Commentary

Runner-up finish good enough for new points leader Hornaday

Move over, Mike Skinner. Ron Hornaday Jr. is the new points leader in the Craftsman Truck Series after Saturday's runner-up finish at Gateway, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: September 12, 2007, 12:33 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

Ron Hornaday could have made matters a lot more interesting with 13 laps to go Saturday in Madison, Ill., when Johnny Benson passed him on the outside for the race lead coming out of Turn 2.

The all-time wins leader in the Craftsman Truck Series isn't usually one to let that kind of opportunity pass so easily, but he's stalking a bigger prize.

In finishing second at the Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200 at Gateway International Raceway, that prize came into focus more clearly. For the first time this year, the 1996 and '98 trucks champion has the lead in the '07 title chase.

I'd rather be the guy who is chasing than have them end up chasing me.

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Hornaday had trailed Mike Skinner in the points since the season's seventh race in May at Mansfield, Ohio, but after the 17th race Saturday he took over first place. Skinner finished 28th at Gateway after a blown tire, allowing Hornaday to take over first by four points with his runner-up finish to Benson.

"I probably could have ran Johnny a little harder [for the win]," said Hornaday, who led a race-high 94 laps in his Chevrolet but conceded to Benson's Toyota. "With 40 laps to go, I told the guys, 'Look at the big picture. I know Johnny's coming, but it's going to be a good points day for us.'"

Make that a great points day. When Skinner dominated the first half of the season, winning four times with 11 top-5 finishes in 13 races, Hornaday and other contenders said all they could do was try to stay at the front and wait for Skinner to have an off day.

The 1995 champion now has had two such days in the last four races, having finished 20th at Indianapolis before Saturday at Gateway.

For the first time this season, Skinner failed to complete every lap when a blown right front tire on Lap 56 sent him into the wall and then to the garage for extended repairs.

Hornaday didn't learn of Skinner's fate until later in the race but knew Skinner had been battling a tire problem since Friday.

"I kind of had a feeling. The day before the race we were testing out there, Skinner told me his right front tire was [worn] to the cord," Hornaday said. "He wanted to know what ours looked like; they looked fine.

"We worked hard on our truck to make sure we didn't have a tire problem. I figured if they didn't fix the problem, I could pressure Skinner hard enough to wear his tire out, and it seemed to do that."

Skinner led from the pole through Lap 31, leading Hornaday until the Kevin Harvick Inc. No. 33 got around on Lap 32. Not long after that, Skinner's day turned sour while Hornaday continued running up front on the way to his eighth top-three finish of the season.

Hornaday's four-point lead is insignificant with eight races remaining, but it is a new sight to see someone other than the No. 5 on top. Hornaday, 49, isn't even sure if he likes it -- yet.

"This is probably the first I've talked about it. I'd rather be the guy who is chasing than have them end up chasing me," said Hornaday, who last led the points in 1999. "Now, being the point leader, hopefully it's not in my mind and I can just go out and race as hard as I can. On the other hand, you've got to protect it."

He'll begin protecting Sept. 15 at Loudon, N.H.

Bodine to Busch in 2008
Defending series champion Todd Bodine will head back to the Busch Series full time next season. He won 15 times on Busch tracks between 1991-2003 and finished in the top four in points five times. Bodine has run Germain Racing Toyota Camrys twice in Busch this season, both times finishing in the top 10, and he will be in the No. 03 again Friday at Richmond.

"Our intention is to run Todd Bodine full time next year in the NASCAR Busch Series," Germain Racing owner Bob Germain Jr. said. "We are running a limited number of Busch Series races this year to showcase our race team and show potential sponsors that we will be as competitive in the Busch Series as we are in the Craftsman Truck Series."

Mike Hillman Sr., Germain Racing's general manager, said the team will expand to three cars next year, with either two in Busch and one in the truck series or vice versa. Besides Bodine the other drivers have yet to be determined.

Spare parts
Benson's win at Gateway was his third of the season and second in a row. The Bill Davis Racing Tundra won at Bristol and Gateway with the same engine, which NASCAR officials believe has not been done in the series since the late 1990s. "We'll run them more than one race before we rebuild them and it should be that way," Benson said. "It's good for the sport for us to be able to do that ... it definitely saves costs." ... A misdemeanor drug possession charge against former Red Horse Racing driver Aaron Fike was dropped last week in an Ohio court. Fike, arrested in July with his fiancée at a Cincinnati-area amusement park, still faces a felony charge of possession of heroin.

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