<
>

Cup castoffs having fun, success in Trucks

7/28/2005

Bobby Hamilton spent 12 years racing in NASCAR's top stock car
series without ever finishing better than ninth in the points.

But since losing his Cup ride in 2002, when Andy Petree's team
lost its primary sponsor, Hamilton has moved to NASCAR's Craftsman
Truck Series and become a force, finishing sixth in 2003 before
becoming the first driver-owner to win a title last season.

And Hamilton, who has won two races this season and is third
behind Dennis Setzer and Ted Musgrave, two other drivers with Cup
experience, is just one of an ever-growing group of former Cup
regulars finding a home in the Truck Series.

Even longtime star Mark Martin is talking openly about putting
together a full-time truck ride after he retires from Cup in 2006
or 2007.

Among other former Cup regulars already driving the big, boxy,
competitive trucks -- built on Cup chassis -- are Jimmy Spencer,
Ricky Craven, Mike Skinner, Jack Sprague, Todd Bodine and Johnny
Benson -- all among the top 14 in points as the Truck Series take a
weekend off before resuming their schedule Aug. 4 at Indianapolis
Raceway Park.

Six of the top 10 drivers in the current Truck Series standings have spent at least one season in Cup. And so far this season, Cup
regulars Bobby Labonte and Kyle Busch both have paid visits to the
Truck Series, with Busch winning twice and Labonte once.

"I miss racing [in Cup] now and then," Hamilton said. "I miss
my friends and I love road-course racing, I love some short tracks
and I love restrictor-plate racing. I miss some of that stuff.

"But I can tell you I've not really had the itch because I
found out pretty early … if you're not in a good car it's not
worth what you have to put up with. And there's only about five
cars in Cup today that consistently win. I was pretty fortunate to
sort of make my own decision."

Spencer also has found success and peace of mind in trucks.

"I know I could still drive and win in Cup. But to still be
there and be a 35th-place team, or barely be in the race, I would
much rather be in a competitive truck," said Spencer, who finished
sixth last year in his first full season of truck racing and is
fifth so far in 2005.

Spencer, who drives for Ultra Motorsports, said there are other benefits to driving a truck besides just having a place to race and
a paycheck.

"The scheduling is nice -- 25 races versus 38," he said. "The
racing is a lot different than the Cup Series, too. The trucks are
slower, a lot more drag and a lot of different rules. Only four
sets of tires for the weekend, 200-mile races most of the time.
There's a lot of reasons why the drivers see this as a real good
series."

Spencer said there's a different mentality, too.

"The pressure's not there," he said. "There's still a lot of
pressure to win and run good, but not at the same level as the
Nextel Cup."

While Hamilton and Spencer seem content in the trucks, Craven,
driving in the series for the first time, hopes it is a
steppingstone back to Cup, where he spent 10 seasons.

"I have a desire to get back to Nextel Cup and compete and have
success," Craven said. "That's part of why this path I've chose
to be part of Roush Racing is so exciting, and I'm thankful for the
opportunity."

So far, Craven is making the best of the situation. He is sixth
in the points.

"The fact is I've got a job to do, and I'm excited about this
opportunity and I want to capitalize on it and I don't want to make
the mistake of being distracted by something else and allow that to
have a negative effect on what this team is doing," he said.

Terry Cook, who has never driven a Cup car and has been racing
trucks since 1996, the second year of competition for the series,
has no problem with the influx of Cup veterans.

"It's very positive for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to
have Cup drivers enter the series," said Cook, eighth in the
points. "It makes the series continue to grow and become
well-known among the race fans.

"The bottom line is we are in three businesses: motorsports,
entertainment and product marketing. If it is Tony Stewart, Kyle
Busch, Bobby Labonte or whoever it may be is racing with us on a
part-time basis, it puts more people in the grandstands. The result
is more and more people get exposed to it and that helps the
sponsors who invest in our program."

Greg Biffle, reigning champion Kurt Busch -- Kyle's older brother
-- and new star Carl Edwards all came up to Cup through the Truck
Series, and Hamilton figures that having more former Cup drivers
around will help make the series even better for developing Cup
stars.

"I think veterans have made Carl Edwards, Jon Wood [now in the
Busch Series], Biffle and some of those other guys better,"
Hamilton said. "When this series first started, the first few
years, how many people went to Cup? A few went and were gone in a
hurry.

"I think it's just like education: the better the education,
the better you are when you get to the next level. I'm not saying
we're all the reason, because the guys have talent to do what they
do, but I think racing against us is helping them."