Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday June 7, 2012
The Camping World Truck Series once again descends on Texas Motor Speedway for this Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 500K. While the entry list is only 34 Trucks long, three drivers who have combined to win 13 of the last 20 events (65 percent) at the 1.5-mile oval are looking to add to their totals this week.
Leading the pack with six victories at Texas, Todd Bodine comes in with momentum on his side after a rain-shortened victory at Dover last weekend. The Onion wasn’t the strongest truck on the track, even spinning out midrace and likely wouldn’t have visited Victory Lane if it hadn’t been for pit strategy. But a win is a win, no matter how you score it and it’s amazing what a trophy can do for the attitudes within a race team. Just one race removed from a suspension of the team’s No. 7 truck, Bodine still needs financial support to finish the season and that “survivor instinct” can now be paired with the confidence this team can finish first. Besides, I’d be willing to bet the Red Horse Racing driver would like to have a win that doesn’t come thanks to rain.
That brings us to last June’s winner, Ron Hornaday, Jr. who grabbed the victory thanks to a Johnny Sauter black flag and also swept both 2008 events at the 1.5-mile oval. The Joe Denette Motorsports driver has shown steady improvement through six races this season and would love nothing more than to head to Victory Lane and prove a small team can still make a difference in a NASCAR world where big money runs over everyone else.
Another former winner who looks to add to his near decade-old tally is Brendan Gaughan, who scored four straight wins in 2002-03. Though he’s only scored just one top 10 since those triumphs — a runner-up finish in November, 2007 — the 36-year-old is back behind the wheel of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. In two starts this season, Gaughan finished 20th at Daytona after being caught up in a late-race wreck and 12th at Charlotte last month. Following Kevin Harvick’s dominating performance last week, it’s clear the No. 2 team will be working hard to avenge their Dover defeat and return to Victory Lane.
Aside from those three winners, another driver who comes to Texas with high hopes is Johnny Sauter. Following what can only be called a disastrous start to the season, the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Toyota comes in with just one top 10 — a fourth at Rockingham — and has had a variety of mechanical problems destroy his preseason label of “title favorite.” This time last year, it looked like the 34-year-old was cruising to victory, having led 56 laps when an ill-timed lane change before the start/finish line forced NASCAR to throw the black flag. That resulted in a disappointing 22nd-place result as the last truck on the lead lap, precious points that could have made the difference for him down the stretch last November. A strong run for Sauter Friday night is almost imperative if he wants to even have a shot at the championship, and it’s perhaps even more important for the driver’s psyche.
Of course, you can’t count out some of the drivers knocking on the door for their first career win, either. With three first-time victors in six events this year, there’s a high probability others will follow suit. Included among those who are oh-so-close to their first trip to Victory Lane are last weekend’s runner-up Parker Kligerman, Ty Dillon, and Nelson Piquet, Jr.
Interestingly enough, Kligerman finished runner-up to race winner Ron Hornaday, Jr. last spring and has two top-10 finishes in three starts in the Lone Star State. Add in the disappointment of completing just 54 laps at Texas last fall and you’ve got the perfect stage set for a driver who’s determined to finally score that elusive first career win. Similarly, Nelson Piquet, Jr. owns two top 10s in three starts and has come closer to victory than the stats show: a dominating performance at Rockingham was stymied by a late-race pit road penalty. You can bet the driver of the No. 30 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet will be around the front of the field for much of the night.
Ty Dillon comes in as more of a “wild card” this weekend simply because you don’t know when the rookie will finally break through and head off to Victory Lane. The 20-year-old started eighth last November and finished a solid third, part of a sizzling start to a Truck Series career that hasn’t slowed down much in 2012. He currently holds a series-high six top 10s to open the season, a new record and is a true contender for the series championship overall. There’s no reason to believe he can’t pull out a strong run and even a trip to Victory Lane Friday night when the checkered flag flies.
Clearly, there are plenty of drivers and teams capable of putting together a strong performance at Texas this weekend. My take? Bodine, Hornaday and Gaughan are going to be the odds on favorites based on previous performance alone.
Author’s Note: I’ll be live at Texas Motor Speedway Thursday and Friday for the WinStar World Casino 200. Keep an eye out for live updates on Facebook and Twitter (@Beth_Frntstrtch and @TheFrontstretch). With severe thunderstorms rolling through the Dallas / Fort Worth area Wednesday night, I’ve had my eye on the weather, and unfortunately, there are big rain chances for both days. I’ll keep you updated on the forecast, qualifying, raceday news and more.
In preparation for our special Unite For Diabetes paint scheme, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about the disease, about my health, and how it felt eight years ago when I got diagnosed. It’s a big shock when you realize you’re going to have something for the rest of your life. I think the biggest shock is when you’re in the doctor’s office and they tell you you’re going to have diabetes for the rest of your life and you need to control your blood sugar and watch what you eat for the rest of your life. It’s a major moment. I’m fortunate that I’m not really limited in what I can eat, but at the same time, it puts a wall in front of you at that time and you say to yourself “What do I do?” But today, I feel perfect. Because I had diabetes at 20 years old, I know what life is like without diabetes, and I know how it is to be a diabetic. But now, I have a normal life, there’s nothing that changes once you learn to control it. I think I’ve become more conscious of what I’m eating and if it’s good for me or not. Before that, I was pretty healthy, but before that I didn’t think that far ahead to what I was eating and how many carbs it has, whether it’s going to be bad or good for me. I understand a lot more about food, so I think it’s made me a healthier person and helped me to understand diabetes so now I can teach my son how to take good care of himself as he gets older.
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