AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Roush Fenway's Braun Making Progress -- And EnemiesThis should have been a more enjoyable moment for 19-year-old Colin Braun, finishing a career-best third in only his sixth Craftsman Truck Series start. Instead of climbing out of his Roush Fenway Racing Ford to well-wishers along pit road at Kansas Speedway, though, he had a different welcome. ThorSport's Matt Crafton came rushing over, incensed by an incident just past the midpoint of the race when Braun sent him spinning, ending any chance at a top-10 day. "He just ran into the back of me. I promise you he messed up, he messed up bad," Crafton said later. "I said, 'What goes around comes around.'" Crafton, about ready to stuff Braun into the bed of his F-150, had to be restrained by officials. Shortly after that, Jack Sprague paid a visit, less heated but still pointed in the wake of a late-race tangle when both were trying to chase down eventual winner Ron Hornaday Jr. "I got underneath him clean, never touched him at all, and he came down and about took himself out," said Sprague, who finished second in the 1-2 finish for Kevin Harvick Inc. "If I wanted to be a prick about it, I could have stayed there and he'd have spun and hit the fence, but I let him go and I passed him on the outside. "I just basically told him: 'That was your gift; don't mess with me, I'm not in the mood, I've done this a long time. I ain't gonna take it.'" Welcome to NASCAR, Colin Braun. The rookie is an unquestioned talent and is driving one of the series' top trucks, the Roush Fenway No. 6, which was piloted to 10 wins in 2006-07 by Mark Martin and Travis Kvapil. It's a combination destined to run up front, but Braun is finding out that in a series advertising "tough trucks, tough racing," there's actually a very delicate balance between the two. Right now, he's making progress and making enemies. Braun rose to the top of the rookie of the year race with the Kansas finish, his second top-10 of the season. It would be a surprise if he didn't win that award at season's end. Whether he'll have earned the respect of fellow drivers along with his racing stripes remains to be seen. "The kid is a very talented driver," Hornaday said at Kansas after winning his series-best 34th race. "My hat's off to him; he's doing a great job in that thing. I thought he was going to be the guy I had to race to beat. But he's going to have to pick and choose his battles. He's got to remember he is a rookie; he's got to have the respect for the guys who have been doing this a long time." Hornaday said he didn't see that respect in March at Martinsville, Va., when Braun ran into the side of the defending champion's Chevrolet. Overzealous racing from Braun at the half-mile paper clip also angered Todd Bodine, the 2006 champion. Braun's not afraid to mix it up on the ovals, even though he has yet to amass even 10 oval starts. The native Texan was a road-racing prodigy, driving go-karts internationally at age 8 and driving in the 24 Hours of Daytona at age 16. He became the youngest driver to stand on the podium at Le Mans, and in 2007 signed a developmental driver contract with Roush. He won the pole position at the Nationwide Series race at Mexico City last month. In the truck series, Roush Fenway paired Braun with 52-year-old crew chief Mike Beam, a veteran of nearly three decades in the garage with Bill Elliott, Michael Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and many others in all three of NASCAR's top series. Beam's task is to rein in all that talent and prepare Braun to move up the ladder. "When he gets to the racetrack, he reminds me of Mark Martin, he's so ready to go from the first lap," Beam said. "You have another Kyle Busch, someone like that, in the making. His talent, his car control is amazing. "It's tough for Colin; he wants to win so bad. Like I keep telling him, if we're on the hauler after 10 laps, he doesn't gain any experience. It is tough from his standpoint. You have to show the Ron Hornadays, Mike Skinners, Jack Spragues, the Craftons respect; you have to race them clean and try to beat them. It's hard for him because it is totally new to learn that. With the road-racing background, you race the track. The strategy is different here in NASCAR: You've just got to race. He's a quick study, but people have to understand his inexperience is really showing up in places like that. "I hope that the other guys get to know him and understand he's just a kid. That's all he is. As we get older, we just forget that when we were 19 years old and starting in racing, good gosh, how inexperienced we were." Beam explained to Braun that punting Crafton at Kansas was his fault and that several of the other run-ins also fell on his shoulders. "It does bother me a little bit that I made those mistakes," Braun said. "I want to go out there and gain the respect of those veteran drivers. Doing that stuff doesn't help me gain the respect. That stuff bothers me on a personal level, just because I didn't do as good a job as I needed to do." Still, he's a 19-year-old rookie. Braun's aw-shucks demeanor plays well on television and with the media, but it takes more than that in the garage. A lot of young drivers come and go in the truck series. "I'd like to be well-liked as a person; I'm sure wrecking Matt Crafton and getting with Jack Sprague doesn't help me being liked in the truck garage, but I'm doing everything I can to be liked in the truck garage." He can help himself by listening to the likes of Beam -- "As far as getting it? I don't know, I hope so. But I say that about my 14-year-old daughter too," Beam said -- but more importantly, by putting his lessons to work on the track. The next time he gets out of his truck after a good day, let's hope he'll be congratulated for what went right rather than chastised for what didn't. "He'll take his lumps, take his bruises," Hornaday said. "I'm sure Jack [Roush] is back there, pushing him hard. In that truck, that's a lot of pressure for a young kid. He's going to win his races. It might take another three races, it might take a year, but he's going to figure it out." John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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