Second Fiddle: Around the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series · Cami Starr · Friday April 7, 2006
With the Craftsman Truck Series taking an early season hiatus, I thought now would be a good time to take an in-depth look at how the season is shaking out thus far. So, taking a cue from my other weekly column, let’s take a look at Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in the Craftsman Truck Series after four races of the 2006 campaign.
Mark Martin: How can you not list somebody as hot who has won half the races and a worst finish of fourth so far this year? If this is a sign of things to come next year when Martin plans to run the Truck schedule full time, look out! Just last week Martin announced that he has doubled the number of Truck races that he plans to run this season to 14. The rest of the competition should cross their fingers he doesn’t up that total to a full season…this year.
Ted Musgrave: The defending series champ found himself in an odd position just before the start of the season when he was suddenly without a ride. But along came Germain Racing, and Musgrave has picked up where he left off last year. Currently second in the points, he is still without a win, but is putting up consistent Top 5 finishes that should put him in the thick of the Championship race as the season rolls on.
Todd Bodine: If you heard a loud groan last week, that could have come from Todd Bodine after he heard Martin’s announcement he plans to run additional races this season. The first two events of 2006, Bodine played the bridesmaid, but managed to best Martin at Atlanta to take his first win of the year. A 12th place finish at Martinsville dropped him back to third in the standings, but he will still give his teammate Musgrave plenty of competition this year as they battle for the title.
Mike Bliss: Bliss returned to the Truck Series this year after a tumultuous season in the Cup series in 2005. The 2002 Craftsman Truck Series champ is currently seventh in the standings and has been on a roll with three straight Top 10 finishes following a disappointing 22nd place at Daytona in the first race of the year. His experience will serve him well as the season progresses, but it will be hard for anyone to challenge the Germain team unless they happen to fall upon some bad luck.
David Starr: With his win at Martinsville last week, Starr gets the honor of being the most recent race winner for almost an entire month until the series hits the track again at Gateway at the end of April. After three straight mediocre runs, Starr took the checkered flag at Martinsville and moved up eight positions in the standings to fifth. The only downside to the long break for Starr and his team is not being able to capitalize on the momentum right away. But look for this team to remain a contender each week and to earn plenty of Top 10 finishes. (FYI: No, we are not related.)
Erik Darnell: Darnell hasn’t been flashy in his rookie season so far, but he’s been consistent enough to put himself sixth in the standings. With four finishes of 11th or better, Darnell is four for four in winning Rookie of the Race honors, and his good start to the season has shown once again that Jack Roush has a good eye for young talent. I expect there to be a few bumps in the road for the young driver, but he is off to an impressive start.
Terry Cook: At this point last season, Cook was 10th in the standings, and this year finds himself slightly behind that mark. Currently 14th in the standings, Cook started the year with a Top 10 run at Daytona, but that’s the only one he’s got. He’s not running poorly, but compared to the hot start some of his competitors are getting off to, he will need to step things up and bring in a few more Top 10 runs before too long.
Mike Skinner: Skinner’s season has already had its share of ups and downs. After a 4th place finish at Daytona, Skinner slid back in the standings after finishing 17th at Fontana, and took an even bigger hit in the points when he finished 35th at Atlanta. An eighth place finish at Martinsville kept him 15th in the standings, but while he certainly has the Top 10 in sight, he finds himself 238 points out of the points lead. If Skinner can get off the roller coaster, he should be easily able to move up the standings.
Jack Sprague: Sprague has become the King of the Truck Series in its 10 year history, with three championships to his credit. But that doesn’t give him any free passes week to week. He started off 2006 with back to back top 5 finishes, but in the last two races he has identical finishes of 17th. The off time might serve Jack and his team well as they regroup and work on making a charge at the leaders. The points race is tight, and if he can get back into the Top 5 or 10, he can easily be sitting fourth in the standings.
Ron Hornaday, Jr.: Following a fourth place finish in the 2005 championship, expectations were high for this team coming into the new season, but so far, things haven’t panned out that way. While the other big names in the series continue to stay near the top, Hornaday, a two-time series champ, is mired back in 20th with no Top 10 finishes to his credit. On the bright side, he did earn his best finish of the year at Martinsville where he finished 14th, but that’s not much of a consolation. Obviously, team owner Kevin Harvick didn’t think so either. He let crew chief Chris Rice go just this week in hopes of pairing someone with Hornaday who can get him back up front.
Bill Lester: Lester may have been successful in making his Nextel Cup debut, but his Truck Series effort has been anything but. He qualified second for the opening race at Daytona, but failed to capitalize on it, and finished the race in 35th. His best finish of the year came the following week at Fontana where he was 14th, but followed that with back to back finishes of 20th or worse. Bill Davis Racing in the past has had a much stronger Truck effort than they are showing so far this season. Like the other struggling teams, this four week break may be a blessing in disguise.
Now the fans of the Craftsman Truck Series must sit and wait another three weeks before the trucks take to the track again at Gateway. While many drivers cite the smaller schedule as a benefit for running this series, if I could set the schedule I wouldn’t have put such a long break in the season. Many people agree that the trucks put on the best show in NASCAR, and I agree. It’s just a shame that we have to wait so long before we get to see this competitive racing again.
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