MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Mike Skinner put his Toyota truck in just about the only safe place there was at Martinsville Speedway – the lead – and stayed there to pick up the victory in Saturday’s rough-and-tumble Kroger 200.
Skinner grabbed his 24th career Craftsman Truck Series victory after passing Jack Sprague and Terry Cook in a three-way battle on Lap 135 and holding on through a shower of caution flags the rest of the way.
Ron Hornaday slogged through 13 caution flags plus one that didn’t count – half the field piled up in Turn 4 on the final lap after Skinner took the checkered flag – to finish third.
Still, Skinner’s win moved him back into the lead in the Truck Series standings by 11 points over Hornaday. Hornaday began the race with a 14-point lead.
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“We saw lead changes, we saw tempers flare and we saw people act professionally,” Skinner said after the wild finish. “We saw it all. It was classic short-track racing.”
Cook, trying to complete all 200 laps without a pit stop, was leading on Lap 135. with Sprague riding his rear bumper into turns 1 and 2. Sprague gave Cook a short-track shove, but as those two trucks tangled Skinner pounced.
“I just moved him up a lane,” Sprague said of Cook. “Then he tried to kill me in the middle of the corner and Skinner got by me.”
Sprague spent the rest of the afternoon trying unsuccessfully to get the drop on Skinner on one of the restarts after that.
“I just wasn’t willing to wreck Mike for the win,” Sprague said. “Jack could have wrecked us, but he elected not to,” Skinner said. “Hopefully the shoe is on the other foot some time and I can pay him back.”
That, however, was among the afternoon’s few exchanges of civility. Jacques Villeneuve, making his second career Truck Series start, and Dario Franchitti, in his NASCAR debut, were among those who got punted in a race that got rougher as it went along. Villeneuve finished 32nd and Franchitti 33rd.
“People get impatient and start hitting each other,” Sprague said. “The closer you get to the end of the race the more it happens.”
That was precisely the pattern here, and at the very end Turn 4 twice got turned into an expensive junk heap. First, on Lap 194, Tim Sauter’s truck got turned in traffic, sending Sauter into the outside wall. He then got drilled by Joey Clanton’s on-rushing truck as other bounced off in all manner of tangents.
“There ain’t no giving and taking, and I guess from now on I am going to get them before they get me,” Sauter said. “I think Todd Bodine is an idiot. I think he got into (Travis) Kvapil and Kvapil got into me, and I mean nobody lifted.”
NASCAR halted the race under a red flag and spread around a train-car load of material to sop up the fluid spilled onto the track.
There were only three laps left when the green finally flew again, with Matt Crafton, Rick Crawford and Hornaday lining up behind Skinner and Sprague for the restart. As that group jockeyed for better finishing positions, Crafton got moved out of line on the final lap and that led to another big pileup off the final turn.
Crafton wound up 18th. David Starr somehow picked his way through the melee to get fourth ahead of Crawford.