AP Photo/Steve Helber
Still Searching For 2007 Form, BDR Replaces No. 5 Crew Chief HensleyOne of the biggest stories of the Craftsman Truck Series at the midway point of the season is the absence of the Bill Davis Racing No. 5 from the front of the pack. Mike Skinner is sixth in points and first in top-10s, but with no wins and only eight laps led, his Toyota Tundra clearly isn't the best in the series; in fact, it's not even the best at BDR. There's still time for fortunes to change, with 13 races remaining and only 113 points separating Skinner from defending champion Ron Hornaday Jr. But if the No. 5 is to close the gap, Jeff Hensley won't be atop the pit box to see it. After 3½ years with Skinner that saw eight wins and 26 poles, Hensley was abruptly replaced last week in a surprising shakeup, the first such move of the year among top teams. Joe Lax, crew chief for BDR's ARCA Series team before it was folded after driver Michael Annett's promotion to the trucks in the No. 22, took over Saturday at Memphis and will continue on an interim basis. "Mike and Jeff have been together a long time, and Jeff has done a tremendous job. But there comes a point where you kind of look at things and [think] a little shake-up will be good, some new chemistry, that type of thing," said BDR general manager Mike Chambers, adding that Hensley would be offered a different role with the organization. "I thought that's what we needed at the time on the 5 to see if we could take it to the next level." That came as a surprise to Hensley, who was under the impression he would be allowed to continue to work toward turning the season around, starting with tests over the next couple weeks, in advance of the schedule that resumes July 19 at Kentucky. "It did kind of blindside me," Hensley said. "We had all sat down and collectively figured that, OK, we're going to go test and figure out some things and be really strong for the second half of the season. I guess that's not going to be the case now." Hensley said he believed Skinner initiated the change, although Chambers said it was a management call. Skinner said he passionately lobbied for Hensley to be retained at BDR in some capacity -- "he's the best-ever at preparing these trucks," the 1995 champion said -- but didn't stand in the way of the crew-chief change. "I think that we were just getting a little stale," Skinner said. "You see [Jack] Roush, you see [Richard] Childress, you see a lot of people [make changes], it was just the time of year, and with the type of year we're having if we're ever going to do anything like that, it would have been the time to maybe try it. "I don't know what's coming next. I know Jeff Hensley and I have been friends for a long time, have had a lot of success together. Hopefully none of that ever changes." Yet on the track a difference in philosophy was clear, alongside the obvious difference in performance. A year ago at this time, the No. 5 already had 10 top-5s with three wins, whereas this year there have been three top-5s with no wins or seconds. Johnny Benson and the No. 23 Toyota have passed Skinner as BDR's strongest truck team at the moment, sitting fourth in points with six top-5s and a win two weeks ago at Milwaukee. The third BDR entry, the No. 22, was driven to Victory Lane at Dover in May by rookie Scott Speed. "I'm sure deep down it was eating [Skinner] alive to see the 23 running good, knowing that we weren't quite as sharp as we could have been at places," Hensley said. "We tried what they were doing; it just wasn't working for him. We hadn't found that niche for him just yet, but we were getting better every week. It hasn't been a typical performance thing [so much] as it has been we just haven't been in the right place at the right time this year, like we were last year." The only throwaway races for the No. 5 were the opener at Daytona (crash) and in March at Martinsville (out of gas two laps from the finish) -- both 29th-place days. The team's most-recent top-5 was Mansfield, Ohio, with five races since then all ending in finishes between seventh and 10th place. (Skinner was seventh at Memphis in his first start with Lax as crew chief.) Most teams would be thrilled with that kind of consistency, but the No. 5's measuring stick isn't the competition so much as its own results from last year. "We just butted heads on a lot of things that we probably didn't need to. Last year's approach, Jeff said to me, was a lot different than this year's approach," Skinner said. "We were thinking differently about springs and thinking differently about stuff. Jeff got caught up in trying to give me what I wanted and pleasing me, and maybe took his eye off of making that truck go as fast as it would go." Hensley, 45, said Monday he had not returned to the BDR shop since the move, as his mother has been hospitalized. But the word on his situation spread throughout the series, and he said several teams have contacted him with potential offers. "There's five, six teams out there that believe I know what I'm doing, because they called," Hensley said. "I'm tickled. After you've been beat down like I have this year, been made to believe I didn't know what I was doing, or we weren't doing things right. Eventually, if you're told you're not doing things right enough, you believe it, even though I don't have any lack of confidence in my ability." 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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