Part-time Kyle Busch makes strongest impact in trucks' first half

Updated: July 11, 2008, 10:48 AM ET

Sam Sharpe/US PRESSWIRE

Kyle Busch celebrated victories back to back early in the season.

Part-timer Kyle Busch has had a full-time impact on the series

At the midway point of the Craftsman Truck Series season, Ron Hornaday Jr. and the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 33 team are getting into the same kind of groove that carried them to the title a year ago, with two wins in the past four races pushing the Chevy to the top of the points.

Elsewhere in the series there have been other notable story lines, from the continuing dominance of the 40- and 50-something crowd (Hornaday is 50, and seven of the top nine in the standings are 40 and over) to the glut of first-time winners from veteran Matt Crafton to rookies such as Donny Lia and Scott Speed.

But for guaranteed entertainment, nothing beat Kyle Busch.

The 23-year-old is on top of the Sprint Cup standings, having won an amazing six races at that season's midpoint. He has drawn awe (see his save last week at Daytona, ducking to the apron then working through the field again and winning) and scorn (see his late-race tangle with the No. 88 at Richmond) from fans and fellow drivers alike.

Ditto all that for his part-time exploits in the truck series.

Busch has run eight of 12 events in the Billy Ballew Motorsports No. 51 Toyota, starting the season with a second at Daytona and wins at California and Atlanta to take the points lead. Media couldn't get enough of touting Busch as leading all three NASCAR touring series, though he was never going to be a threat for a truck title once the schedules went in their different directions.

Still, Busch found ways to make some races he had no business running. In June he pulled off a NASCAR first, racing in three series in three states in three days. His truck effort was the best of the three, a runner-up at Texas -- after starting the race from the back of the field for not qualifying his truck. And he still called the truck "a piece of crap" afterward.

It was hard not to respect efforts like Texas and not be flat-out mystified at others, such as his passing on the apron at Atlanta. Then there were times "Rowdy" got on the wrong side of series regulars.

At Daytona, Busch was blamed by some for causing "the big one" on Lap 19 after he came down on Mike Skinner. Brendan Gaughan, taken out in the crash in his first race with a new Circle Bar Racing team, said "[Busch] doesn't care about this, it's his fun time."

At Martinsville, Busch dumped Johnny Benson on a green-white-checkered finish, ending both drivers' runs to possible top-three finishes. Benson's Bill Davis Racing crew confronted Busch afterward, and Busch was summoned to the NASCAR hauler.

Then there was Michigan, where Busch bumped Hornaday on the last lap, sending Hornaday spinning in a cloud of smoke. Hornaday's owner, Kevin Harvick, went after Busch after the trucks were parked, and Hornaday offered stern words for the driver 27 years his junior.

"If he is going to race that way, that is pretty chicken. He doesn't deserve to be a racer," he said. "I don't knock any other driver, but I will tell you what, that kid, has just about done wore me out. … He is just out there, I don't know what it is. I guess it is an ego trip and if he is going to wreck me every week, I guess we are going to have to do it back to him."

There's plenty of time for that to happen. Busch hasn't raced since Michigan but will be back in the No. 51 at Kentucky next week and most of the races down the stretch when the truck series hooks in with Cup weekends.

Just try not watching him. His competition can't.

"I might get yelled at for saying this, but I enjoy when he comes and races in this series," Roush Fenway Racing's Erik Darnell said. "If you can beat him, it's a good thing. I like the competitiveness of having him competing in the series against us, it kind of gives us something to shoot for, because you know he's going to be fast every week.

"He can be aggressive at times, he can be kind of a wild man out there. He's out there just to win races, and you see that on the track every week."

Some other highlights at the midway mark of the season

Best win, heartstrings division: Dennis Setzer's triumph at Martinsville, Va., for Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia was the team's first since Hamilton won in 2005. The 2004 series champion died in January 2007 and the team moved to Virginia over the winter to get a fresh start of sorts. Setzer's win wasn't far from the new team headquarters.

Best win, racing division: Rookie Donny Lia has led one lap all season: Lap 250 at Mansfield, Ohio, beating and banging with veterans David Starr and Todd Bodine in a three-wide race to the line.

Best win with a decimal: Darnell's win at Michigan over Benson was by inches, or .005 seconds, the closest in truck series history since electronic timing was instituted.

Call it the Red Bull … no, Revlon Toyota: Scott Speed won at Dover with painted toenails. Had he won the following week, other teams would have scrambled to hire pedicurists.

The Family Channel: Chrissy Wallace's father, Nationwide Series regular Mike Wallace, spotted for Chrissy at her Martinsville debut, likely marking the first time in-race radio discussions included exchanges such as "Dad, I'm trying," and "just letting you know, honey."

Disturbing trend: Five races did not have 36-truck full fields. Atlanta had 32, the shortest field in seven years.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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By The Numbers

At the start of the year we looked at five to watch in a number of categories. A dozen races later, those lists are revisited with some re-evaluations.

FIVE FAVORITES
  • Ron Hornaday Jr., No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet -- The three-time champion, along with crew chief Rick Ren, is leading and on a roll. Like Mike Skinner a year ago, the No. 33 is piling up bonus points with laps led in every race but one and the most led laps in four races.
  • Mike Skinner, No. 5 Bill Davis Racing Toyota -- It's not happening so far this year for the '07 runner-up, despite a series-high 10 top-10s. Will the dismissal of respected crew chief Jeff Hensley be the answer?
  • Johnny Benson, No. 23 Bill Davis Racing Toyota -- Fourth in points and very much in the hunt, but finishes of 30th and 33rd have been costly. Second half of the past season was strong with three wins.
  • Todd Bodine, No. 30 Germain Racing Toyota -- The 2006 champion is third in points and likely heading full time to the Nationwide Series next season.
  • Jack Sprague, No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet -- Eighth in points with flashes of power on his new team, but unlikely to be the top team at KHI this year, much less the series.
FIVE DARK HORSES
  • Rick Crawford, No. 14 Circle Bar Racing Ford -- Fifth in points with all but one lap completed all season, but no wins or runner-up finishes.
  • Ted Musgrave, No. 59 HT Motorsports Toyota -- First season with new team has yet to yield a top-5.
  • Matt Crafton, No. 88 ThorSport Chevrolet -- Forget dark horse; the eight-year veteran is second in points and a serious contender. Finally got the monkey off his back with his first win in May at Charlotte.
  • Erik Darnell, No. 99 Roush Fenway Ford -- Has moved from 12th to seventh in points in last three races with a fourth, a runner-up and a thrilling win by inches over Benson at Michigan.
  • Dennis Setzer, No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia Dodge -- Win at Martinsville, Va., was manufacturer's first since 2005.
FIVE MOVERS
  • David Starr, No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota -- Came up short in fierce last-lap battle with rookie Donny Lia at Mansfield, Ohio.
  • Brendan Gaughan, No. 10 Circle Bar Racing Ford -- Poor qualifying has made him work hard nearly every race on new team.
  • Terry Cook, No. 60 Wyler Racing Toyota -- Has completed every lap since Daytona, ninth in points in Sprague's old truck.
  • Stacy Compton, No. 4 Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia Dodge -- Led first laps of season two weeks ago at Memphis.
  • Joey Clanton, No. 09 Roush Fenway Racing Ford -- Moved out after one race and has not returned to series; Travis Kvapil and Bobby East have taken bulk of starts.
FIVE ROOKIES
  • Colin Braun, No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford -- Leads rookie points but on-track growing pains have not gone unnoticed by regulars.
  • Shelby Howard, No. 13 ThorSport Chevrolet -- One top-10 in second ThorSport truck.
  • Andy Lally, No. 7 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet -- Road-racing specialist has not run in past four races.
  • Justin Marks, No. 9 Germain Racing Toyota -- Second in rookie points; won pole at Texas.
  • Phillip McGilton, No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota -- An economic casualty after four decent starts, Speed and his Red Bull sponsor have made six starts since with one win.

Standings