Teamwork putting Toyota over the top
It must be a comfortable feeling, sitting in a Toyota Tundra late in a race.
Jack Sprague had a truck capable of winning last week's Chevy Silverado HD 250 at Daytona, but he needed a friend. These days in the Craftsman Truck Series, friends usually aren't far away.
With fortuitous bump-drafting from fellow Toyota driver Johnny Benson, Sprague managed to beat the strong Ford of Roush Fenway Racing's Travis Kvapil on the high side by 0.031 seconds, stealing the biggest race of the year and once again showing Toyota's mettle as the class of the series.
It's not necessarily that the Tundras are the best trucks. Kvapil led the most laps at Daytona (49 of 100) in his Ford, the same ride that dominated in January testing. Running alone, Toyotas might be inferior.
But the Toyotas are rarely alone when it matters. Look at last year's series, when the top six drivers and seven of the top 10 in points drove Toyotas, ending up in Victory Lane 12 times in 25 races. Then, at Daytona, where the Toyota had never won, one Tundra had an escort from another, and four of the top five finishers wore the familiar nameplate.
"That's probably going to be the case" all season, said Sprague, of Wyler Racing. "All the Toyota drivers work so hard to help each other.
"Travis' truck was awesome. There's no doubt he had the best truck. He didn't win the race because of the Toyota drivers working together."
It's an interesting dynamic, one that is not seen elsewhere in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both drive Chevrolets and might work together during a race, but one's not going to push the other to victory on the last lap and arrive beaming at a postrace news conference over bringing a fellow Monte Carlo home.
In the trucks, it's different.
"The 60 [Sprague] is basically a teammate. He's in the Toyota family," Benson said after finishing second for Bill Davis Racing. "Our job is to help our guys. So that's what we did."
And for the season opener, Sprague got the glory. It filled the one gap in his amazing truck career, which includes 27 other race wins and three championships, and put him atop the points standings for the first time since he claimed title No. 3 in 2001.
Whether Sprague can stay on top remains to be seen. But he knows he'll have friends in high places if needed.
Harvick, Martin to meet again -- in trucks
Mark Martin doesn't have to wait a full week to get back on the track with Kevin Harvick. The Nextel Cup stars, separated at the Daytona 500 finish line by two one-hundredths of a second, are scheduled to race in Friday night's San Bernardino County 200 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
Harvick will make his first trucks start since Richmond in 2005, driving the No. 2 truck he co-owns with his wife, DeLana. Cale Gale drove the No. 2 at Daytona, finishing 14th.
"It will be really fun to race the truck on the big track," Harvick said. "I haven't been there since 1999, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Martin is the defending champion at California, but he returns in a different Ford from the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 he won in six times last season. He'll drive the Wood Brothers' No. 21, driven to a 26th-place finish at Daytona by rookie Kelly Bires.
He's comfortable in California
If it's a safe bet to look for a Toyota at the front come Friday night, it might be an even better bet that Ted Musgrave will be driving it. The Germain Racing driver has started six truck races at California, winning three times and never finishing lower than fifth.
"California Speedway is kind of one of my favorite tracks," he said. "There's great racing, lots of strategy, drafting, fuel mileage challenges, pit strategy, the racing is definitely two grooves, maybe three grooves -- all the elements a driver loves to have."
Musgrave's California wins came in consecutive years from 2001 to 2003, a streak broken in 2004 by defending series champion Todd Bodine, now a Germain Racing teammate.
Just 33 trucks were on the preliminary entry list for California, three shy of a full field. The series had just one race with fewer than 36 trucks in 2006, the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix. The last year any races were run with as few as 33 trucks was 2003. Carl Edwards is pulling triple duty again, competing in trucks, Busch and Cup at California. His truck race at Daytona was the least successful of the three, with early transmission problems contributing to a 24th-place finish.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- Anthony confirms new contract with Knicks
- Sources: Deng joins Heat for 2 years, $20M
- Gotze, Germany claim World Cup
- Maradona blasts FIFA for giving Messi award