Bodine looks to put brakes on tough year in truck race

Todd Bodine started racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with a victory in Daytona Beach, Fla. — the prestigious season opener — but hasn’t won since.

Bob Germain Sr., patriarch of the family that owns Bodine’s team, died at age 85 in June. Bodine said the annual truck race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the only one Germain attended each year.

Then NASCAR modified engine specifications two weeks ago to reduce horsepower produced by Bodine’s truck and the rest of the Toyota Tundra contingent in the race series.

“It’s been a tough year,” said Bodine, 44, who won the Las Vegas truck race in 2005. “We won Daytona, but at the same time we got penalized for a rules infraction.

“Our performance has been up and down all year.”

The 2006 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion has experienced more lowlights than highlights since his win in mid-February.

More drama unfolded last Saturday, when a battle royale broke out on pit road between Germain crew members and driver David Starr and some of his crew after the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.

NASCAR has suspended Bodine’s crew chief, Mike Hellman Jr., and another crew member along with one of Starr’s Red Horse Racing team for today’s Qwik Liner Las Vegas 350 at the speedway. Starr was fined $10,000 but will race.

The brawl began when a member of Bodine’s team went to Starr’s truck and lowered the safety net on the driver’s side window. Something was said that led Starr to quickly exit with fists loaded.

“David came flying out of his truck with his arms swinging,” said Bodine, who finished 19th after Starr crashed into him. “With his helmet on, he had nothing to worry about.”

Bodine, meanwhile, sat calmly on a nearby guardwall and watched.

“What am I going to do? Go over there and get in a fight and get suspended or fined?” he said. “If they wanted to fight, we could have waited until things calmed down and then gone out in the parking lot.”

Las Vegas Motor Speedway creatively offered a solution to the conflict: a prerace tug-of-war between the teams. While Bodine eagerly accepted the challenge, a track official said Starr’s team declined.

So if there’s a carry-over from one of NASCAR’s biggest slugfests, it will be after tonight’s race begins at 6:30.

According to Bodine and published reports of the race, his was the last of four trucks that Starr ran into last week. That included David Reutimann, who was driving another Germain truck.

“David is a great guy but still thinks he didn’t do anything wrong,” Bodine said.

Starr, who placed seventh last week to move up one spot to 11th in points, won his first truck race in 2002 at Las Vegas.

“Everybody makes mistakes, and we (as drivers) understand that; we don’t hold grudges for mistakes,” Bodine said. “When David gets a good race truck, he drives beyond the means of the truck. That’s not how you win races.

“David hasn’t figured that out yet. He just drives over his head.”

Many in the expected crowd of about 50,000 will keep an eye on Bodine’s No. 30 whenever it gets close to Starr’s No. 11 instead of following the race between points leader Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday — Benson’s closest pursuer — as they battle for the series title with seven races left.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@ or 702-383-0247.

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