Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: 2009 Copart 200 at Gateway

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In a Nutshell: Mike Skinner took the checkered flag 0.285 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter to win the Copart 200 at Gateway International Raceway Saturday afternoon (Sept. 12). Skinner took the lead after NASCAR black-flagged Matt Crafton for rough driving inside 10 laps remaining after Crafton helped cause two wrecks which eliminated several top contenders. Skinner was then able to hold off Sauter in a green-white-checkered finish for his third win of the season.

Who Should Have Won: Ron Hornaday Jr. As has been the case through most races this season, Hornaday Jr. again had the strongest truck on the track. He started on the outside pole and pulled into the lead on just the second lap, quickly asserting his dominance in front of the field. He went on to lead 116 of the 162 laps run, easily holding off several potential challengers. Inside five laps remaining, it looked like Hornaday Jr. would win his seventh race of the season; but on a restart, contact with second-place points man Crafton suddenly sent him spinning. Hornaday Jr. was relegated to a 17th-place finish.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. Should Todd Bodine and Hornaday Jr. have been upset with Crafton?

Inside 10 laps remaining in the running of the Copart 200, Crafton found himself involved in two very similar incidents with the frontrunners that red-flagged the race.

The first involved Todd Bodine, who was running second at the time. Going into the corner on a lap 153 restart, Crafton had the nose of his No. 88 NIBCO/Menards Chevrolet inside the left-rear quarterpanel on Bodine’s No. 30 Ventrilo Toyota. Bodine moved down to block, but went spinning off Crafton’s front bumper when the veteran refused to back off.

Bodine’s damage was terminal after the multi-truck wreck, and he was credited with an 18th-place finish; in the meantime, Crafton kept on going and wound up in second place on the track. When interviewed after the wreck, Bodine admitted to blocking to help cause the incident but was very critical of Crafton’s driving in the process.

“I blocked him, no doubt about it. But how stupid do you have to be to turn somebody going in the corner with eight laps to go? There’s no cure for stupid,” Bodine said. “This kid has done this crap his whole career. He’s done it to [Ron] Hornaday this year; he just did it to me. Hell, he wasn’t even hooked far enough to turn me.”

During the red flag, the SPEED booth asked Crafton his take on the wreck, and he defended his actions.

“I just got a really good restart on the deal, got under him, got down to his left-rear quarterpanel and he ran me down,” Crafton said. “It’s inside 10 [laps] to go. If it was any other time, I would have lifted. The last thing I wanna do is wreck someone. I hate that for him, but these guys worked too hard to just let off and let somebody go.”

When the race restarted with four laps remaining, Crafton was then involved in a nearly identical incident with points leader Hornaday Jr., who was also leading the race. Crafton again got a nose inside the left-rear quarterpanel of the truck in front of him; but this time it was a lot less convincing, as he spun the No. 33 Longhorn Chevrolet in front of heavy traffic. And after another multi-truck wreck ensued, the driver Crafton spun to start it wasn’t pleased with his rival, either.

“It was my own fault; I got a slow start right there. I guess he didn’t want to go around the outside, he wanted to dump me,” Hornaday Jr. said. “That’s not racing right there when you destroy another guy’s truck like that. I’d seen him do it to the [No.] 30 [Todd Bodine] earlier. It’s a shame. I don’t know what to say. It’s just flat stupidity, so we’ll go on.”

The blame for that accident could be placed on the shoulders of either driver; however, NASCAR decided to blame that one on Crafton. During the second red flag of the night, officials made the decision to black flag the No. 88 Chevrolet, taking him out of the top spot and forcing him to restart 12th. That erased any thoughts of adding a second career win to his resume, although Crafton was able to work his way back up to a sixth-place finish by the checkered flag.

In his post-race interview, race winner Skinner praised NASCAR for black-flagging the No. 88.

“I have to applaud NASCAR,” Skinner said. “Sometime, we gotta stop being able to wreck the leaders to win. I chose not to wreck Ron [Hornaday Jr.] twice this season and I think today it came back and paid dividends for me.”

But Sauter didn’t seem to agree with NASCAR’s call and defended Crafton’s actions on track.

“I don’t think Matt [Crafton] dumped anybody, honestly. He legitimately had good restarts and those guys continually closed the door on him,” Sauter said. “What’s he supposed to do? You can’t go on the apron, you can’t go on the grass. He was just trying to do what he had to do to win and got penalized for it.”

Looking back on the incidents, Hornaday Jr. has more reason to be upset with Crafton than Bodine does. Bodine admitted that he did intentionally try to block, and while NASCAR doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with blocking on the track, any driver that’s willing to take that risk should also be willing to accept the consequences.

As far as black-flagging Crafton after the second incident, though, NASCAR did the right thing. There wasn’t any doubt that Bodine brought his wreck upon himself, but the incident with Hornaday Jr. was much more questionable. There is a point where a driver has to consider the big picture, back off in a turn and finish second, and Crafton needs to learn when that decision would be better than the alternative.

2. Should Crafton expect to be wrecked by Bodine in one of the remaining races this season?

After being involved in two wrecks with the first- and second-place runners inside the final 10 laps of the Copart 200, Crafton has a huge bullseye on his back. Despite the fact that Bodine moved down on Crafton and got himself turned on lap 153, the driver of the No. 30 has made it very clear that he won’t forget this wreck the next time he is around the No. 88 Chevrolet.

“I can tell you what goes around comes around,” Bodine said. “That kid’s gonna get turned. I’m telling you straight out. It’s ridiculous.”

Hornaday Jr. stopped short of saying he would wreck Crafton, but rather hinted at how his racing style would adjust when competing around the driver of the No. 88.

“We’ll have to race harder and I know how to race him now,” Hornaday said.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see some sort of retaliation on the track by Bodine or Hornaday Jr. in the coming weeks; but if either driver is smart, they’ll keep their noses clean. It’s understandable to be upset with being turned and wrecked with less than 10 laps remaining in the race, but any kind of retaliation on the track is dangerous. The better bet would be to handle the issues in private this week before the drivers hit the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend. Only time will tell if cooler heads will prevail over the final seven races this season.

Truck Rookie Report
2009 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Chase Austin (No. 32 – on hold due to funding)
James Buescher (No. 10)
Ricky Carmichael (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
JR Fitzpatrick (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
Tayler Malsam (No. 81)
Johnny Sauter (No. 13)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 6
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; Sauter, finished second; Malsam, finished fifth
Rookie of the Race: Sauter

Following a runner-up finish at Gateway, Sauter made his first career appearance in the top 10 in points after sitting in 27th following the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Meanwhile, Malsam struggled with his truck at the drop of the green flag, but aggressive changes to the handling improved the performance enough to allow him to score his first career top-five finish.

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

Ryan Sieg scored his first top-10 finish in just his seventh career Camping World Truck Series start. Pit strategy moved Sieg to the second position under the third caution, and he managed to remain in the top 10 for the remainder of the race on his way to finishing a career-best ninth.

Aric Almirola‘s fourth-place finish marks the first time Billy Ballew Motorsports has finished inside the top 10 at Gateway.

During the SPEED broadcast, Ray Dunlap reported that Brian Scott has an offer to race full-time in the Nationwide Series for the 2010 season. Scott has not yet made a decision on whether he’ll make the switch to Nationwide or if he’ll spend another season in the Camping World Truck Series.

Taking a look at the championship standings, Hornaday Jr. remains the points leader by 197 points over Crafton. Skinner finds himself just 11 points behind Crafton after scoring his second consecutive win and third this season. Scott and Bodine round out the top five.

Colin Braun remains in sixth in the standings, but he’s only 17 points behind Bodine. David Starr remains in seventh after finishing three laps down in 16th. Just three points behind Starr sits Timothy Peters, who moved up one spot to eighth. Rick Crawford dropped one spot to ninth, finding himself five points behind Peters after getting involved in one of the late-race wrecks. Sauter moved up two spots after scoring the best finish of his career to round out the top 10.

Just before going off the air, SPEED TV announced that NASCAR may penalize Crafton one lap for making a pass prior to crossing the start/finish line on the final restart. Should that happen, Crafton will be credited with a finish between 12th and 14th. Hornaday Jr. would then hold a 220-226 point lead over Skinner in the standings, and Crafton would drop to third.


“I don’t believe it. I usually end up on the short side of that call with the [No.] 13 (Johnny Sauter) there. I was better than he was and he was doing a good job. I guess we got by him on the wreck. We didn’t have the best truck. We probably had a second- or third-place truck and we had a mishap in the pits. Today, I won with a truck that should have lost.” – Mike Skinner

“We had a wild race. We seemed to be in the middle of a lot of things. Unfortunately, I did bring out that caution [on lap 97]. I hate it for Stacy Compton; I just got loose. We have just had an eventful weekend. It was a sloppy third-[place finish], but I’m really happy about it. It’s about as good as we could’ve done.” – Brian Scott

“I guess the [No.] 5 truck (Mike Skinner) passed us when the caution was out. I didn’t know you could do that. But he did, he got the spot, and he got the win. I’m just ticked at myself. I wasn’t aggressive enough. I should have dumped the [No.] 5 and won the race today.” – Johnny Sauter, finished second

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Saturday afternoon (Sept. 19) for the Heluva Good! 200. In 2008, Hornaday Jr. won in dominating fashion after leading 149 of 200 laps. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on SPEED channel; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

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