Toni Montgomery · Thursday July 21, 2005
I don’t have any one big truck series issue to confront this week but I have a few little items that I wanted to mention somewhere. None of them are enough to focus an entire column on, but lumped together I think they’ll work out just fine. I want to stop short of calling them odds and ends because I don’t want to step on the toes of any of my fellow Frontstretch writers. Whatever you want to call them, Todd Bodine, Ballew Motorsports, and Rick Crawford among others have earned at least a mention for recent triumphs and trials.
Starting off with Todd Bodine. I have to say in 30 years of watching NASCAR racing of all varieties, I don’t recall ever having seen anything as amazing as the combination of Bodine and the Germain/Arnold truck team. They launch as a new team with Bodine as driver last fall at Richmond and run competitively, finishing fourth. They are an immediate threat on the track and win by their fourth race together. They add another win the following week and have four out of five top five finishes. One more top ten in the final three races leaves a brand new team with a record four top fives, five top tens, and two wins in only eight races. That right there is amazing. How many times have you seen a start up team come out and put numbers like that on the board?
It’s hard to say what the biggest reason for the success was. Was this team just put together that well? Did they have superior personnel who had done major league homework before ever hitting the track? Keeping in mind that this team was affiliated with a struggling fledgling Cup team, that scenario didn’t seem likely although I guess it was still possible. Was it Bodine? Although he had raced in the Craftsman Truck Series before, he hadn’t been there on a regular basis. Bodine is largely seen as an at times competent driver but has never been seen as being capable of being a dominant, championship contending driver. To be fair, he has been a solid contender for Busch Series championships in the past so it’s likely his Cup record that gives him this reputation. My thought was maybe he’d finally found his niche. Maybe trucks was where he really belonged. Maybe he had the right touch for them. The best answer to the question of why they were so good would be answered in a surprising fashion this season.
This seeming dream team ran into problems in the off-season and parted ways, with Germain/Arnold picking up Chad Chaffin as driver and Bodine going to Fiddleback Racing, a small, fairly new team that would switch to Toyota for 2005. What happened next was interesting. Both Bodine and the Germain/Arnold team struggled. They both showed some potential for the kind of performance they enjoyed last year, but neither was assembling the same kind of record. Bodine’s team struggled with a lack of sponsor money that didn’t help his cause much. Eventually Fiddleback folded and Bodine was free, but not for long. Germain/Arnold immediately hired him and released Chaffin. This is not something you see happen often, but both driver and team admitted that they’d made a huge mistake separating in the first place. Whatever differences they had that caused the split in the first place were apparently forgotten and it was business as usual. Was it ever. They won the second race out after their reunion. It’s like some kind of magic. The answer, so it seems, is that it’s not the team, it’s not the driver, it’s the combination of both. This has to be the best and most amazing example of team chemistry I have ever seen.
Ballew Motorsports deserves a nod for what they’ve been able to accomplish so far this season as well. The team started the season with driver Kerry Earnhardt, but parted ways with him after just a few races due to sponsorship issues. They turned to their former driver, Shane Hmiel, to take over the wheel. Hmiel brought his Busch sponsor, WinFuel, along to give the team some financial support. After that it became a whirlwind as Kyle Busch, Blake Feese, Johnny Sauter, John Andretti, and Martin Truex Jr. have also had a turn in the ride, many bringing new and different sponsors with them. The result is a truck that’s had a different driver and paint scheme almost every week.
You wouldn’t think this would be particularly productive and you wouldn’t expect much in the way of results from this situation. Amazingly, however, the team has chalked up two wins thanks to Kyle Busch. They have four top five and six top ten finishes and sit fifth in owner’s points. There are teams with the same driver and sponsor in the truck every race who wish they were doing that well.
While the above drivers and teams have had both trials and triumphs, Rick Crawford’s year seems to be one trial after another. Crawford sat out his first race since coming in to the truck series in 1997 two weeks ago in Kentucky. The Ironman had amassed a total of 210 consecutive starts in the Craftsman Truck Series coming into Kentucky, but a qualifying crash would end that streak. Crawford took a vicious hit to the inside wall and was sent to the hospital for further tests. With the same day schedule for qualifying and the race, there wasn’t enough time for Crawford to get medical clearance and return to the track for the race.
Fortunately Crawford proved to be unhurt. While he’s still the Ironman of the truck series with more consecutive starts than any other driver, his streak will stand at 210 as he starts it all over again in Memphis. Still, it’s not in Crawford’s nature to let something like that bother him. The fact that crewmen from every other Ford team in the garage could be seen swarming over his backup truck helping his Circle Bar team prepare it in Kentucky shows the opinion fellow drivers have of Crawford. He’s a great personality and he’s wonderful for the Craftsman Truck Series. Here’s to hoping he has a better season from here on out.
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