The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Debuting Drivers, A Winless Hornaday And Paludo's Martinsville Breakdown by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday October 25, 2012

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This weekend, the Camping World Truck Series heads off to Martinsville Speedway for the Kroger 200, one of the four remaining races in the stretch to close out the 2012 season. And with as close as the championship battle is, this weekend will be a short track showdown you don’t want to miss. To help you get your mind refocused on the series following an extended break, I bring you a few items of interest to keep an eye on.

Truex, Merrell Set to Debut

If all goes well in qualifying on Saturday morning, the Kroger 200 will feature two drivers making their Truck Series debuts. Ryan Truex has partnered with Hillman Racing, who fielded the No. 27 for a Jeb Burton 13th-place result at the paperclip in the spring event earlier this year. Though it’ll be his first Truck Series start at the 0.533-mile oval, Truex does have a 2010 K&N East Series start where he brought home a runner-up finish for Michael Waltrip Racing.

“I’m excited to make my first Truck Series start this weekend. I’ve never competed in the series but have past Martinsville experience in the K&N Series,” Truex said. “Martin [Truex, Jr.] has given me a lot of advice on how to get through the tight corners and where it’s best to pass. I’m hoping we’re solid through practice and qualify well. When it comes to race time, patience will be the key to be there at the end in order to bring home a strong finish.”

Despite having gone the start-and-park route in seven of their last 12 events, Hillman Racing has managed to keep their No. 27 Chevrolet inside the top 25 in owner points—mainly because of the lack of full-time teams even attempting the year. In turn, Truex will make the race regardless of whether he’s quick enough in qualifying.

Meanwhile, Matt Merrell’s debut all hinges on Saturday morning rather than that afternoon. Because Win-Tron is outside the top 25 in owner points, they’ll be forced to qualify for the race on time or pack up and go home. Either way, Merrell can’t seem to contain his excitement at the shot.

“I can’t thank Nate (Thiesse) and Kevin (Cywinski) enough for this opportunity. I’ve always wanted to compete in NASCAR and now I’ll ahve that chance,” Merrell said. “Obviously Martinsville in a huge race, but I think we’ll be fine. our main objective is to qualify for the race and bring home the truck in one piece. From there, we can move forward and look towards the future.”

Aside from Merrell’s debut, Win-Tron is looking at the big picture. They plan to field a part-time entry through the 2013 Truck Series season while making a full-time run at the ARCA championship.

“Looking long-term, we want to have a healthy and proud present in NASCAR,” Nate Thiesse, co-owner of Win-Tron said. “We’ve always had a successful driver development program in ARCA, and we wanted to offer another option for our drivers as they make their move to the upper ranks of racing. Now we can do that.”

Should both drivers make the field, you can look for them to earn some track time but not a whole lot more. Hillman Racing’s No. 27 hasn’t exactly been all that competitive when they’ve run the full distance, and Win-Tron is venturing into unexplored territory. But regardless of their disadvantages, anything can happen in a race that’s often one of survival to the checkered flag.

Hornaday Looking For Elusive Win

To say Ron Hornaday, Jr. has had an uncharacteristically off season would be an understatement with just two top 5s and laps led in just four of 18 events. With an average finish of 15.9, the worst in his Truck Series career to date, the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet isn’t exactly matching the numbers he’s put up the last couple of years.

“I blame myself for not being on top of the game, for not knowing what the chassis needs right now. I know what a track bar does. I know what a shock does,” Hornaday told SPEEDTV’s Megan Englehart. “I know how fast a motor runs, but it’s just putting it all together at one time. If I could pinpoint it, I could fix it. But the competition level is so close now that I can tell them what it feels like, but I just can’t pinpoint it.”

But with that said, all hope may not be lost for Hornaday to find victory lane before the end of the year.

“There’s some tracks here at the end of the year that if we dot the Is and cross the Ts, we can probably win at. Martinsville—we run decently there every time and we finally won (2010),” Hornaday said. “It would be nice before the 2012 season ends to say I finally got a win for Joe Denette and myself and still be in the record books as someone who’s won a race every year since he started in the Truck Series.”

The 54-year-old just may be onto something here. With a combined seven victories and 47 top 10s at the remaining four tracks, it’s not that far of a reach for Hornaday to expect he’ll have a shot at victory lane before the end of the year.

Odds and Ends

- Martinsville will serve as another shot for Ty Dillon to expand upon his championship lead. Heading into this weekend, he holds a one-point margin over James Buescher. Timothy Peters, who led for much of the middle part of the year, finds himself 26 points back in third. Parker Kligerman and Joey Coulter round out the top 5 at 34 and 50 markers behind, respectively.

- Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner of the Kroger 200. Last year, Hamlin piloted Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 18 Toyota to his first career victory, and he became the 23rd driver to have a win in all three of NASCAR top series. The 32-year-old will pilot the No. 51 Toyota, a second entry for KBM; Brian Scott will pilot the No. 18.

- Virginia-native Peyton Sellers is set to make his Truck Series return this weekend at Martinsville. In his first start this season, the 2005 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion hopes to make his second race at the paperclip. In his first start, he completed just 54 laps before retiring to a 31st-place finish, citing transmission problems.

“We are proud to bring N-FAB, an online truck accessory company, on board the No. 60 TurnOne Racing Chevrolet this weekend. We’re really looking forward to introducing them to the sport and getting them exposure up front,” Sellers said. “I’m also thankful that Pembleton Forest Products is on the hoo; they are a big part of what got me here this weekend. In addition to those great supporters, St. Lawrence Radiology, who has been a Late Model partner all year, stepped up to help us out this weekend and we are so proud to represent them.”

Though he’s got six starts in the Truck Series, Sellers has run just two of those races to completion. He crashed out of his Truck Series debut back in 2007 and has a best finish of 21st for TurnOne Racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in late 2010.

Miguel’s Corner

Update: “Martinsville is definitely a tough track that requires a lot of patience, but it’s one I enjoy racing at. I feel good going into this weekend; we’re bringing back the truck we brought here in March, which was brand new at the time. Now we know what it’s capable of after racing it a few times, and we were able to get a top-10 with it in Iowa. Martinsville is a place that means a lot to [crew chief] Jeff Hensley, and my guys have put in a lot of work getting prepared for this weekend. During our time off, we did a test at [0.416-mile track] Motor Mile Speedway and we felt good with the results we walked away with. We’re in the final stretch of races now, so our number one goal is getting a win before the season is out and doing everything we can to earn the best possible position in the final point standings.” Miguel Paludo

Tweet of the Week:

@miguelpaludo: After a day like that you realize why @JimmieJohnson and the #48 team is a 5 time Champion fighting for the 6th. Great job today man.

@PatiSouzaPaludo: Limpando o motor home pra viajarmos quarta pra martinsville. Cleaning the motor home to get ready to Martins http://instagr.am/p/RFydVTvcGT/

Photo of the Week:

Ever since he started walking, Oliver has been getting around a lot easier on his own two feet. Photo courtesy of Patricia Paludo.


Did you know Beth is participating in the Step Out Walk to end diabetes this November in Dallas, TX? Want to know how you can help? Click on the Step Out image above to learn why she’s walking and what you can do to make a difference.

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john
10/25/2012 10:15 AM
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Can’t wait for the Trucks at Martinsville, always my most anticipated race of the year, along with Iowa. Been a life-long Ron fan, he’s done the best he can with Dennett’s trucks, and is being gracious about where his luck this season has come from. Not bad considering, and had good finishes go away (Talladega, off the top of my head.)

Hoping like crazy the rumoured Truck series race at Mosport up here in Canada happens; always wanted to meet Ron!

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