Blazing Fast, Texas Holds A Surprise or Two
Tom Jensen, TruckSeries.com
Going NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing is a humbling business. One minute you’re leading the race, the next minute a flat tire or an errant fender puts you in the wall at 180 miles per hour and you’re finishing 35th.
Lately, prognosticating about the Truck Series hasn’t been much easier.
Really, who would have ever predicted Matt Crafton, Donny Lia and Scott Speed as the last three NCTS winners? Put it this way: If you did actually pick those three guys to win over the last three weeks, quit your day job and hop the first plane to Vegas. Seriously, these were upsets of major proportions, which has made for the least predictable season in years.
And the most interesting, as the top eight drivers in the NCTS points standings are separated by a mere 68 markers. This week, the truck series drivers head to the ultra-fast, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval, site of Friday night’s Sam’s Town 400, race No. 10 of 25 on the year.
And anytime the NCTS boys are the grand state of Texas, the discussion starts with Todd Bodine and the powerhouse Lumber Liquidators No. 30 Toyota Tundra campaigned by Germain Racing. “The Onion” is the defending race champion, having captured four of the last seven truck races at Texas. Bodine loves fast 1.5-mile tracks and has terrorized the competition here of late.
“Texas is a little bit special but you’re never dominant in this sport. You have to be good to be lucky – to create your own luck,” says Mike Hillman Sr., Germain Racing’s general manager. “Our mile-and-a-half program has always been real strong and our superspeedway program is good. I look forward to getting back to Texas and hopefully getting another cowboy hat.”
Another driver to look out for is Brendan Gaughan, driver of the No. 10 International MaxxForce Diesel Ford F-150. Now, the Las Vegas native will be the first to tell you he hasn’t had a great season so far, with just one top-five finish and two top 10s, leaving him 15th in points.
But if you choose to ignore Gaughan at Texas, even in a down year, you do so at your own peril. The former Georgetown Hoya basketball player won four straight races at TMS in 2002-03 and finished second here last fall. On top of that, his best finishes this year were at Kansas Speedway and Lowe’s Motor Speedway, two other fast 1.5-milers.
Gaughan’s teammate, points leader Rick Crawford, pilot of the No. 14 Circle Bar/Power Stroke Diesel Ford F-150, comes into this race atop the NCTS standings for only the second time in 280 career starts. While Crawford is still looking for his first TMS victory, he has an impressive seven top-five finishes, which makes him a legitimate threat Friday night.
Another strong contender is Mike Skinner and the No. 5 Toyota Tundra-sponsored Toyota. Since 2004, Skinner has five poles and two second-place starts at TMS, and in the last six races here has finished second three times, third twice and fourth once. Skinner’s having an OK season so far, but he could really use his first victory of 2008, and Texas just might be where he gets it.
Surprisingly, TMS hasn’t been especially kind to the Kevin Harvick Inc. drivers. Ron Hornaday Jr., the defending NCTS champion in his Camping World Chevrolet, has never finished higher than fourth here. Jack Sprague has two victories here, but since winning in June 2001, the American Commercial Lines Silverado pilot has but one top-five finish. “Texas is a fast track. It’s like Atlanta and Lowe’s where you can carry a lot of speed out of the turns,” says Hornaday. “I’ve had some good runs there and have been in position to win a few times. I know (crew chief) Rick Ren will have our truck dialed in and we’ll be fast.”
But wait, there’s more. Matt Crafton’s stunning victory at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in the No. 88 Menard’s Chevrolet, gives him instant credibility as a contender. And so do the four top-five finishes that the Tulare, Calif., native has posted this season en route to a second-place standing in the points.
“I love racing at Texas,” says Crafton. “Texas Motor Speedway is a great track. The asphalt is old, and makes for great racing; you can run two-and-three wide there with no problem. Hopefully, we can go to Texas and keep doing what we've been doing, which is trying to finish in the top-five and putting ourselves in position to try to win races.”
And then there’s Kyle “Rowdy” Busch, who for the first time will attempt to do three NASCAR races at three consecutive days at three different tracks. Busch has been electrifying behind the wheel of Billy Ballew’s Miccosukee Resorts Toyota all season, and this weekend should be no exception.
“It’s just about racing it and trying to keep ourselves up in the points and keep Billy Ballew up in the owners’ standing,” says Busch of his weekend trifecta. “A lot of it has to do with the fans: They like to see it and they want to go see a driver trying to race in as many races as they can and to see somebody be as crazy as I am most of the time.”
Of course, all of that assumes we don’t have another surprise winner, maybe Texas natives Colin Braun or David Starr, or even Speed or Lia again. One way or another, it should be a wide-open race — and a fast one, too.
Tom Jensen is the Senior NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com, the former Executive Editor of NASCAR Scene and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. He is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of SPEED,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows to discuss NASCAR racing. Jensen is the President of the National Motorsports Press Association. The Answer Man is back at SPEEDtv.com. Tom Jensen answers your questions during every race week and looks forward to hearing from you - please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org