Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: 2008 E-Z-GO 200 at Atlanta

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In a Nutshell: Ryan Newman took the checkered flag 0.377 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday Jr. to win the E-Z-GO 200 Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Newman made a last-lap pass on teammate Hornaday to score a win in his first ever Truck Series start. Denny Hamlin, Todd Bodine and Scott Speed rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Hornaday. Hornaday ran sixth quickest and started on the outside pole in a field set by owner points. By the time the field made it to lap 59, Hornaday held a six-second lead over Kyle Busch and had lapped nearly half the field. The driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet took the lead for the first time on lap 10 and went on to lead 110 of the 130 laps run until teammate Newman sent him to a runner-up finish.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. Is Chrissy Wallace ready for a full-time Craftsman Truck Series ride?

Chrissy Wallace is expected to pilot the No. 03 Toyota Tundra for Germain Racing in 2009, but is she ready for a full-time ride?

At first glance, an average finish of 23rd with one DNF in just five starts appears to be a pretty bad record. Wallace’s best finish so far this season came in her Truck Series debut; she finished 18th at Martinsville in March. Since then, she has finished on the lead lap just once, when she finished 19th at Gateway International Raceway.

Again this week, Chrissy was unable to finish on the lead lap. She started 25th in the E-Z-GO 200 after the field was set by owner points, and wasted no time falling a lap down. She was awarded the Lucky Dog under the first caution that flew on lap 17; but no matter how hard she tried, the driver of the No. 9 Germain.com Toyota never managed to work her way inside the top 20. She ended up finishing 25th, four laps off the pace.

Still, while Wallace hasn’t been burning up the track so far, she certainly deserves a shot with a top-tier team. The CTS is designed to help young drivers become familiar with NASCAR before working their way up to the Sprint Cup Series, and the only way to truly improve your performance in any racing division is seat time. Only time will tell if Wallace deserves to remain in the series after the 2009 season.

2. Who will win the Craftsman Truck Series championship?

Johnny Benson now leads Hornaday by just 31 points in a championship race just as exciting as last year. With only three races remaining, the championship is still up for grabs and will likely come down to the final lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But who will actually come out on top?

In looking at the final three races of the season, you can’t account for bad luck at the track or a driver being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what you can account for is past experience at each track.

Previously, Texas Motor Speedway has been kinder to Hornaday than Benson. Benson has an average finish of 14.0 compared to Hornaday Jr.’s 11.5, and the driver of the No. 33 Camping World Chevrolet did win at the 1.5-mile track earlier this season.

Next on the schedule after TMS is Phoenix International Raceway, where both Benson and Hornaday have had incredible luck at the 1-mile track. Since returning to the series in 2004, Benson has finished outside the top five just once at Phoenix; he finished seventh in 2007.

But Hornaday’s run just as well. Since he returned to the series in 2004, Hornaday has had a pair of runner-up finishes and a pair of 13th-place finishes; since his first outing in the series for Dale Earnhardt Inc., he never finished outside the top 10.

From there, it’s on to the season finale in Florida. In eight starts at HMS, Hornaday has finished outside the top 10 just once and has completed 100% of the laps run in which he was entered. The defending champion holds an average finish of 6.5 compared to Benson’s average of 10.2.

While Benson’s average finish is not quite as good as Hornaday’s, you can’t forget that Benson closed out the 2007 season with a win at HMS and was able to build up momentum to carry him and the No. 23 team into the 2008 season.

Looking at numbers alone for the final three tracks on the schedule, Hornaday should be sitting at the head table at the championship banquet. Until the checkered flag falls on the Ford 200 at HMS, the CTS championship trophy is up for grabs, and anything can happen.

The question is which driver can take his experience and stay out of trouble while still trying to win races. The two are so evenly matched that the next three races are sure to be exciting.

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: 2; Speed, finished fifth and Scott, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Speed, finished fourth

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

TJ Bell has finished in the top 10 in the last five races run. The driver of the No. 7 Heathcliff’s/Home4theHolidays.org Chevrolet finished ninth Saturday night.

Newman is one of only four drivers to win in his Truck Series debut; he joins Mike Skinner, Robert Pressley and Kasey Kahne. Newman’s win is his first ever in a Chevrolet.

Benson remains the Craftsman Truck Series points leader, but his lead has dwindled to just 31 over Hornaday. Bodine moved up one spot to third, 218 points out of first. Erik Darnell, who moved up two spots, and Matt Crafton, who moved down two spots, are tied for fourth, 297 points behind Benson.

Rick Crawford moved up one spot to sixth. Skinner, who dropped two spots, sits just two points behind him in seventh. Dennis Setzer and Jack Sprague remain in eighth and ninth, respectively. Chad McCumbee moved up one spot and is tied with Terry Cook for 10th; McCumbee has eight top-10 finishes this season to Cook’s seven.


“He raced me clean – I got to say that first and foremost. He left me room. He could have pinched me off twice, but he raced me like a gentleman. I really didn’t know what to expect. I was pretty loose the whole race. I saw him [Hornaday] slipping, and I started to run him down.” – Ryan Newman

“I just missed that corner off of [turn] 2. If you miss it, you miss it and you lose three-tenths to half a second.” – Runner-up Ron Hornaday Jr.

Up Next: The Craftsman Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend for the Chevy Silverado 350K Friday night. In 2007, Kyle Busch battled some window-net troubles on his way to his first win of the season at this track. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate starting at 9:00 p.m. ET.

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