air into the air cleaner, so testing would be a waste of time and money. Right now we're building cars, trying to get everything ready for the whole year and when that green flag drops at Daytona we'll have five or six cars ready to race."
And ready to race he'll be. The boss will make sure of that.
"It's the seven-time Winston Cup champion -- the man understands racing," said Hornaday of Earnhardt. "There's been times we were down because we didn't run good and there's been times we've been real good and got a little high on our horse. He'll set you straight either way, no matter what you do."
"When I started racing I never really watched TV because my dad was a racer and I was always at the race track with him. Then, when I started racing, a lot of people thought I drove like Dale Earnhardt, but I didn't know because I didn't start watching him until I was about 16 or 17. I know he likes to win, and I do too, that's what we're here for."