- John Schwarb
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The chasers of the Craftsman Truck Series finally got their wish: an off-night from Mike Skinner.
Ron Hornaday was first in line to take advantage.
The two-time series champion prevailed last Friday at the end of a marathon at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, claiming the Power Stroke Diesel 200. The win was the 32nd of Hornaday's career -- adding to his all-time truck series wins record -- and third of the season.
More importantly, with Skinner finishing out of the top 10 for the first time -- he ended a season-worst 20th -- Hornaday cut Bill Davis Racing's driver's lead from 164 points to 77. Skinner came in with his largest points lead of the season, but, upon leaving Indianapolis, it appears he has a fight on his hands.
"[Crew chief] Rick Ren and all the guys are doing what they have to do," Hornaday said. "We've got to go out every race and try not to have problems."
Hornaday talked to the points leader after the race, and Skinner reported that he couldn't get any traction in the No. 5 Toyota. Hornaday, on the other hand, drove a dialed-in Chevrolet that led a race-high 90 laps and survived a pair of late restarts including a green-white-checker finish.
Following an afternoon of rain, the .686-mile oval was slick Friday night. Teams were able to practice early, but qualifying was rained out and the race was postponed for some two hours. The field was set on owners' points, putting Skinner and Hornaday in the front row, and Hornaday was able to best handle the slippery track, crediting an unusual source.
"I raced at [Ken] Schrader's little dirt track in Pevely [Mo.] earlier this week and learned to slide it there pretty good," Hornaday said. "So I was prepared for the slick track here. I think Schrader's track actually did help, because I was sliding it in there the last 10 laps of the race."
For Hornaday, it was a good recovery from the race two weeks ago at Kentucky, where he took the blame for a bad set-up call that led to what he called a 20th-place truck that, fortunately, was able to pull out a 10th-place finish. After Hornaday's poor finish in Kentucky -- a race Skinner won for his first victory since the fourth race of the year at Martinsville, Va. -- it appeared looked like Hornaday would have a tall hill to climb in the second half of the season.
It's not as tall now, but Hornaday insists the game plan isn't any different, and there is plenty of time in the form of 11 races remaining.
"We've got to try to win races," he said. "We're going to have to get on the wheel and do things that we usually don't do with chassis setup, we've got to be the best when we unload and fast in the races."
Sauter ahead in rookie race
With Aaron Fike suspended for the season, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race is wide open. The winner could be a 42-year-old journeyman.
Tim Sauter, a veteran of 111 Busch Series races, is leading the standings, having finished 18th at ORP in the No. 07 Green Light Racing Chevrolet. He started 24th with owners' points setting the field, moving up to battle for a top-10 spot midway through the race before falling back a bit.
"We had a good truck the first half of the race, I think from Lap 30 to Lap 50 we were the fastest truck on the track," Sauter said. "That second set of tires just didn't feel as good, but we thought we could hold our own."
Erik Darnell finished seventh at Indianapolis in his Roush Fenway Ford, returning to the top 10 in the standings for the first time since early 2006, his rookie season. On an otherwise unremarkable night Skinner kept one record alive at ORP, leading 21 laps to extend his streak of races with at least one lap led to 18. The series will run twice in August, both in Tennessee with races at Nashville (Aug. 11) and Bristol (Aug. 22).
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Ron Hornaday needed a break to make up some ground on Craftsman Truck Series leader Mike Skinner. When Skinner struggled last week in Indianapolis, Hornaday pounced, writes John Schwarb.