When the Craftsman Truck Series takes the green flag Saturday afternoon for the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway, there will be a few new faces in the field. Travis Dassow, Chris Jones and Colin Braun (pronounced “Brown”) will be making their Truck Series debuts. With an entry list of 40, the largest since the spring race at Martinsville when there were 41 entrants, each of these drivers is guaranteed a starting position based on owner points. Also, defending Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti will attempt to make the field for his first Truck Series race.
ARCA Re/Max Series driver Braun will make his first Truck Series start in the No. 50 RSC Equipment Rentals Ford for Roush Racing. He started racing at the age of six, and by age 16 he raced in the Grand Am series as well as in the 24 Hours of Daytona. The 19-year-old driver made his first ARCA start at Talladega Superspeedway, where he qualified third and finished ninth after leading a his first laps in a stock car.
“I’m looking forward to this weekend at Martinsville,” said Braun. There will be a lot to learn and I will need to give a lot of room to the drivers who will want to push me around a little bit, but I will certainly do that. I want to make all the laps I can and gain as much experience as I can. I’m looking forward to racing against guys like Travis Kvapil and Erik Darnell, I think I’ll learn a lot from them.”
ASA Late Model Series driver Dassow will also make his Truck Series debut Saturday afternoon. Dassow will pilot the No. 8 MRD Motorsports Chevy for Haas CNC Racing. The 20-year-old driver won the 2007 ASA Late Model Series Challenge division championship while accumulating two wins, 10 top-five finishes and four poles during the first 14 races of the ASA Late Model season.
“This is a dream come true. I never expected this to happen so soon,” Dassow said. “I hope we can follow in the footsteps of Stephen [Leicht] and Kelly [Bires] and continue to represent the ASA Late Model Series as well as those two have.”
NASCAR Late Model driver Jones will pilot the No. 08 Green Light Racing Chevy owned by Bobby Dotter, who will also be attempting to make the field. Jones started racing go-karts at the age of nine in Virginia and has raced in the MMRA Mini-Cup division, NASCAR Late Model Trucks and NASCAR Late Model Stock Cars before making his Craftsman Truck Series debut. Jones also attempted to make the spring race at Martinsville but failed to qualify.
Also, defending Indianapolis 500 winner Franchitti hopes to become the fifth “500” winner to start a Truck Series race when he attempts to qualify in the No. 141 Target Dodge Saturday morning. Just two weeks ago, Franchitti made his first start in a stock car during the ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway; he started sixth and finished 17th. The European driver has signed on with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates to compete full-time in the Sprint Cup Series in 2008.
Ron Hornaday Jr. currently holds the points lead by 14 over Mike Skinner in the second-closest margin ever at this point in the season; the closest was five points in 2005. Skinner won the spring race at Martinsville in dominating fashion, starting on the pole and leading 246 laps. Hornaday Jr. finished sixth in that same race. In this race last year, Skinner started second and finished seventh while Hornaday Jr. started sixth and finished 13th.
After winning the Smith’s Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kvapil looked to be sticking his foot into the championship race, but a 26th-place finish at Talladega pretty much closed that door. Kvapil now sits 234 points out, and while he mathematically could still win the championship, he would have to depend on some very bad luck for the front two to have a realistic chance.
In a battle much less publicized, the race to finish 10th in points is nearly as interesting at the race for the championship. Jack Sprague in the No. 60 Con-way Freight Toyota holds the slim advantage of just seven points over David Starr in the No. 10 Maxx Force Diesel Ford. The two are fighting for the chance to head to the Craftsman Truck Series banquet at The Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla.
Sprague won the fall race last year at Martinsville and won the season-opener at Daytona. Starr won the spring race at Martinsville in 2006 and finished less than a half-second behind Sprague last fall.