Saturday, June 07, 2008

Thrills! Spills! Chills! Action Packed!

While those of us among my generation were growing up, a phrase sure to make us want to watch a TV show or a movie, or to read a comic or adventure book, was "action-packed." "Non-stop action," also sent us in droves to the movie theatre for the Saturday Matinee. Those phrases could also be used to describe almost any race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

The Sam's Town 400 at Texas Motor Speedway was no exception, and was action packed from the start to the finish. From the second lap to more than halfway through the race, Kevin Harvick Incorporated teammates Ron Hornaday and Jack Sprague raced each other hard, often door panel to door panel, trading the lead often. That in itself was thrill packed, and likely too thrilling for team owners Kevin and DeLana, who where probably watching in horror from Pocono, as two of the most aggressive drivers in the series fought hard for the lead way too early in the race.

But, if they are two of the most aggressive drivers in the series, Sprague and Hornaday are also two of the most experienced, and the Harvicks knew what they were doing when they put these two on the same team. They performed as expected, not as team mates, but as competitive drivers. They made the race exciting.

Of course, they weren't alone. Kyle Busch flew in from Pocono, on the first leg of his attempt to win three different races at three different venues in three different series on the same weekend. He started in the back of the field in a truck that he described as "a piece of c**p, " in which he had had no practice time. Indeed, the truck did seem like it had a missed set-up, as it performed very poorly for the Schrub in the early part of the race. But, as the laps wound down, his team worked on the truck and got it so it became something "the Desperado" could use. Busch used the entire track, including the apron to move up through the field, until, by the last twenty laps, he had made his way to fourth position. There was a caution with around ten laps to go, and on the restart, bad truck or not, Kyle Busch became Kyle "Rowdy" Busch and made a series of brilliant moves to pass Jack Sprague for third, and Johnny Benson for second, and was close on Hornaday's tail.

Perhaps it was better equipment, or, perhaps, it was a demonstration of experience vs raw talent, but Hornaday held off the charging Busch until the performance of Busch's truck fell off, and Hornaday once again pulled ahead of the rest of the field. The only way Kyle would have a chance for the win would be if there was another caution.

There was. With four laps to go, Scott Speed, Mark Mitchell, and Mike Skinner were racing for the eleventh position. Mitchell and Skinner made contact, and Skinner brushed the wall. Scott Speed, the former Formula 1 star from California, took advantage of the mishap to try to gain position from the two other trucks that were forced to slow down. Unfortunately for Speed, whose pre-race pedicure last week made more news than his first win, Mitchell didn't see him make his move to the inside, and barely clipped the front right fender of Speed's truck. "Barely" was enough to send Speed's truck spinning into the outer wall, which brought out a caution.

What would a truck race be without a green/white/checker finish, especially if four of the best drivers in the series are up front? As the drivers lined their trucks up for the final restart, several possible scenarios passed through our minds. Hornaday and Busch could race each other side by side, or one of them could make a mistake, either case giving Benson the opportunity he needed to win the race. Anybody in the field could make a serious error on the restart, bringing out another caution and "giving" the victory to Hornaday. Or, Hornaday, the widely proclaimed "Master of the Restart," could check out on the rest of the field and win the race uncontested.

The latter scenario is actually what happened. It was Hornaday's thirty-fifth career win, and his first ever at TMS. The Craftsman Truck Series once again gave us the "Action Packed" thrills we have been seeking ever since we were children.

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