Skinner savoring back-and-forth title battle with friend Hornaday
Is Mike Skinner worn out by his back-and-forth title battle with old friend Ron Hornaday? Actually, he's energized, writes John Schwarb.
Updated: October 25, 2007, 6:03 PM ETBy John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com
AROUND THE GARAGEOne could understand if this was starting to get stressful for Mike Skinner.
After a dominant first half of the Craftsman Truck Series season, the 1995 champion lost his points lead to Ron Hornaday. He would reclaim it three weeks later, only to lose it the very next time out. Then last week, with his fifth win of the season at Martinsville, Skinner got the lead back again.
SHORT DARIO DEBUT
SPARE PARTSSkinner has enough on his plate with the points race, but he's picking up more work anyway at Atlanta in the No. 36 Cup car for Bill Davis Racing. Jeremy Mayfield left that team, and Skinner and Johnny Benson will each take two of the remaining four races on the calendar. "Hey, we're going up there anyway, right? Hopefully we can get that car in the race. It seems like it's all about what happens on Fridays (in qualifying)," Skinner said. Setzer is some $45,000 shy of becoming the second truck series driver to pass $5 million in career earnings, and should have a good shot at getting that done this season while running the rest of the schedule in the No. 18 Bobby Hamilton Dodge. Sprague is the all-time leader with $6.7 million. Mark Martin will race at Atlanta, making his final start of the season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers/JTG Racing Ford. Mike Hillman Sr., Germain Racing's general manager, will take over as crew chief for Ted Musgrave this week. Previous crew chief Rick Gay left the team to pursue other opportunities. Hillman's not a stranger to the top of the pit box, he was the crew chief for Tommy Ellis in his 1988 Busch Series championship season.
Skinner said the last time he could remember being in such a tight battle was in the then-Winston Cup Series in 1999, when he was driving the Lowe's-sponsored No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing and was frantically trying to crack the top-10 in points late in the season. Through 27 races he was in 11th, but a sixth-place finish at Martinsville put him into the top-10 and he remained there the rest of the way.Eight years later, Martinsville remains a friendly place for Skinner. He won the spring race at the .526-mile short track and repeated Saturday in a smooth race where he said he rode along for a while just saving brakes and tires (he went the full 200 laps on the same set of Goodyears), taking the lead at Lap 135 when Terry Cook and Jack Sprague got together and his Toyota was able to slide by. Skinner led the final 66 laps.Hornaday, on the other hand, survived a fierce battle for third. He and fellow Chevy driver Matt Crafton banged through the closing laps, with Hornaday getting sideways in the backstretch of the last lap. But he righted the No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. truck and held on for third, marking just the third time in nine races in which Hornaday and Skinner both finished in the top five."Our driving styles are nothing alike anymore. When we started in '95 we had very similar styles," Skinner said, laughing. "Now, he's still hits everybody he comes to in order to pass them, and he's still getting away with it, and [if] I touch anybody, they threaten to park me. Our styles are 180 degrees apart, but you know what, his style's working and my style's working. But it's funny because they are so different now."In 1995 Skinner won the championship and Hornaday was third, then in 1996 the positions were exactly reversed. Neither of them should be as low as third this year, and Skinner promises he'll enjoy the ride the rest of the way, especially with his longtime competitor. "We get along fine. It's funny, we got on the racetrack and we fight each other, we want to beat each other worse than anything," Skinner said. "We're fierce competitors, then we get off the racetrack and it's almost like the bell whistle blows -- OK, we're off work now, we can be friends again. "We want this thing really, really bad, but if we can't have it, I'd love to see him have it."
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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