Skinner back on top after winning wreck-filled race at Martinsville
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Mike Skinner sneaked into the lead and held off Jack Sprague for the final 66 laps Saturday, helped along by numerous cautions that made the Kroger 200 Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway look like a brawl.
The race was red-flagged with seven laps to go after an accident coming out of Turn 4 that involved at least nine trucks and left wreckage and fluid strewn everywhere.
It went back to green for a three-lap dash to the finish, and with the trucks behind him jockeying, Skinner sailed off to his series-best fifth victory of the season. Fittingly, the final lap ended with one more pileup.
Skinner, who started the race 14 points behind Ron Hornaday Jr. in the championship battle, moved 11 points ahead, the fourth time in the last five races the drivers have swapped the top spot. Hornaday, who did his share of beating and banging on the tight, 0.526-mile oval, rallied to finish third and has four races to make up the difference.
He's seeking his third truck series championship, Skinner his second.
The victory, achieved after Skinner and the rest of the leaders made their only pit stop just 27 laps in, was Skinner's 24th in the series and second here this season.
"I expected probably a lot more mixup right there at the end," Skinner said. "I knew that Jack was hungry for a win and he definitely played it like a true champion. He could have wrecked us. He chose not to and the only thing I can say is if the shoe's on the other foot sometime, I can pay him back and give him the same respect."
The race marked the NASCAR debut of Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti, and he and fellow open-wheel transplant Jacques Villeneuve were treated to some of the physical driving that they rarely experienced in Indy cars.
He was running 16th when it happened, and Villeneuve was running 13th when he got clipped from behind as Jason Leffler and Clint Bowyer made contact. Villeneuve's truck spun and hit the wall in the front stretch hard, and he was done after 157 laps.
"They don't look like they were the problem today," Hornaday said, blaming some of the veterans in the race for the sloppy way it unfolded.
Nextel Cup regular Denny Hamlin was amazed at the rough driving.
"Wow. These guys are just crazy out there. They just stick it in gear and go," he said after finishing 19th. "It was a lot of fun out there until they started to wreck each other all over the place."
Skinner, clearly, was in the best position of all in pursuit of a championship to go with the one he won in the first year of the series, 1995. Even though Sprague tried repeatedly to nudge him out of the way, the cautions allowed him to stay out front.
"I didn't think at that point in the race that I could stay in the front. I thought [Sprague] was the best truck, but we just kept getting those cautions," he said.
"I needed about 10 laps of green-flag racing to pass Skinner," he said.
In all, there were 13 cautions that produced 70 laps of cleanup.
Terry Cook, who started 24th, moved into the lead when he stayed on the track on the first caution after just 26 laps. The move worked for a long time as he led 108 laps until Sprague got tired of running behind him and nudged him out of the way.
The problem for Sprague was that his truck also wiggled from the contact, and when it did, Skinner ducked underneath both in Turn 2 and replaced Cook as the leader.
That's how they stayed the rest of the way.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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