Here's a scary thought for competitors in the NASCAR Truck Series: Reigning champion Ron Hornaday is in a better position at this point of the season than he was last year.
Hornaday won his third series championship last season and the first for Kevin Harvick Inc. But entering the race at Lowe's Motor Speedway last year, the sixth of the season, he was 154 points out of the lead.
He won at the speedway, his first series victory there, but didn't claim the standings lead until a second-place finish at Saint Louis later in the season.
This season, he's fresh off his first victory - two weeks ago at Kansas - and already entrenched as the points leader entering Friday's N.C. Education Lottery 200 at the speedway.
"We're leading the points now and that's great, but we've got the whole season ahead of us," said Hornaday, who drives the No. 33 Chevrolet for KHI. "We just have to keep working hard and do what we're doing to be there at the end.
"That (win at the speedway) was the first win for (both) me and Rick Ren (crew chief) at that track. We have a lot of momentum going into this race and we're looking for another strong run."
Pushing Hornaday all the way is his former rival-turned-teammate Jack Sprague, who has three championships of his own.
In their first season as teammates, the series stalwarts have wasted no time running to the front. When Hornaday won at Kansas, Sprague finished second.
"We finished one-two, but I really wanted to win (the) race really bad and I tried really hard to stay out of trouble, but we just came up one short," said Sprague, who is ninth in points. "But who better to lose to than your teammate?"
With a win and two drivers in the top nine in points in the first five races, Hornaday feels that the Truck program at KHI is only getting better.
Not to mention that his crew chief, Ren, who has the most wins (16) of any active crew chief in the series and is tied for third in all-time wins.
"What Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) are doing at KHI, just putting the right people in the right places, it's an honor to race equipment like this," said Hornaday, the 50-year-old native of Palmdale, Calif.
Hornaday started the season with a 25th-place finish at Daytona, but has not finished lower than eighth in the four races since.
He's also started from the pole in three of the five races. Sprague has not had quite the consistency, but does have a pole and two finishes of sixth or better in his first five races with KHI.
There were many who questioned the wisdom of pairing Hornaday and Sprague - who have had their differences on the track over the years - as competitive teammates.
"We have got three championships apiece and a lot of wins. It is definitely going to help the team out with how good Ernie (Cope, Sprague's crew chief) and Rick Ren are working together, and Jack and I," Hornaday said.
So far, KHI has managed to keep both competitive and the organization in the hunt for its second consecutive series championship.
"Adding a second team with another three-time champion, that means we've set a good standard for our program," said DeLana Harvick.
What has helped the smooth the transition this season has been preparation more than anything else, Hornaday said.
"We're winning at the shop," he said. "We unload at the track and we're fast off the truck. At Kansas, I think the only thing I adjusted to my truck when we started the weekend was my seatbelt and the mirror.
"That shows you how the scenario is running at KHI right now."