AP Photo/Terry Renna
Skinner Hoping To Solve '07 ShortcomingsFor all the success Mike Skinner had in the 2007 Craftsman Truck Series season, the lasting image from the season finale could not have been more baffling. Here was a driver with a series-best five wins and record 11 poles, perhaps on his way to a championship at the start of the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here was that same driver less than an hour later, pulling into the pits on Lap 74 on three wheels. With a 29-point lead over Ron Hornaday entering the race, the end result from a fierce two-month battle that saw the lead switch six times between the former champion veterans, Skinner's crowning as champion wasn't a guarantee. But losing the opportunity like this? "A heck of a way to end a great season," Skinner said. "A tough thing to swallow." Skinner led the race early, only to pit out of sequence for what he thought was a low right-side tire. His Bill Davis Racing team changed the right Goodyears, but neither turned out to be going flat. Skinner was correct about something being out of kilter, however, as a vibration developed again near the midpoint of the race. He pitted again and a left-rear wheel flew off before he reached pit road, and subsequent damage to the hub put him behind the wall for extended repairs. His title chance vanished, kicking off what has been three months of wondering what happened and waiting to start anew. "It's just motivation for our race team," Skinner said. "I'm not over it. I'm still mad. I hope there wasn't any dirty pool going on, but it sure appeared that way to us." The assertion from the 1995 champion -- who has just about seen it all in 30 years of racing -- is that something might have happened to the lug nuts on his truck before the race began. It's quite the grassy-knoll theory, or maybe just a way to explain the unexplainable. "We could not determine any real clear-cut deal of what happened. We have some ideas mechanically, but I think Mike has a different idea," crew chief Jeff Hensley said. "He thinks someone may have loosened the lug nuts in the impound area, but I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But it is professional racing and there's a lot at stake and you never put anything past anybody. We may have had a bad wheel, may have had a bad set of studs. It would have only taken one stud to fail, then that strains the other four. Without any clear-cut proof of what happened, I've got to say it's a parts failure. "It is kind of suspicious that we ran 24 races without a single issue of anything. We keep good records of where the wheels raced, and that particular left wheel ran on the right side [two races prior] at Texas. It's not like it wasn't a wheel that wasn't registered and proven. But I will say, it being on the left side, if it happened to be a bad wheel or happen to be a bad stud, that is the side that would come loose first, just because of the centrifugal force and the way the wheels are rotating." Yet as quickly as Skinner and Hensley can explain their thoughts of what may have conspired that mid-November weekend, they can change the subject to the present and what this season could have in store. The union of Hornaday and new KHI teammate Jack Sprague, both three-time champions and rivals in the series' early years, has been the story of the offseason, almost relegating Skinner's bunch to an afterthought. They're not complaining. "It's allowed us not to get caught up in all the bull that goes on, to keep our head down and keep digging," Hensley said. "Hopefully by the end of March, after the first four races are run, teams will say 'We forgot all about those guys, why did we do that? They were pretty tough last year.'" Try pretty invincible for much of the way. After a fourth-place finish at Daytona, Skinner rattled off three straight wins. He would continue to post top-eight finishes the next eight races, then winning again in race No. 13 at Kentucky. It was a season of a number of crazy superlatives, from the wins and poles to leading laps in a remarkable 24 of 25 races. "If we have half the year we had last season, I can't complain," Skinner said. "We're going to try to just repeat what we did last year, except just do it a little tiny bit better." John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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