In 2000, Toyota ventured into the big sea of NASCAR racing; first dipping their toes in the water in the Goody’s Dash Series. Robert Huffman delivered their first win the following year and scored their first championship in 2003. The manufacturer entered the Craftsman Truck Series beginning with the 2004 season. Just two years later, Todd Bodine drove Toyota to their first Truck Series championship in 2006. Now, with just 10 races remaining in the 2007 season, Toyota is looking at the very strong possibility of back-to-back championships.
After leaving to run in the Cup Series ranks full-time, Mike Skinner rejoined the Truck Series full-time in 2004. He started in the No. 42 for Bang! Racing, but made the switch to the No. 5 Bill Davis Racing Toyota Tundra at Las Vegas the same year. In his first race with Davis, Skinner scored his first pole of 2004 and went on to score only two top-10 finishes in the No. 5 during the last seven races of the season.
Flash forward to 2007, his third full year with BDR, and it’s no secret that Skinner has been the guy to beat all year long. With the exception of his 20th-place finish at O’Reilly Raceway Park, Skinner has not finished outside the top 10 all season. An even more impressive statistic is that Skinner has finished outside the top five only three times this season, one of which was that 20th-place finish at ORP. Add to that, four wins and nine poles along with leading over 36% of the laps run this year, and Skinner and Toyota are well on their way to a second championship.
Should Skinner stumble and lose the 82-point lead he has over Ron Hornaday Jr., Toyota has a Plan B in their bid for a second straight title. Enter Bodine, currently sitting fourth in the standings, and well aware that the only way he’ll manage to win back-to-back championships with Toyota is if Skinner, Hornaday and Travis Kvapil make a mistake.
“I’ve said all along that the only way any of us are going to gain points is if somebody has a bad race and wrecks and finishes at the back,” said Bodine. “We’re all going to be top-five trucks every week and when that’s the way it is, you don’t gain points; you just move around a little bit. It’s going to take a big mistake on somebody’s part to change that.”
Toyota may have started out small with the Goody’s Dash Series, but they made their move to the Truck Series at a great time. Since their inaugural race at Daytona in 2004, Toyota has won 31 races, started on the pole 45 times (13 of 15 races this season) and won the 2006 championship. Look for much more from Toyota as well as another championship under their belts this year.
Around the Craftsman Truck Series
Did you know that 12 of this season’s 15 races run so far have been won by former Truck Series champions? Erik Darnell (Kansas), Dennis Setzer (Mansfield) and Johnny Benson (Milwaukee) are the only drivers to win a race this season that have not won a championship.
Next week’s race at Bristol will mark the first Truck Series race on the new surface. Testing was held at the track several weeks ago, and most of the feedback from the drivers was positive. Kvapil topped the speed charts with a lap of 119.626 mph, nearly four mph slower than the track qualifying record set in 2003.
Bodine is spending his off weekend at Michigan International Speedway. He is on the entry list for the Busch Series CARFAX 250 this weekend. The Germain Racing Toyota Camry debuted at Gateway in July.