In a Nutshell: Ryan Newman took the checkered flag 0.377 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday, Jr. to win the E-Z-GO 200 Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Newman made a last lap pass on teammate Ron Hornaday, Jr. to score a win in his first ever Truck Series start. Denny Hamlin, Todd Bodine, and Scott Speed rounded out the Top 5.
Who Should Have Won: Ron Hornaday, Jr. Hornaday, Jr. ran sixth quickest and started on the outside pole in a field set by owner points. By the time the field made it to lap 59, Hornaday, Jr. held a six second lead over Kyle Busch and had lapped nearly half of the field. The driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet took the lead for the first time on lap 10 and went on to lead 110 of the 130 laps run until teammate Ryan Newman sent him to a runner-up finish.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:
1. Is Chrissy Wallace ready for a full-time Craftsman Truck Series ride?
Chrissy Wallace is expected to pilot the No. 03 Toyota Tundra for Germain Racing in 2009, but is she ready for a full-time ride?
At first glance, an average finish of 23rd with one DNF in just five starts appears to be a pretty bad record. Wallace’s best finish so far this season came in her Truck Series debut; she finished 18th at Martinsville in March. Since then, she has finished on the lead lap just once, when she finished 19th at Gateway International Raceway.
Again this week, Chrissy was unable to finish on the lead lap. She started 25th in the E-Z-GO 200 after the field was set by owner points, and wasted no time falling a lap down. She was awarded the Aaron’s Lucky Dog under the first caution that flew on Lap 17; but no matter how hard she tried, the driver of the No. 9 Germain.com Toyota never managed to work her way inside the Top 20. She ended up finishing 25th, four laps off the pace.
Still, while Chrissy Wallace hasn’t been burning up the track so far, she certainly deserves a shot with a top-tier team. The Craftsman Truck Series is designed to help young drivers become familiar with NASCAR before working their way up to the Sprint Cup Series, and the only way to truly improve your performance in any racing division is seat time. Only time will tell if Wallace deserves to remain in the series after the 2009 season.
2. Who will win the Craftsman Truck Series championship?
Johnny Benson now leads Ron Hornaday, Jr. by just 31 points in a championship race just as exciting as last year. With only three races remaining, the championship is still up for grabs and will likely come down to the final lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But who will actually come out on top?
In looking at the final three races of the season, you can’t account for bad luck at the track or a driver being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what you can account for is past experience at each track.
Previously, Texas Motor Speedway has been kinder to Ron Hornaday, Jr. than Johnny Benson. Benson has an average finish of 14.0 compared to Hornaday, Jr.‘s 11.5, and the driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet did win at the 1.5-mile track earlier this season.
Next on the schedule after Texas Motor Speedway is Phoenix International Raceway, where both Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday, Jr. have had incredible luck at the one-mile track. since returning to the series in 2004, Johnny Benson has finished outside the Top 5 just once at Phoenix; he finished 7th in 2007.
But Ron Hornaday, Jr.‘s run just as well. Since he returned to the series in 2004, Hornaday, Jr. has had a pair of runner-up finishes and a pair of 13th-place finishes; in his first outing in the series for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., he never finished outside the Top 10.
From there, it’s on to the season finale in Florida. In eight starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Ron Hornaday, Jr. has finished outside the Top 10 just once, and he has completed 100% of the laps run in which he was entered. The defending champion holds an average finish of 6.5 compared to Johnny Benson’s average of 10.2.
While Johnny Benson’s average finish is not quite as good as Ron Hornaday, Jr’s, you can’t forget that Benson closed out the 2007 season with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and was able to build up momentum to carry him and the No. 23 team into the 2008 season.
Looking at numbers alone for the final three tracks on the schedule, Ron Hornaday, Jr. should be sitting at the head table at the championship banquet. Until the checkered flag falls on the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Craftsman Truck Series championship trophy is up for grabs, and anything can happen.
The question is which driver can take his experience and stay out of trouble while still trying to win races. The two are so evenly matched that the next three races are sure to be exciting.
Truck Rookie Report
2008 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Colin Braun (No. 6)
Andy Lally (No. 7 — left the ride in midsummer)
Donny Lia (No. 71 — now No. 81 for rest of the season)
Justin Marks (No. 9 — left the ride in September)
Marc Mitchell (No. 15)
Phillip McGilton (No. 22 — replaced by Scott Speed at Kansas)
Brian Scott (No. 16)
No. of Rookies in the Race: 4
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; Scott Speed, finished 5th and Brian Scott, finished 10th
Rookie Of The Race: Scott Speed, finished 4th
Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:
T.J. Bell has finished in the Top 10 in the last five races run. The driver of the No. 7 Heathcliff’s / Home4theHolidays.org Chevrolet finished 9th Saturday night.
Ryan Newman is one of only four drivers to win in his Truck Series debut; he joins Mike Skinner, Robert Pressley and Kasey Kahne. Newman’s win is his first ever in a Chevrolet.
Johnny Benson remains the Craftsman Truck Series points leader, but his lead has dwindled to just 31 over Ron Hornaday, Jr. Todd Bodine moved up one spot to third, 218 points out of first. Erik Darnell, who moved up two spots, and Matt Crafton, who moved down two spots, are tied for 4th, 297 points behind Benson.
Rick Crawford moved up one spot to sixth. Mike Skinner, who dropped two spots, sits just two points behind him in 7th. Dennis Setzer and Jack Sprague remain in eighth and ninth, respectively. Chad McCumbee moved up one spot and is tied with Terry Cook for 10th; McCumbee has eight Top 10 finishes this season to Terry Cook’s seven.
“He raced me clean — I got to say that first and foremost. He left me room. He could have pinched me off twice, but he raced me like a gentleman. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty loose the whole race. I saw him [Hornaday] slipping, and I started to run him down.” Ryan Newman
“I just missed that corner off of [Turn] 2. If you miss it, you miss it, and you lose three-tenths to half a second.” Runner-Up Ron Hornaday, Jr.
The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend for the Chevy Silverado 350K Friday night. In 2007, Kyle Busch battled some window net troubles on his way to his first win of the season at this track. Coverage begins at 8:30 pm EST; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate starting at 9:00 pm EST.
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