At Sparta, Park aims to Dodge his foes

By Alicia Wincze

Forgive Steve Park if one of his goals at Kentucky Speedway tonight is to be left alone.

In three of Park's last five starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the 37-year-old has made early trips to the garage after getting caught up in accidents.

Along with wreaking havoc on his position in the points standings -- 18th following yet another wreck in Kansas last week -- the No. 62 Dodge team is starting to run low on its supply of trucks.

Park would love to get a Gatorade shower following the Built Ford Tough 225 this weekend, but simply making it through all 150 laps would be a triumph in its own right.

"I swear, it's like he's got a target on him or something," said teammate Brendan Gaughan, driver of the No. 77 Dodge. "He's gotten in more wrecks, and it's been stuff where he's passing other guys, and they hit each other and turn into him."

Spare trucks may be sparse in the Orleans garage these days, but morale has remained high because of Park's knack for overcoming much greater adversity.

One week after team owner and friend Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Park scored his second career Cup win at Rockingham.

Seven months later, Park suffered a serious head injury during a cash in a Busch Series race at Darlington that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

After losing his Nextel Cup ride following the 2003 season, Park migrated to the Truck Series for 2004. On February 25, he drove an ill-handling truck to a win in California. He became just the 10th driver to record victories in all three major NASCAR series.

"The easiest thing to say is that I've been through all that before, hearing the critics and what not, and it's over now," said Park, the 1997 Busch Series Rookie of the Year. "Winning in California was a long time coming. People wondered if I could still win races, and we went out there and proved it. Now we don't hear it anymore."

In Gaughan, Park not only has a supportive teammate, but also has a man who gets things done on the technical side.

Gaughan, who returned to trucks after running full time on the Cup circuit last year, is also general manager of Park's racing team, which is owned by his father Michael Gaughan.

"When you have two or more teams, you always hear of one team having better equipment," Brendan Gaughan said. "Steve is in the position where his other teammate is the general manager, and if it comes down to it, and we have two trucks that are very similar, he's probably going to get the better one."

"It was great just knowing that (Brendan) really wanted me to be here," added Park, who ran sixth in the Built Ford Tough 225 last year. "It's hard to second-guess yourself as much when you have people around you who believe in you. We've had some misfortune this year that will probably keep us from contending (for a championship), but it's something we're building toward that's not far off."

While Park hopes tonight's race will right his ship, defending race winner and Series champion Bobby Hamilton wants to take back the lead in the points standings.

Hamilton was five points ahead of Dennis Setzer heading into Milwaukee on June 24, but now he trails his rival by 38 points following a 12th-place run at Kansas last weekend.

"We're pretty excited about coming back here," Hamilton said. "It came down to (Jack) Sprague and me last year. That racetrack is going to provide one of the best races. The Dodges sort of struggle in qualifying, but they always race real well."

Competing alongside fellow former Series champions Jack Sprague, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner in Sparta will be two-time Nextel Cup winner Ricky Craven.

Craven, fifth in the points standings in his first full season on the series, is no stranger to the Speedway having tested there many times with his former Cup team.

The driver of Jack Roush's No. 99 Ford has never raced at the track but has history on his side. Roush teams have won the race twice with Greg Biffle in 2000 and Carl Edwards in '03.

"It's really a unique situation in that I'm going to a track that I have logged a lot of laps at, but I don't know what it's like to race there," Craven said. "It's going to be interesting."

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