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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tearing Apart the Trucks: The Final Showdown for 2007

This is it. This is what you’ve been waiting all season for. Tonight, someone is going to be crowned the 2007 Craftsman Truck Series Champion. In the very first “battle of the grandfathers” Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner will face off for the final time. Going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Skinner holds only a slim 29-point advantage over Hornaday Jr.

Skinner found himself tied for the points lead after just the second race of the season and spent the following 14 races atop the standings. Prior to the running of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 200 at Gateway International Raceway, the driver of the No. 5 Toyota Tundra held a 92-point lead over Hornaday Jr., but a shredded tire relegated Skinner to a 28th-place finish. That gave Hornaday Jr. his first lead of the season by just four points.

To clinch the championship, Skinner has to finish second, or third if he manages to lead a lap. That may be a tough feat for the 1995 champion. In five races at Homestead, Skinner has just two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 15.4. Hornaday Jr. on the other hand has one win, six top-10 finishes and an average finish of 6.4 in seven races at the track. Last year, Skinner was involved in an accident that took him out of the race after just 14 laps; Hornaday finished 14th.

“Well this is it. Jeff (Hensley, crew chief) and my guys have done a heck of a job this year, and hopefully we can get it done this weekend for BDR and Toyota,” Skinner said. “Homestead is a great track, and even though we have not had that much luck on it in the past, we are going to give it all we’ve got to make it come out in our favor this weekend.”

The wildcard tonight is going to be the help, or hindrance, of teammates. Last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, Hornaday Jr.’s teammate and owner Kevin Harvick entered the race and had the pit stall directly in front of Skinner. Early on, Harvick drove through Skinner’s pit and disrupted the team’s rhythm, causing an extended stop. Once Skinner was back out, his team showed their displeasure, but since the move was legal, there was nothing to be done about it.

Also last week at Phoenix, Skinner’s teammate Johnny Benson stayed behind him for the majority of the race until the closing laps when Benson passed him. Benson finished seventh, scoring four points that could be valuable when it comes down to the wire at the end of the race. When asked about the move, Skinner said, “I’m not the boss. I guess we’re not a team. I thought he was taking care of me. I don’t know.” Hopefully those four points won’t come back to haunt them tonight.

When asked about the upcoming battle, Hornaday said, “It is another race for us at Homestead. All we can do is keep doing what we are doing and racing hard. I like Homestead, it is a good track. I won there back in 2002 and I have had some good finishes there in the past. I have a team that never says die and they work hard to figure out my favorite trucks and they have been bringing them back. All we can do is keep doing what we are doing and racing hard.”

History is on Skinner’s side though. Only twice in the history of the Truck Series has the leader going into the season finale not won the championship; most recently Travis Kvapil came from 26 points back to win the title over Dennis Setzer in 2003. In the end, it’s going to come down to who can stay out of trouble, but in the end, Skinner will most likely come out on top.

Tune in tonight for the showdown. Coverage on SPEED begins with qualifying at 5:00 p.m. ET followed by a review of the entire 2007 season called “Year in Racing.” NCTS Setup starts at 7:30 p.m. ET following by the race at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Did You Know?

  • This is the first time in NASCAR’s national series history that two grandfathers have squared off for the title? Skinner has three grandchildren and Hornaday Jr. has two.
  • There has been no repeat winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway since the series started visiting the track in 1996.
  • No driver has won at Homestead-Miami during his championship season.
  • Toyota will make its 100th truck series start at Homestead-Miami, and Skinner is the only driver to run in a Toyota since the manufacturer made its debut in the series in 2004.
  • Only one driver has won from the pole at Homestead-Miami Speedway; Bobby Hamilton did it in 2003.

Three-Way Race for Rookie of the Year Title

In a battle that’s even closer than the one for the championship, three drivers are separated by just nine points for the Rookie of the Year honors. Willie Allen, driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Chevrolet, currently leads Tim Sauter, driver of the No. 07 Lester Buildings Chevrolet, by just seven points.

Allen has just one top-10 finish this season; he finished sixth at Talladega Superspeedway. Allen’s spotter updates him throughout the race on where his competition is on the track. “It’s in the back of your mind where they’re running,” he said. “I definitely want to stay ahead of them.”

Sauter, who also has just one top-10 finish this season – a 10th at Texas Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago – doesn’t seem very worried about what happens next. “All in all, the season’s gone pretty well but we’ve had some good runs get away from us,” said Sauter. “We’ve just got to keep the pressure on and do the best we can.”

Joey Clanton, who has run only 15 races this season and shared to No. 09 Zaxby’s Ford with Stacy Compton this season, is just two points behind Sauter and has a chance to surprise everyone. “We have to make the best of it at Homestead and go get a top 10 and let the cards fall where they may,” he said.

Other Odds and Ends

Drivers’ Wallets Stolen

At least five drivers had their wallets stolen from team transporters during a practice session for the Casino Arizona 150 at Phoenix International Raceway. Compton, one of the victims, spent Friday concerned about being able to fly home after last Friday’s race.

“In a 40-minute span, whoever it was went to town,” Compton said. “They bought as many gift cards as they could. They got everything – my driver’s license, my credit cards, everything.”

Fike Accepts Plea Deal

Aaron Fike was suspended indefinitely from NASCAR following an arrest for possession of heroin at Kings Island Amusement Park. Judge Neal Bronson accepted a guilty plea from the former Rookie of the Year contender on two misdemeanor charges – possession of a drug-abuse instrument and a reduced charge of attempted possession of heroin. The 24-year-old is committed to reviving his NASCAR career and has created an anti-drug program called “Racing Against Drugs.”

“One day, I was a NASCAR racecar driver, with people asking me for my autograph – and the next day, I was in handcuffs, lying on the floor of a jail cell, going through the absolute agony of heroin withdrawal,” Fike wrote in a statement. “After four months of intense rehabilitation, I know that if it were not for my arrest, I would be dead.”

Terry Cook‘s Season is Over

Last weekend, at Phoenix International Raceway, it was announced that Whelen Modified Tour driver Donny Lia would race in the No. 59 truck for HT Motorsports next season. Lia will take the green flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway tonight for the Ford 200 with Simply Fit as the primary sponsor. Cook still has not announced his plans for 2008.

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