Quick Hits from the Toyota Tundra 200 Truck Race
Ron Hornaday, Jr. (right) poses for fans as his crew looks on
Live from the Infield at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, TN, on the outskirts of Music City, U.S.A.
Hornaday, Jr. poised for another solid run, looks to push win streak to five
Ron Hornaday, Jr. has one of the hallmarks of a winner: he demands excellence at all times.
The three-time truck series champion sits on the outside of the second row after qualifying with the fourth-fastest lap.
However, the driver of the Longhorn Chevrolet Silverado seemed rather non-plussed by the run, with his fast lap taking a solid 30.310 seconds at a speed of 158.324.
After posing with and signing autographs for several from a crowd of his ardent fans, I caught up with Hornaday as he headed back to his trailer and asked was he satisfied with his run?
“Well, it was about the same as yesterday,” he said almost apologetically. “We had the truck setup for the race.”
When asked if he thought he would have a favorable race setup, he shrugged and simply said, “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
Hornaday, Jr. has won the last four stops on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (Milwaukee, Memphis, Kentucky and ORP) to surge into the points lead.
Struggling T. J. Bell looking to rebound, starting tonight
I stopped by the garage stall of the No. 11 team of T.J. Bell, who drives the Red Horse Racing/The Roys Toyota Tundra.
Bell currently sits at No. 18 in the points race, a distant 717 behind the leader, Hornaday, Jr. His crew remains upbeat about their prospects for the near future, however.
“We’ve been in a lot of wrecks that weren’t our fault,” said Bell crew member Adam Hartman. “It happens. But we’re startin’ fresh for the second half of the schedule.”
Getting the inside scoop on tires
The most crucial component on the outside of the race car is, obviously, the tires. The concrete track here at Nashville Superspeedway is chewing the race slicks up, and NASCAR has had to make adjustments to insure safe racing.
While talking shop with Hartman, he took out the time to explain some of the dynamics of tire wear in the truck series.
During practice for the race, the right side tires were being consumed much more quickly than they would at other tracks. Hartman explained that NASCAR had to step in with help.
“They’re giving us an extra set of tires for tonight’s race,” he informed me.
Typically, the rules allow each truck team to receive four sets of brand new racing slicks per race.
(The “treaded” tires that I reported before are grooved, practice-only tires that Goodyear distributes at random in order to collect data. These tires are grooved to guarantee that they are not used on race day.)
NASCAR had already granted the teams an extra set of right-side tires after early practice sessions had shown the propensity for wear at the tire shredder that is Nashville Superspeedway.
Right-side tires wear much faster due to track banking, with the right rear tire wearing fastest of all.
However, after seeing the deleterious effects on teams’ tires across the board, an additional full set of slicks has been approved for this race.
When I asked him what would happen to the practice tires that had worn so heavily, Hartman explained that they would be kept in reserve for the race.
“You never know what might happen during the race,” he started. “You might just need an emergency set (beyond the four allotted per team) and tires like these can be pulled out of the garage to help you finish the race.
“It happened to us just last week. We put ‘em (spent practice slicks) on and prayed they would get us to the end of the race, and somehow they did.”
Update on the rain; how long will it take to dry the track?
I spent some time talking across the wall to Hornaday, Jr.’s crew, shortly after I spoke briefly with their driver. The team seemed loose and at ease with their performance, echoing the driver’s assertion that they had the truck setup for a race, not necessarily peak speed for a qualifier.
Changing the setup after qualifying on race day is not an option under NASCAR rules.
Asked if they were confident about how the truck would do on long runs, they were pretty much in agreement that they would know around 15 laps into the race.
We then discussed the rain possibilities.
If NASCAR cannot give the green light to the race within three hours of the scheduled starting time, a postponement is mandated, though NASCAR reserves the right to alter that on a case-by-case basis.
With a truck race not exactly high on NASCAR’s radar, an exception in this case seems unlikely.
However, Hornaday, Jr.’s team is totally unconcerned about that happening. They feel the track can be dried in short order.
This idea was seconded by the crew for the No. 5 PC Miler Navigator Toyota Tundra, driven by Mike Skinner.
Skinner is second in the points, has been second-place to Hornaday, Jr. for the last two races, and is tied with Matt Crafton (again behind Hornaday, Jr.) with 10 top-10s finishes on the year.
I asked about Skinner's disappointing qualifying time (15th, inside of the eighth row), and they all rather srugged and/or looked at the ground before one volunteered that they had tried an experiment that failed.
Skinner was loose, almost to the point of "treacherous."
I discussed the possibility of a postponement with them, and was asked if the prognosis looked probable for a storm. I answered yes; not a matter of “if” so much as “when.”
As we then mused out loud about having to race tomorrow, a NASCAR official wandered over to share a moment of levity.
“I hate hearing people talk about a postponement,” he said with a deadpan expression. “Am I gonna have to beat up somebody I don’t even know?”
I quickly side-stepped responsibility for the conversation (which was, of course, totally triggered by my questions) by blaming one of Skinner’s crew for bringing up the issue of rain.
A good laugh was had by all. The NASCAR official estimates drying time at about two to two-and-a-half hours.
But the sky still looked angry. Like it or not, the timing of this race is in serious jeopardy.
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