Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Remembering 11 Years of Truck Series Racing at Richmond

Richmond Raceway.

Those two words can easily bring a smile to your face if you’re a NASCAR fan. And for good reason.

Last week, when NASCAR revealed the 2020 Gander Outdoors Truck Series schedule, it had few surprises. With just 23 races, multiple off-weeks in a row are inevitable, though the longest break doesn’t come until late in the season during the playoffs.

Perhaps one of the most pleasant surprises though was the re-introduction of Richmond to the schedule. Yes, after almost 15 years, the Truck Series is headed back to the 0.75-mile D-shaped oval.

“Since I came to Richmond in 2011, I have been asked one question more than any other, ‘When are the trucks coming back?’” said Richmond Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier. “We have actively pursued a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race for years, so we look forward to welcoming the Gander Trucks back home to Richmond next spring.”

Richmond was a fixture on the original schedule during the Truck Series’ inaugural season and produced an incredible finish between Terry Labonte and Geoff Bodine. The duo combined to lead 142 of 150 laps in the 1995 Fas Mart Supertruck Shootout before Labonte emerged victorious by a narrow 0.006-second margin.

The rest of the top five in that race? Mike Skinner, Joe Ruttman and Ken Schrader. Talk about a blast from the past! Go a little deeper in the finishing order and you’ll find Todd Bodine, who ended up sixth, followed by Derrike Cope. Darrell Waltrip, Mike Bliss and Jack Sprague rounded out the top 10.

The following year, the victory went to Mike Skinner, who took the win after leading 109 of 124 laps in the rain-shortened event. The race was slowed twice for rain but able to resume for a stint before a final shower ended it for good. At that point in the season, Skinner, who had easily won the inaugural championship the previous year with eight wins and 18 top 10s, was already well behind eventual champion Ron Hornaday Jr.

Skinner also went on to take the victory in the 2005 race at the facility the last time the series ran there. It was a race slowed by 12 cautions, the most ever at the short track. Todd Bodine made a hard charge for the lead on a green-white-checkered restart but didn’t have enough to beat the block Skinner threw.

Meanwhile, in 1997, Bob Keselowski (yes, Brad’s dad) scored his lone Truck Series win at Richmond. It wasn’t even close, as he took the victory by more than three seconds over Jack Sprague, who won the race the following year. The 1997 season marked the only time Keselowski ran the full Truck Series schedule. He scored six top 10s and two top fives to go along with the lone win before ending the year 14th in the championship standings.

Sprague’s victory in 1998 was the first of two for the long-time driver in the series. That year, he dominated, leading more than half of the race en route to the victory over Ernie Irvan, who had led 48 laps on the day.

Fast forward to 2001 and Sprague was victorious at Richmond once again, though this time it was a truly dominant win when he led 196 of the 200 laps run. Despite his dominance, Sprague narrowly edged Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.062 seconds en route to his fourth and final win of the season, while solidifying his spot as the series champion.

The 1999 season brought Ford the first of just two wins at the track when Greg Biffle took the win under caution in a race that ran just four laps short of the full distance thanks to rain. It was Biffle’s eighth of nine wins that year, and despite the number of victories, he fell just eight points short of the championship to Sprague.

The following year, it was Rick Carelli’s turn to win at Richmond. He was far from the dominant driver — that honor actually went to Kurt Busch, who led 102 laps. In fact, Carelli led just 24 laps, including the final 21, en route to his fourth and final Truck Series victory in 134 career starts.

Meanwhile, Tony Stewart holds the distinction of being the only Truck Series driver to win back-to-back races at Richmond when he made the trip to Victory Lane in 2002 and 2003. In both of those races combined, he led just 66 laps and had less than a half-second cushion over the runner-up when taking the checkered flag.

Finally, in what was a complete opposite of Stewart’s wins, Ted Musgrave truly dominated the 2004 race, leading 199 of the 200 scheduled laps. The race was ultimately extended to 209 laps, thanks to a lengthy cleanup for oil on the track. It also ended under caution as Matt Crafton spun on the final lap in Turn 3.

Interestingly enough, it’s been long enough since the Truck Series last raced at Richmond Raceway that none of the track’s previous winners are racing in NASCAR anymore. In fact, very few active drivers even have Truck Series experience at the short track. Kyle Busch, Crafton, Travis Kvapil, Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter are the only drivers who have been around the sport long enough to have raced at Richmond.

I know I’m not the only one looking forward to the Truck Series’ return to Richmond, and the fact that it’s a short track, combined with the limited experience drivers will have before taking the green flag, already spells a recipe for success. Here’s hoping NASCAR does the right thing and allows Richmond to remain on the schedule for many years to come.

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