Heated Battle: The Craftsman Truck Series should be red hot in time for Miami

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 21, 2008) – As the summer heats up, so does the Championship points battle. Just when you think a driver might pull away with any kind of lead, the competition proves otherwise.

Johnny Benson (No. 23 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Toyota) returns to the top of the point standings this week after his win at Kentucky Speedway. Hot on his heels is Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet), who is by far enjoying his best season in the series.

How close is Crafton? He only has one point separating him from Benson.

This is not the closest one-two spread, however, for the series after 13 races. Brendan Gaughan (No. 10 International MAXX-FORCE Diesel Ford) and Travis Kvapil were tied at this point in 2003. Kvapil went on to win the championship.

Making series history, though, is the spread between first and fifth (101 points) and first and 10th (227). The previous closest were 107 points (2002) and 233 points (2003), respectively. A year ago, the differences were 507 and 751.

What a difference a year can make.

Consistency could turn up the heat in the already hot points battle. Both Benson and Crafton are tied with seven for the most top-five finishes.

Three-time and reigning series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) is sitting in third, only five points from first. He heads to O’Reilly Raceway Park as the defending race winner.

Also to consider, the field this Friday night will consist of seven previous ORP winners. Six of those previous winners are in the top 10 in points: Hornaday Jr., Rick Crawford (No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral/Power Stroke Diesel by International Ford), Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota), Terry Cook (No. 60 Wyler.com Toyota), Jack Sprague (No. 2 ACL Chevrolet) and Dennis Setzer (No. 18 BHR VA Dodge).

It’s fair to say any of these drivers could find their way to Victory Lane and once again shuffle the points.

BDR One-Two Punch At Kentucky

Bill Davis Racing maintains its status in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as a force to reckon with.

After a slow start, Johnny Benson is stepping up the heat as the season crosses the halfway point. Benson claimed win number two for 2008 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday. The win, his first at the speedway, is the driver’s 11th in 113 series races. 

Right behind the veteran driver was teammate Michael Annett (No. 22 Pilot Travel Toyota), who finished second in just his third start.

BDR’s Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) captured the pole for Saturday’s race, his 45th Keystone Light Pole Award in 167 career series races. After battling back and forth with Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Energy Drink Toyota) for the lead, Skinner ended his night in seventh.

Benson’s victory was the 20th in the series for Bill Davis and Co. BDR is No. 2 in wins among active teams, one more than Bobby Hamilton Racing VA. Roush Fenway Racing has the most with 49 wins. Since joining the series in 2004, BDR’s 20 wins are the most by any team during the five-year period.

Atop The Pit Box With Rick Ren

Championship Crew Chief Rick Ren will be heading into

familiar territory this weekend. The Danville, Ill., native grew up just across the Indiana state line, not far from what he calls his “home tracks.”

The experienced crew chief has 33 years of racing under his belt and plenty of success to show for it, including leading his driver Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet) to a third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship last season.

The two and their team look to defend their 2007 win at ORP this weekend.  

“Last year I won at ORP with Hornaday and that was big for me,” said Ren. “We had a great truck and Ron drove the wheels off of it.”

The win was even a little more special coming so close to home.

“Anytime you win at Indy, whether it be at the Brickyard or ORP, it’s a big deal,” said Ren. “There is so much history there and it’s a place that every driver, crew chief and crew member wants to win at; it’s a very prestigious win.”

Ren thinks his team has a good shot to wind up in Victory Lane this Friday night.

“ORP is one those tracks that fits Ron Hornaday’s driving style perfectly,” he said. “It’s almost all about the driver at this track, but the truck has to be set up so your driver can be aggressive. The drivers that are aggressive are able to make their way up to the front at ORP.”

Etc. & Quotable:

  • Rowdy At ORP … Kyle Busch (No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Energy Toyota) will make it back-to-back weekends in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Busch is coming off a solid run at Kentucky, but one that only produced a top-10 finish and not a win. The driver would like to take the Billy Ballew truck back to Victory Lane, and soon.

    “It’s a great opportunity to run with Billy Ballew Motorsports,” said Busch. “I’m always excited to get back in this series, race with all the competitors out there, and hopefully come out with a victory.”

    The team has had fast trucks, but not producing the outcomes they’d like to see. After Kentucky, though, the driver thinks they’re back on track.

    “We do what we can on limited resources,” Busch said, “so we try go out there and win all the races so we can keep this going.”

  • Most Popular Driver … For the first time in series history, voting for the honor of Most Popular Driver is in the hands of the fans. NASCAR.com is the polling place for the competition.  More than 22,000 votes have been cast since voting began July 5.

Kentucky Not So Nice To Rookies

The Blue Grass State proved a little tricky for this year’s rookie class.

Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-Way Freight Ford) started the evening rolling off in the third spot. However an incident on-track left the driver finishing 16th.

Marc Mitchell (No. 15 Hyprene Ergon Toyota) might have thought the track was out to get him. The driver had an eventful day starting with a spin on his second qualifying lap, causing the team to move to a back-up truck. Even

though his first qualifying lap had him positioned to start the race in sixth, Mitchell made the move to the rear of the field.

The driver and team didn’t let the rough day get to them. He fought his way to a ninth-place finish, making him the highest-finishing rookie of the race.

Trouble also found Justin Marks (No. 9 Construct Corps Toyota) who started the night strong and ran among the top 10 for most of the first part of the race.

The Germain Racing rookie looks to put Kentucky behind him, though, as he heads to the short track in Indiana.

“After a testing session at the Motor Mile recently, and after how our team worked so well at Kentucky, I feel good about going into the O’Reilly Raceway Park weekend,” he said. “With the test I had an opportunity to open my eyes to short-track racing and I am anxious to take another shot at it.”

NASCAR Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings after 13 races of the 2008 season:

1. Colin Braun       133
2. Donny Lias       117
3. Justin Marks     116
4. Brian Scott       102
5. Marc Mitchell     91
6. Andy Lally          62
7. Scott Speed       61
8. Phillip McGilton  38

Up Next:

After what will surely be a tough battle at ORP, the series will take a week break before the trucks roll to Nashville Superspeedway.

Last year’s winner, Travis Kvapil, won’t be in the field to defend his win. Only one previous winner will be there in two weeks and that’s Johnny Benson.

On a hot streak, Benson could take home another guitar to add to his growing collection of hardware.

Director’s Take: Wayne’s Words

“You will find one of the most enthusiastic crowds on the circuit at O’Reilly Raceway Park. To have all three national series racing in one of the biggest racing towns in the country, it’s really cool to see all the fans come out to the track.

“They come early and stay late. Fans will start arriving at 7 a.m. to reserve their spots for the race that doesn’t even start until the evening.

“Not only are the fans great at ORP, but this short track has produced some of the most memorable races.

“The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has been racing at ORP since the series began in 1995. Right off the bat in the first race, on the last lap coming to the checkers, a truck going for second spun across the frontstretch, hit a light pole and knocked out the lights.

“In 1998 we had the “White Glove” incident. Sprague battled to win the race but not without taking out his now teammate, Ron Hornaday.

“Sprague was battling a loose truck. As he went to save his truck, he took out Hornaday. An in-car camera caught Sprague’s white-gloved hands as he jerked the wheel.

“He doesn’t wear white gloves any more.

“2004 gave the crowd a wild

finish. Chad Chaffin made a three-wide pass on the last lap to win the race.

“With the awesome crowd, all the many great stories that go with this historic place and the tough racing we always have, Friday is go to be nothing less than exciting.” — Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director.

This Week’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Leaders
(Through 13 races of the 25-race season)

Points leader – Johnny Benson (1,881)
Driver Rating – Ron Hornaday Jr. (112.7)
Laps led – Ron Hornaday Jr. (561)
Victories – Ron Hornaday Jr. (3)
Keystone Light Poles – Johnny Benson, Mike Skinner with three
Top-five finishes – Johnny Benson, Matt Crafton with seven
Top-10 finishes – Mike Sinner (11)
Raybestos Rookie Leader – Colin Braun
Races led – Ron Hornaday Jr. (11)
Weeks in Top 10 – Three drivers with 13

Most Consecutive Different Winners By Track
(Current Streak)
Homestead-Miami Speedway     12*
Daytona International Speedway  9*
Dover International Speedway      9*
Kentucky Speedway                   9*
Las Vegas Motor Speedway        9
O’Reilly Raceway Park             9
*Never had repeat winner

In The Loop: Who’s Your Pick?

Can the streak continue?

All signs point to yes.

There have been nine different winners in the last nine NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races at O’Reilly Raceway Park. There’s an excellent chance that after this weekend’s race there, it’ll be 10-for-10.

The reason: Todd Bodine, Johnny Benson, Erik Darnell, Ted Musgrave and Matt Crafton.

None of those five drivers have visited ORP’s Victory Lane. The statistics suggest that might change this weekend.

Bodine has finished in the top 10 in the last two ORP races, and over the last three has a Driver Rating of 96.8 and an Average Running Position of 9.9.

Benson, winner of two out of the last three races this season, is arguably the hottest driver in the series. Over the past three years at ORP – which includes a runner-up finish last year – Benson has a Driver Rating of 93.5 and an Average Running Position of 12.4.

Darnell is two-for-two in top 10s at ORP, with a best finish of seventh (last season). In his ORP career, he has a Driver Rating of 94.5 and an Average Running Position of 10.1.

Crafton, one point out of the series lead, would take the points lead leap with a win at ORP. He finished fourth in 2005, but stumbled the last two seasons with finishes outside the top 10. Over that three-race span, he has a Driver Rating of 92.3 and an Average Running Position of 9.9.

Musgrave may be the dark horse of the bunch. He has finished inside the top 10 at ORP only twice in seven races. Over the past three years, he has a Driver Rating of 93.4 and an Average Running Position of 10.3.

face="Arial" size="2">Manufacturers' Battle

As the season moves past the halfway mark, Chevrolet holds on to its lead, but just like the drivers’ points battle, the manufacturers’ lead has been cut to a one point hold.

ORP has been proven battle ground for Chevy, holding the most wins with seven.

Dodge and Ford both have wins at the short track as well. Toyota is the odd man out with no wins to its name in the series.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series 2008 Manufacturers' Championship Point Standings
following Race 13 of 25 at Kentucky Speedway:

Chevrolet: 88
Toyota:     87
Ford:        63
Dodge:     48

 

[story courtesy of NASCARmedia.com]

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Johnny Benson, Matt Crafton

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