NASCAR & Auto Racing

Two-time Truck champ uses consistency to stay close

Here they are again.

When the NASCAR Truck Series debuted in 1995, it was primarily run on short tracks and a couple of road courses scattered around the country. Mike Skinner dominated the first season, winning eight races on his way to the series championship.

To win the title, Skinner had to hold off Joe Ruttman and a hot shoe from California named Ron Hornaday, a veteran of short tracks who carried that ability to Trucks along with a flair for the road courses. Hornaday finished third in the standings.

A dozen years later, Skinner and Hornaday find themselves locked in another fiercely contested championship battle. This time, Hornaday hopes to gain the upper hand.

“I wish we could see into the future. The way the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is and with what NASCAR has done with the rules, it’s going to come right down to the wire again,” Hornaday said.

“Mike Skinner is tough and (Travis) Kvapil is really running strong right now, so we’re just going to have to depend on (crew chief) Rick Ren and all of the guys at Kevin Harvick Inc.

“When we unload we have to have a fast truck and make the right decisions. We’ve been fortunate this year that we’ve been doing that, so it’s been pretty exciting. We’ve just got to keep trying to put ourselves in position to win.”

The 1995 title is Skinner’s only NASCAR championship. Hornaday won the series title in 1996 and 1998. He is attempting to join Jack Sprague as the only drivers with three championships, while trying to hand KHI its first.

Hornaday took the points lead for the first time this year after the Sept.1 race at St. Louis. He held it two weeks then lost it with a 22nd-place finish at Las Vegas. He trails Skinner by three points entering Saturday’s Mountain Dew 250 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Six races are left to decide the title.

“We’ve already got a rivalry going, a small one, so we can’t start too much right now. It’s going to take someone messing up,” Hornaday said. “If Skinner and I go out there beating and banging, you’ve got Kvapil there and if those two start doing that, you’ve got me there.

“Right now it’s Mike Skinner’s to lose and we’re going to be there knocking at his door and we’re going to do everything we have to do to give him the pressure so he does mess up.”

Skinner has extensive experience in all three of NASCAR’s top series. His Bill Davis Racing team has been stout, winning three of the year’s first four races.

Hornaday’s four wins have been spread throughout the year, and he has been remarkably consistent during the first 18 races. His worst finish was 11th March16 at Atlanta.

This is Hornaday’s third season driving for the team co-owned by Nextel Cup driver Kevin Harvick and his wife, DeLana. Hornaday played an instrumental role in helping Kevin Harvick, also a California native, get established in NASCAR.

“You have to have something that you’re racing for. We are certainly racing for wins, but to win the championship has always been a goal we’ve had at KHI. This is the first year we’ve really been in contention for a championship, and it takes your team to a whole new level in intensity and performance,” DeLana Harvick said.

“To get Ron the championship would mean more to me, and it would mean more to Kevin than I think anybody really knows. Ron did so much and gave so much to Kevin when he first got started.

“Ultimately, if we can give him his third championship, that would be priceless.”