Commentary

Hornaday puts on clinic at Loudon to stretch points lead

Ron Hornaday is at it again. Winning, that is. The ol' man bolstered his points lead in the Craftsman Truck Series after winning his 33rd race Saturday at Loudon, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: September 20, 2007, 10:33 AM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

Ron Hornaday's burnout left a little something to be desired. The Kevin Harvick Inc. driver dominated the New Hampshire 200 on Saturday, then gave little more than a token spin of the tires before quickly arriving in Victory Lane.

Maybe when you've won 33 races in the Craftsman Truck Series, that stuff is better left to the first-time winners and others who might not get the chance to do it four times a year, as Hornaday has now done in five different seasons.

Not that winning ever gets old or routine, but Hornaday is focused squarely on the third series title that would tie him with Jack Sprague for the most in CTS history. New Hampshire didn't hurt that cause, as he extended his points lead from four to 29 over Mike Skinner.

We're not doing anything we haven't done before, we're just getting the luck on our side. I'd rather be lucky than good any day.

Ron Hornaday

"The hard part about it, nobody wants to talk to you when you're running fifth, and now when you're up front everyone wants to talk to you," said the 1996 and 1998 champion. "It's hard to keep making excuses for what we're doing. We're not doing anything we haven't done before, we're just getting the luck on our side. I'd rather be lucky than good any day."

Fine, then he's both right now. Hornaday became the first trucks driver to win twice at New Hampshire, leading 174 laps and winning by a track-record margin of 4.2 seconds. It was his second win in five starts, and in two of the other races he was second. He also led the most laps in three of those races.

It's a pendulum swinging between Hornaday and Skinner, who ran a totally respectable third but was disgusted after the race, saying "we just flat-out got our butts whipped." Yet that's how Hornaday and everyone else in the field felt in the early season when the Bill Davis Racing leader ran off three straight wins.

Now Hornaday has the advantage, having also finished ahead of Skinner in four of the last five races, with only Skinner's day at Bristol (fourth) being a race where the No. 33 Chevy (sixth) trailed the No. 5 Toyota.

Will the pendulum go the other way Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Skinner is the defending champion at the 1.5-mile track, and three of his four wins this year have come at tracks of that size or larger. Such intermediate tracks are dominant down the stretch, hosting four of the last seven races.

"I hope so, we don't want this thing to just slip out from underneath us," Skinner said. "We feel like we're better than we were last year, and we'll have to be."

For his part, Hornaday claims to not care where the No. 5 is. He just knows he has to remain one spot better.

"I haven't looked at [Skinner's] stats, don't really care about his stats, we've just got to keep doing what we know with our Camping World Chevrolet," Hornaday said. "We're going to have to try to run in the top three to win this championship."

Or keep winning. That can happen when you're lucky and good.

Villeneuve, Lazier to debut at Las Vegas
Former Indianapolis 500 champions Jacques Villeneuve and Buddy Lazier are set to make their NASCAR debuts at the Smith's Las Vegas 350.

Villeneuve, a former Formula One champion, joined Bill Davis Racing last month and will run the remainder of the truck series in the No. 27 Toyota Tundra, re-numbered in honor of Jacques' father, the late F1 star Gilles Villeneuve.

Villeneuve already has tested a truck at Chicagoland and a COT Nextel Cup car at Talladega last week, preparing to run full time in the Cup series next year.

"He seems to be pretty calm and patient, he's not out there trying to make the truck do things it won't do or he isn't ready to do yet. The guy seems like he has a good head on his shoulders," Skinner said. "Obviously he's a champion, he's got a lot of experience, but he also realizes he's not in the same weight of car he was before. He's sneaking up on it like he should."

Skinner said Villeneuve picked up the running line quickly at Chicagoland, which like Las Vegas is a 1.5-mile oval. He was so impressed he thinks the Canadian can do better on Saturday than just make laps and soak in the experience of a debut race.

"I think he has a chance to run in the top 10," Skinner said. "I know [crew chief] Doug Wolcott brings a truck that's capable of winning every week. I think Jacques will do better than just staying on the lead lap."

Lazier, unlike Villeneuve, doesn't have a seat lined up for the future but is hoping a good showing in the Billy Ballew Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet can lead to something. The 39-year-old former Indy Racing League champion tested a Ballew truck at Charlotte in 2005 but has never raced with fenders outside IROC races in 2001-02.

"IROC really was an eye-opener for me into the world of stock-car racing," Lazier said. "Racing with the best in the Nextel Cup and Busch Series, as well as other race drivers, was a blast. It was probably the most fun racing experience for me in my 20 years of professional motorsports [and] I've been trying to find the right opportunity since then.

"The opportunity arose for us to race in Las Vegas and I am extremely excited. They are racers on that team and to me it's a perfect fit -- I feel right at home with the whole team. Obviously, I'd love to continue racing in a top-tier NASCAR series and hope I can make a good start next week in Las Vegas."

Lazier is listed as an 18-to-1 shot to win in Vegas odds, while Villeneuve is 25-1. Not surprisingly, Skinner is the favorite at 4-1 and Hornaday is next at 6-1.

Setzer replacing Schrader in No. 18 Dodge
With the last six events of the truck schedule run at tracks also hosting Nextel Cup events on the same weekend, Saturday's visit to Las Vegas Motor Speedway marks the last "stand-alone" truck race of the season.

Dennis Setzer is glad it's here.

The 17-time winner faced possibly seeing his consecutive start streak end at 219 races this week, having been relieved earlier this month of his Spears Motorsports ride and just completing a one-off deal with Green Light Racing at New Hampshire.

But Ken Schrader, the regular driver of the No. 18 Dodge of Bobby Hamilton Racing, is needed Sunday at Dover, Del., for his part-time Cup job, driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford that is just inside the qualifying-exempt line at No. 35 in owners' points.

That opened Schrader's truck seat, and Setzer quickly jumped in.

"We had talked [last] Saturday afternoon after the truck race," Setzer said. "I went by and sat in the truck. We had mentioned that if Kenny had done well at New Hampshire in the Cup race, he may have had to go to Dover and run another race. Fortunately for my case, it did come about. It's kind of an unusual deal."

Longtime truck fans should find it unusual for Setzer to be in a Dodge, having last driven one in 2000. He picked up his first win in a Dodge in 1998 driving for Bob Keselowski, and won five times with the team until moving to Morgan-Dollar Motorsports and Chevrolet in 2001.

Schrader likely will return to his truck in two weeks at Talladega, Ala., which leaves Setzer unsure where the next ride will come from.

"You go race-to-race in this situation, stay around and be seen, let people know this is what you want to do," he said. "That's about all I can do. There should be some things shaking around, so we'll see how that plays out."

Setzer said he is not expecting to return to the No. 75 Spears Chevy again. Clay Rogers drove the truck at New Hampshire, finishing 12th, and is slated to take the wheel again at Las Vegas.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of contact with them," said Setzer of Spears, which had signed him to a two-year contract at the start of this season.

Spare parts
Villeneuve's debut this weekend puts Ryan Mathews out of BDR's third truck. Mathews fared admirably in replacing the suspended Tyler Walker, finishing 18th at Mansfield, Ohio, in his first truck start and going on to collect five top-15 finishes in 12 races with a season-best fourth at Kentucky, where he sat on the pole. ... Second-year Roush Fenway Racing driver Erik Darnell finished second at New Hampshire, his first top-5 since winning at Kansas in the season's fifth race. It was his first race with crew chief Matt Puccia, who had worked with Roush Fenway's No. 50 team. John Quinn moved over to that truck, which finished 16th with T.J. Bell. ... One day before winning his first Nextel Cup race at Loudon, Clint Bowyer had his worst truck finish, crashing out early in 35th. Of the four cars not running at the end of the race, three were piloted by Cup regulars -- Bowyer, Kyle Busch and A.J. Allmendinger.

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