NASCAR trucks continue fast relationship with fans


NASCAR introduced the SuperTruck series in 1995 at the height of pickup truck popularity and with the idea of delivering fender-banging racing to small markets unlikely to host one of its major league Cup races.

Fourteen years later, the series -- today, the Camping World Truck Series -- is still truckin'.

The series visits Las Vegas Motor Speedway tonight for the 13th time in the past 14 years, and the caliber of racing and its fast pace from green flag to checkered remains its biggest attractions.

The Las Vegas 350k, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is scheduled for 146 laps (219 miles) and should not last much more than two hours -- that's about half as long as nearly every Cup race.

"I think that's one reason why the truck series is still popular," reigning Las Vegas champion Mike Skinner said. "Our fans know that we're going to run hard from start to finish. There's no holding back like you can in a four-hour race."

Skinner, 52, should know.

The native of Susanville, Calif., won the first truck race in 1995 and finished seventh at Las Vegas en route to winning the season championship for team owner Dale Earnhardt. After a seven-year stint in the Cup series for Richard Childress Racing that began in 1997, he moved back to trucks when Cup team owners focused on finding the next twentysomething sensation to pilot their cars.

The truck series also had become a young man's game in the late 1990s. It helped to deliver Las Vegas native Kurt Busch, 2000 truck champion Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards to NASCAR's top series.

And with sharper eyes looking at the cost of racing the past few years, owners are no longer frowning at putting a driver with a little gray hair in their cars and trucks.

When tonight's race begins, only two of the top 10 in season points will be younger than 31 -- 21-year-olds Brian Scott and Colin Braun, who are fourth and fifth in points.

And three of the top six will be at least 45, including Skinner and points leader Ron Hornaday Jr., who is 51.

"Younger guys are more likely to crash something while they're learning than us old guys are," said Todd Bodine, 45, who is sixth in points and won the 2005 Las Vegas race and was the 2006 series champion.

Hornaday (six), Skinner (three) and Bodine (two) have combined to win 11 of this year's 19 races. If you take away the wins by Cup regulars Kyle Busch (five) and Kevin Harvick (one), the three veterans have won 11 of 13.

Without the truck series, the complexion of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup might be different. Of this year's 12 Chase drivers, only Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brian Vickers never raced in a pickup.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0247. Visit Wolf's motor sports blog at lvrj.com/blogs/heavypedal/ throughout the week.

 

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