NASCAR Race Weekend Central
Ron Hornaday Jr. took the checkered flag 0.958 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch to win the Chevy Silverado 350K Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornaday earned his way back onto the lead lap, took the top spot on lap 108 and never looked back. Johnny Benson, Todd Bodine and rookie Colin Braun rounded out the top five.

Tracking the Trucks: 2008 Chevy Silverado 350K at Texas

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In a Nutshell: Ron Hornaday Jr. took the checkered flag 0.958 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch to win the Chevy Silverado 350K Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornaday earned his way back onto the lead lap, took the top spot on lap 108 and never looked back. Johnny Benson, Todd Bodine and rookie Colin Braun rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Busch. Perhaps Busch was the sentimental favorite coming into this race after having lost a trailer, a backup truck and various tools to a fire on the way to TMS. Busch started third and went three-wide to take the lead on the first lap. The driver of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts/NOS Energy Drink Toyota went on to lead 87 of 147 laps.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. How did Max Papis and Paul Tracy fare in their Craftsman Truck Series debuts?

Papis, the 2004 Rolex Grand-Am Series champion, made his CTS debut Friday night. The truck didn’t look great during the first practice – Papis ran 19th quickest – but the team was able to improve a bit and ran 12th quickest in the final practice. The driver of the No. 07 Toyota looked great in qualifying and brought his truck to a fifth-place starting position.

By lap 5, Papis had moved to third after avoiding a wreck that happened right ahead of him. On lap 15, Papis tried to cut Erik Darnell off and didn’t leave enough room. He ended up moving up the track and hard into the outside wall. Right before the incident, Papis complained of a very tight truck. The damage proved terminal, and “Mad Max” had to settle for a 29th-place finish.

“Mad Max” Papis looked great starting out. There’s really no telling what he could have done had he not been involved in bringing out the second caution. The driver of the No. 07 GEICO/Construct Corps Toyota plans to run a full season in the Sprint Cup Series in 2009, and just 16 laps of track time definitely is not what he needed to get ready for next year.

Along with Papis, 2003 Champ Car champion Tracy also made his CTS debut. Tracy and the No. 9 team struggled through both practice sessions, running outside the top 20. Qualifying didn’t bring anything better – Tracy started in the 22nd position.

By lap 19, Tracy had driven his No. 9 Bombardier Learjet/Sport Clips Toyota into the top 10. That didn’t stick though – he quickly dropped outside the top 10. Tracy ended up finishing 20th, down three laps.

While he wasn’t burning up the track, a driver’s ability to finish better than he started is certainly admirable. Tracy made some early progress when he drove into the top 10, but he just wasn’t able to hold onto it. It’s a good start for him and should certainly help him if he gets a chance to run full time in the series soon.

3. Should the drivers race so hard at the beginning of the races?

Just two laps after the green flag dropped on the Chevy Silverado 350K Friday night, three-wide racing resulted in a caution that heavily damaged five trucks. Cale Gale moved up the track and bumped hard into Rick Crawford. Gale’s damage turned out to be terminal in what could have been a great race for the outside polesitter.

Behind that wreck, Jon Wood checked up only to be hit by TJ Bell who was run into by Bodine. Wood ended up coming out as the biggest loser in that wreck. He drove back to the garage with his hood crushed up in front of the windshield before retiring for the night. The driver of the No. 21 United States Air Force Ford ended up with a 31st-place finish.

Wood, who became an innocent victim of the lap 2 wreck, didn’t understand the need to race hard as soon as the green flag falls.

“Until some thing drastically change and races can be won on lap zero, I don’t really see the point in racing the way that a couple of other guys were racing, particularly up front,” Wood said. “There’s no sense it in whatsoever. It’s very difficult because these other drivers cause these wrecks and they’re the ones that are still on track and we’re back here in the garage with a truck that can’t be fixed.”

Hard racing is one of the most important characteristics of Truck Series racing. From the time the green flag drops until the checkered flag drops, the drivers fight for every position. The races are too short for drivers to just sit back and wait for a while before showing what their truck is really like. If the drivers quit racing hard early in the race, the series would definitely change and lose some of its appeal.

Truck Rookie Report
2008 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Colin Braun (No. 6)
Andy Lally (No. 7 – left the ride in midsummer)
Donny Lia (No. 71 – now No. 81 for rest of the season)
Justin Marks (No. 9 – left the ride in September)
Marc Mitchell (No. 15)
Phillip McGilton (No. 22 – replaced by Scott Speed at Kansas)
Brian Scott (No. 16)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 4
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 3; Braun, finished fifth; Scott, finished ninth; Speed, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Braun, finished fifth

“It was a great run for everybody on the No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford F-150. My guys did a really good job. It certainly was a lot of fun getting to race up there with those veteran drivers. I was trying to be as respectful as I could there.” – Colin Braun

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

Toyota clinched the CTS manufacturers’ championship for the third consecutive time. This is the fourth manufacturers’ title Toyota has earned since joining the Truck Series in 2004. Toyota has won 12 races so far this season.

This is the first time in 10 fall races that three rookies finished in the top 10. Also, a rookie has finished in the top 10 in the last 11 races.

With only two weeks remaining, Benson and Hornaday find themselves locked into the tightest points battle ever seen at this point in the season in the Truck Series. Benson leads Hornaday by just six points. Bodine remains in third, 223 points back. Darnell and Matt Crafton round out the top five.

Mike Skinner moved up one spot to sixth and sits 366 points out of first. Just 10 points behind Skinner, Crawford is down one spot to seventh. Dennis Setzer and Jack Sprague remain in eighth and ninth respectively. Terry Cook is up one spot and rounds out the top 10.

Quotable

“First of all, I gotta thank our troops, VFW, Camping World. No matter what I do, Benson is right there. It’s gonna come down to the last race. This is awesome to see all these fans out here watching.” – Ron Hornaday Jr.

“It was tough. [Crew chief] Trip Bruce and the guys did a great job. It was fun racing with Todd [Bodine] and them at the end. You just run flat on the floor all day.” – Johnny Benson, finished third

“The Harvick bunch has got something figured out like we have in the Nationwide Series. I gotta thank these guys. For as much adversity as they’ve gone through this week. And for Billy (Ballew, team owner) sticking by us. He was in tears the other night. It means so much to finish second. Wish we could have gotten the win for him.” – Kyle Busch

Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway next weekend for the Lucas Oil 150 Friday night. In 2007, the field saw two red flags before Busch beat Hornaday to the checkers. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate starting at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

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Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.