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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Bodine, Hornaday Show What Champions are Made of at Martinsville

There’s a reason that Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday have combined to win five championships in the Camping World Truck Series, a count that will swell to six by the end of this season. And on a day that saw Hornaday score the first win of his storied career at the famed Martinsville Speedway while Bodine led the most laps and preserved his points lead less than 24 hours after the death of his mother, it was readily apparent why the two continue to be the class of the Truck Series field.

Certainly, Saturday’s race was one that favored the veterans, with one youngster after enough finding trouble. Cody Cambensy spun on three separate occasions throughout the afternoon, two of which came without assistance. The much bally-hooed debut of Derrike Cope’s nieces, Angela and Amber, yieled a spin and two finishes outside the top 25 (none of Saturday’s four female starters finished inside the top 20). Austin Dillon found trouble late. And Timothy Peters found himself in uncharacteristically over his head in a lap 165 incident that saw the No. 17 bumped in turn 2, out of shape down the backstretch and in traffic before slamming headfirst into the turn 3 wall.

Meanwhile, both Bodine and Hornaday came into what is traditionally a rough and tumble race with a lot overshadowing them. For Bodine, nothing more needs to be said than the thoughts and prayers of the NASCAR community were with his family, and for good reason. And for Hornaday, whose 2010 season has proven to be anything but a stout title defense, the future is suddenly uncertain. Between a disappointing campaign and the loss of substantial sponsorship with new tobacco legislation forcing Longhorn off his truck, suddenly a return to KHI for 2011 doesn’t appear automatic.

The two had a lot to race for on Saturday, and did so while battling with a common enemy…Kyle Busch.

The history between Busch and these two drivers goes on for miles. Be it Hornaday making very clear that he wasn’t above teaching Busch a lesson after a race at Michigan a few years back or sparring between Busch and Bodine ever since a heated Truck race at Chicago earlier this summer, Busch’s No. 18 found himself battling more than opponents, but enemies, while at the front of the field during the conclusion of Saturday’s event.

The state was truly set for an ugly, tempers-flaring short track finish, as a red flag on lap 168 saw Bodine, Hornaday and Busch all in close proximity, with Bodine verbally chastizing Busch over the radio after receiving word that Busch was claiming he had been “brake-checked” by the Onion on an earlier restart.

“On second thought, maybe I should do that to Kyle,” quipped Bodine over the radio to his team during the exchange. Emotions were running super high…and they seemed to get the best of Bodine. Following a late race restart, Bodine seemed to fall asleep entering turn 1 on lap 175, leaving Busch just enough room to squeeze his nose under Bodine and take the race lead. Bodine started overdriving on the high side of the track; unable to pass Busch, he soon dropped back to as far as fourth and seemed destined for a late race slide after perhaps the best run Germain Racing had ever enjoyed at Martinsville.

But Bodine rebounded. Taking advantage of a flurry of late race yellows to get back in line and back in position, Bodine stopped the slide, and rebounded to finish third by race’s end. And while part of that was a great truck (that led the most laps ) and passionate driving, Bodine openly acknowledged that he had help.

“Jason White cut me a couple breaks at the end and I thanked him for it,” the 2006 champ noted in his post-race press conference. “I cut him off a little bit.”

That Bodine was cut such a break speaks to more than the entire Truck garage recognizing the emotional situation he was in…it speaks to how he’s cultivated a tremendous amount of respect as a Truck Series regular.

“This series is so good to be a part of,” he told the media post-race. “[I’ve become really good friends with] Timmy [Peters] and Ron [Hornaday] and Justin Lofton, and I could go down the list…there are so many guys.”

Bodine had more friends than enemies up front when Saturday’s race was decided…and that was the difference between an emotional day going sour and an emotional outburst clearing up. Bodine left a podium finisher and with a still sizable points lead.

As for Ron Hornaday, he picked up the torch after Bodine fell back as the driver in line to prevent Kyle Busch from scoring his first career win at Martinsville. With only one win on the season and an arch-rival in front of him, Hornaday also seemed to be ready to let his temper get the best of him, slamming Busch’s bumper on numerous occasions while unable to make the pass. The caution flew on lap 193, and Hornaday was suddenly stuck on the outside with a driver that’s openly challenged him for the title of “King of Restarts.”

This time, Hornaday kept the crown. Though Busch took an early lead when the green flag flew on lap 198, Hornaday drove in deep on the high side…and somehow made it work. For two laps, Hornaday stayed side by side with Busch despite not having the preferred line, and when the yellow flew for the final time on lap 198, Hornaday had a nose in front. That was the difference this Saturday; Hornaday took the preferred line for the final restart and never looked back.

The win was far more than the second of the year for the four-time series champ. This one was special, forcing even Hornaday to tear up in Victory Lane. Scoring the first grandfather clock, and proving (as if there was any doubt) that he still had it, Hornaday looked very much like the title contender the Truck Series has come to expect.

Perhaps most significant, for all the tensions, the past history, the carnage seen on track at Martinsville, Bodine and Hornaday kept their trucks…and their racing…clean when it counted. The passes were earned, not taken, the moves calculated.

That experience and composure got the two of them through a race weekend that for both was far more emotional and intense than most. It got them both the results they needed, and kept them out of trouble when both opportunity and temptation to get rough and tumble presented itself.

There’s a reason these two are Truck Series champions.

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