The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Texas Is A Veteran's Chance To Shine by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday June 6, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: Texas Is A Veteran's Chance To Shine

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday June 6, 2013

 

The Camping World Truck Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway for a Friday night, standalone NASCAR event. While much of the focus this season has been on this year’s rookie class — and for good reason — we can’t count out several veterans that have had so much success at the mile-and-a-half oval. In fact, half the races held at Texas have been won by just four drivers — Todd Bodine, Brendan Gaughan, Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Johnny Sauter.

Todd Bodine, who will pilot a third ThorSport Racing entry this weekend, comes in as the winningest driver at the speedway with six victories to his credit, the last of which was scored in his 2010 championship season. But even when Bodine hasn’t taken home the trophy, he’s found success, finishing in the top 5 in ten of his 17 starts. The driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Toyota has admittedly struggled this year; his best finish of 11th came twice, at Daytona and Martinsville before failing to crack even the top 15 during the last four races. You could say the slump has gone on for longer than that; for two seasons plus now, Bodine’s been forced to scrape up sponsorship, wondering whether he’d even be able to race week after week. With Thorsport’s strength, overall Texas might be just what the doctor ordered to bring some stability when it comes to financial backing — if he can stay out of cautions caused by other drivers.

From there, you’ve got Brendan Gaughan, who has seen a resurgence in his performance this season. After getting caught up in a wreck at Daytona, slumping to 29th, Gaughan has finishes of 12th, third, fourth, second and fifth, climbing from 28th in the series standings to a solid third, 35 markers behind the leader. You can point to a number of different reasons for the success, but as I talked about last week, the biggest factor is likely the return of Shane Wilson to the crew chief’s role. Couple that with four victories at the mile-and-a-half oval — all of which came with Wilson atop the pit box — and you’ve got the perfect combination for Gaughan’s first trip to Victory Lane since 2003.

Todd Bodine and Brendan Gaughan are both looking to Texas, but for different reasons. Bodine’s record in the Lone Star State is littered with wins and top 5s, while Gaughan’s career has seen a rebirth of sorts after reuniting with crew chief Shane Wilson from his early years in the Truck Series.

From there, you have Ron Hornaday, Jr., who has won Texas three separate times, all with Kevin Harvick, Inc. And while he’s with a different organization now, the four-time champion has every reason to be optimistic coming into this weekend. During the off-season, a merger between Joe Denette Motorsports and NTS Motorsports gave Hornaday another teammate, promising rookie Brennan Newberry. While the team has still been on a bit of a rollercoaster, including Hornaday’s rough driving penalty at Rockingham you can definitely see some on-track improvement in terms of speed. Through six races, Hornaday’s finished inside the top 15 in five of them, with the only exception coming at Charlotte, when he was caught up in a wreck. And you know what they say — you must first run well before you can actually finish there. Texas could be the track where the No. 9 team finds that extra ingredient they’ve been missing for a trip to Victory Lane.

And that brings us to Johnny Sauter. Despite having a single top-20 result in the first six races, in 2012 something clicked for him during the first event at Texas last year. After starting 20th, he wasted little time getting to the front, all the while keeping in mind the lane violation that cost him a 2011 win. He ended up leading twice, including the all-important last lap en route to slaying the demons and taking home his first win at Texas.

Fast forward to November and once again, Sauter was the truck to beat. Only this time, he took the win from a 13th-place starting spot, putting yet another bright spot on what was otherwise a disappointing season. But things changed for Sauter coming into 2013 — he has a new number and ThorSport Racing has been stout, winning half of the series’ races thus far. While crew chief Joe Shear, Jr. continues to serve his suspension, for an illegal fuel cell at Kansas Speedway, Sauter would love nothing more than to take a third consecutive win at Texas, gaining on the championship lead he held so handily the first couple races this year.

Johnny Sauter’s 2012 season experienced a dramatic turnaround last season by winning at Texas. Might a similar family reunion be brewing this Friday night under the lights?

In the end, equipment may stand in the way of Bodine and Hornaday, Jr. as they try to make the magic happen once more. To me, it’s Gaughan who stands out as the most likely victor. After all, he’s the winningest driver at the track behind Bodine, and the No. 62 team has really shown great progress these last few races. If there’s a track where he can find Victory Lane, more than any other this year, it’s Texas. Either way, it promises to be yet another great race, full of beating and banging and the tensions that go along with it.

Notes

- With all of the talk about veterans at Texas, don’t count out the epic “young gun” battle that has built in the series. Last week’s top-5 starters came out with an average age of 20.6 years — and that was raised by 28-year-old Kyle Busch, who started fifth. Add in Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s dominance in the early parts of the event at Dover and those young drivers could once again show up the veterans.

- Houston, Texas native David Starr will make his record-extending 30th career start at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. He only missed the inaugural event at the track and boasts 11 top 10s, including a trio of third-place results in 2001-02.

- Defending series champion James Buescher and his wife Kris headed off to Moore, Oklahoma to assist in cleanup and rebuilding efforts in the community devastated by one of the two EF5 tornadoes to hit the state in a span of just 11 days. The Plano, Texas native has a brother, Michael, who lives in nearby Oklahoma City and was spared from any damage.

- Friday night’s event marks the one-third point in the season that’s been cut to just 22 races. Matt Crafton holds a solid 30-marker lead in the standings over rookie Jeb Burton. Meanwhile, defending champion James Buescher sits sixth, 45 points behind, in his quest to become the first ever driver to score back-to-back Truck Series championships.

Miguel’s Corner

“Texas [Motor Speedway] is one of my favorites of all the tracks we go to. We’ve been so strong on the intermediate tracks this year, both the No. 32 team and Turner Scott Motorsports as a whole, and I don’t think this weekend will be any different. I’ve had this race circled on my calendar for a while now; I really think it’s somewhere that we could get our first win.” Miguel Paludo

Tweet of the Week

@miguelpaludo: The American Dream – Video http://www.miguelpaludo.com/index.php/br/videos-pt

@PatiSouzaPaludo: That’s how the Paludo’s family go 4 a walk. Pedrinho was done and @miguelpaludo had to go to grab a car to rescue him. http://instagram.com/p/aKA6fAvcGj/

Photo of the Week:

Photo courtesy of Patricia Paludo.

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