Bodine trying to keep Skinner in his sights

4/5/2007 - NASCAR

There's no debating that the Craftsman Truck Series has become the Mike Skinner Show, with the former champion winning his third consecutive race last Saturday at Martinsville.

But the defending champion isn't blinking yet.

Todd Bodine's effort at Martinsville was as gritty as Skinner's was dominating, as the Germain Racing veteran pulled a runner-up finish out of a trying weekend.

Battling a severe cold, Bodine qualified his Toyota Tundra 26th, his worst starting spot of the season. The sickness required Bodine to take fluids in the infield care center right up until the green flag fell.

In the Kroger 250, running in the back would be enough to make anyone sick. The race had 15 cautions for 85 laps (compared to 13 yellows for 93 laps in Sunday's Nextel Cup race, contested at twice the distance), creating plenty of havoc behind the leaders.

"Track position at Martinsville is everything, there's always bumping and banging and back in the pack you'll be in the middle of all of it," Bodine said. "That's where we were to start with, so we used strategy to get to the front and keep us out of it."

The team made an early pit stop at Lap 41 for four tires and the adjustments it needed to fix an early tight condition, then some 40 laps later took two tires to gain crucial track position. When Skinner took the lead for good at Lap 82 in his Toyota, Bodine was third. Moments later he would move into second, and he kept that position the rest of the way for his best Martinsville finish in seven truck starts.

The finish was Bodine's second consecutive runner-up and kept him firmly second in points, 94 behind Skinner and 49 ahead of No. 3 Rick Crawford. While Skinner has the lead and the limelight after three wins in the season's first four races, Bodine is only 11 points off the pace he set in last year's opening four races on the way to the series title.

After four events last year, Bodine was third in points and 58 out of the lead. He already had one win under his belt, but more were soon to come. He won the season's fifth race, at Gateway (Ill.). This year's fifth race is at Kansas, but that's also a good track for Bodine as he won there in 2005.

"We're fairly pleased, we've run very well in every race except California and we still got a decent finish there [seventh], we had a shot to win at Daytona and Atlanta," said Bodine, a 10-time race winner. "We feel like we've learned a lot over the winter, the Hillmans [general manager Mike Hillman Sr. and crew chief Mike Hillman Jr.] went to work, getting our performance back to where it needs to be, and that's at the front.

"We're looking forward to getting on some tracks where we know how to dominate."

Sutton returns to trucks
The truck series has had at least one race contested with a female driver the last six consecutive seasons, and that streak will continue April 28 at Kansas.

Kelly Sutton, the leading female in winnings ($442,882) and starts (51) in the series, signed to drive Billy Ballew Motorsports' No. 51 Chevrolet for four races. Her last start was in August 2006 at Nashville and her top finish was 15th in 2005 at Charlotte

Sutton crashed in all three of her previous starts at Kansas.

"Kansas Speedway hasn't been very kind to me," Sutton said. "I really want to go back there with a vengeance and conquer the track. I've had some pretty hard hits there, but I know that this Billy Ballew Motorsports team has put together a great truck for us and we are excited to see what we can do."

Spare parts
Two rookies finished in the top 10 for the first time this season at Martinsville: Aaron Fike (seventh) and Tyler Walker (eighth). Fike, a Toyota driver for Red Horse Racing, leads the rookie of the year race and is 10th in the championship standings. … The four-week layoff between races is the longest of the season. Skinner and Bodine, among others, will spend part of the layoff testing at Pocono.

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