HAMLET, N.C. – Red Horse Racing entered the Rockingham race weekend leading the Truck Series driver points. They left Rockingham with the points lead. What happened in between over the course of 200 miles was nowhere near that simple.
Mangled metal, historical streaks snapped and past experience all but bucked, Sunday (April 15) was both the agony and the ecstasy of stock car racing for the Red Horse operation. And on a day that marked the return of NASCAR to a historic and demanding venue, a team that had both youth and experience… saw neither prevail.
Coming into the third race of the season, Cinderella rookie John King was still riding high after his improbable Daytona victory in February. Following that up with a start at Martinsville, King got to do what he does best – short-tracking – and secured a top-10 finish for his troubles.
As a result, King came to the Rock the first rookie in Truck Series history to be leading the points after consecutive events. He entered driving RHR chassis No. 002, which in its history had never finished outside the top five.
It took all of four laps for those records to come crumbling down. Exiting turn 2, King’s Tundra flat lost the back end and went spinning into the interior wall, smashing the front end of his machine and forcing the No. 7 to the garage. Though King’s spotter was adamant over the radio that his driver got help, King wasn’t so convinced, asking his crew in the garage area whether he just lost it on his own.
With the team’s youthful prospect out of the equation early, one would expect to turn to experience – in this case, seventh-place starter Todd Bodine, two-time Truck Series champion and a two-time Nationwide Series winner at the then-North Carolina Speedway (1995 and 2001).
Only issue was, Bodine was busy dropping like a rock (pun intended). “It’s so damn loose in [entry], it’s ridiculous” Bodine told the team on lap 28, in the midst of his freefall through the field. Struggling with a right-front tire that was hooking the track and no rear grip, the No. 11 Tundra was running an ugly path through turns 1 and 2.
By lap 30, Bodine was out of the top 10, never to return. Even after getting into the pits after a debris caution on lap 60, the veteran Bodine was left scratching his head, asking his crew chief coming to the one-to-go sign, “what the hell is wrong with this thing?”
By lap 68, it no longer mattered. In traffic after the restart, the Onion nearly knocked down the wall in turn 2, hitting the fence so hard that the wheels of the No. 11 lifted from the racing surface. Though the race continued under green and Bodine was still running, the team told him without hesitation to take it to the garage.
With that, Red Horse Racing had only one bullet left in the chamber … and it was the only one on their roster that had never previously turned a competitive stock car lap at Rockingham (King had run a UARA late model at the venue, Bodine both Nationwide and Cup cars). Turns out Timothy Peters never needed it, though; all day, he was right on target.
Peters has been the one constant for Red Horse Racing over the past few years, as drivers Justin Lofton and Miguel Paludo have come and gone. And just as he was the one steady figure on Red Horse’s entry list over the years, so was he their one steady shoe on the track on Sunday.
Peters and the No. 17 were slow to get up to speed, but over the longer run not even race winner Kasey Kahne was faster. Take the two bogus debris cautions out of the equation and the No. 17 may well have been more of a factor in deciding Sunday’s race.
Even though veteran crew chief Butch Hylton apologized post-race to his driver after their fifth-place finish, Peters remarked in the media center afterwards, “obviously, his (Hylton’s) experience here definitely paid off.” Clearly, the duo came together on a day they were supposed to be invisible and left the track with their most impressive performance in a young season.
Hylton’s was about the only past experience that held serve this Sunday afternoon. What Red Horse Racing experienced this race weekend was but a microcosm of what has become the norm at Andy Hillenburg’s Rock … history is not repeating itself.
RHR’s flag was carried by Peters, whose only laps in stock cars prior to the race were those of a tire test. Go figure, seeing as how Joey Logano, Sean Caisse and Ty Dillon won ARCA races at the facility in consecutive years in their first career starts on the abrasive oval.
Peters also finished fifth and took the points lead on a day that saw Kahne win the race, bucking a status of runner-up that Rockingham has bestowed upon him for eight years (Kahne finished runner-up to Matt Kenseth at the Rock in 2004, the first of six second-place finishes he would agonize through before scoring career win number one over a year later).
Rockingham effectively turned a lot of things upside down this Sunday. Drivers were raving about the racing surface after this race … and after Texas put on two stinkers earlier in the weekend. Hardcore race fans suddenly surfaced from dormancy and arrived in droves. Plus, the Truck Series points race got put in a blender; the leader fell to eighth, while second place is none other than Lofton?!
For Red Horse Racing, the mixed up equation was no different, even though it all got solved in the end. A red-hot rookie and a former Rockingham winner bit the dust early and yet the team still somehow emerged with the points lead.
It’s good to have Rockingham back. Just ask Timothy Peters.
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