When Todd Bodine drove his Arnold Developing Companies Toyota Tundra Truck into victory lane it had to be a huge feeling of sweet redemption. The former NASCAR Nextel Cup driver had just won his first ever NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, in only four starts with a brand new team, by leading the final five laps of the American Racing Wheels 200, October 1st, at the California Speedway in Fontana.
The win was sweet redemption for Bodine and company and helped eased the sting of what happened only seven days before in Las Vegas. Bodine was leading the Las Vegas event into the final lap when he got the old bump and run from Shane Hmiel. Bodine's truck wiggled loose and Hmiel passed him for the win.
While redemption was sweet for Bodine in Fontana, it was not easy and the entire process almost unravelled in front of him with the checkered flag insight. Bodine moved into second on lap 85 and began a torrid duel with leader, and pre race favorite, Ted Musgrave. Following two laps of door to door racing, Bodine completed what turned out to be the winning pass on lap 95.
However, a motorsports event is not over until the checkered flag flies and every NASCAR Craftsman Truck fan in the world knows that this series is notorious for final moment suprises. Bodine was winding down the final laps with Musgrave's Dodge Ram literally glued to his rear bumper. The estimated crowd of 35,000 were on their feet and cheering wildly anticipating another huge Craftsman Truck finish.
They were not disappointed. The end of the race surprise landed on the final turn of the final lap while the official starter was holding the checkered flag high into the air.
As the two race leaders came out of turn three, Kelly Sutton's Chevrolet spun in turn four and went nose first into the wall. The impact was extremely hard and caused Sutton's truck to go flying back across the turn, with all four tires off of the ground, directly into the path of the leaders. Bodine and Musgrave went high into the turn and nearly hit the wall themselves while trying to avoid Sutton.
The caution came out with the checkers just as Musgrave pulled up alongside of Bodine's door in a last ditch effort to take the race. The winning margin was a mere 0.49 seconds.
In victory lane an elated Bodine said he was aware of the NASCAR rule that freezes the field once a yellow flag comes out but he wasn't taking any chances adding "once we got past the wreck I pushed the gas pedal to the floor board because I knew that Ted would do the same thing. The yellow flag rule is really a good one because it helps out a driver in that particular situation."
Bodine also had high praise for this brand new race team saying" it's all about the people and we've got the best people on this team. Toyota supplies us with great people and equipment. This is our first win in four tries. We probably should have three wins in four races instead of three top fives in four races. It's finally nice to get one."
Musgrave was a pre race favorite because he had won the last three truck races in a row at the California Speedway and he did all he could to make it four in a row. In post race comments Musgrave said "I was able to get to him,(Bodine), and I tried my best to loosen him up. The finish was great racing and I love to see that but, of course, I would much rather win."
Former series champion Jack Sprague was very pleased with bringing his Chevrolet Truck to a third place finish after fighting handling problems during much of the race. Sprague had high praise for his crew who never gave up and kept throwing adjustments at the truck until it became competitive. With a big smile on his face Sprague said "they made chicken salad out of chicken poo."
Texas driver David Starr was also pleased with his fourth place finish and said the Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet had a pretty good night adding "as the race went on we got tighter but, overall, it wasn't a bad night and it was another great NASCAR Craftsman Truck Race."
a nightmare. One of them was Mike Skinner who started the race on the outside pole after qualifying in excess of 177 MPH in his factory sponsored Toyota Tundra. However Skinner's crew detected an engine problem and an engine change was necessary which sent him to the rear of the field with Hamilton. Skinner made 8 laps in the race when the engine of Brandon Whitt's Ford blew up directly in front of him. Skinner got into the oil on the track and slammed into the back stretch wall. He later returned to the race, trying to accumulate some extra points, but had to settle for a 33d place finish.
Shane Hmiel, the aforementioned winner of the Las Vegas race the week before, was a rock solid contender and led 15 laps in the early portion of the race before a blown tire sent him bouncing off of the turn two wall on lap 56
Series points leader Bobby Hamilton also had a big smile on his face after bringing his Square D Dodge home to a fifth place finish. Hamilton was suffering from horsepower problems, the day before, and had to take a provisional just to get into the race. His crew found the problem but the soloution required an engine change. NASCAR rules state that a driver must start the race with the same engine he qualified with. If an engine change is necessary then the driver is moved to the rear of the field. Apparently the new engine did the trick because Hamilton entered the top five for the first time on lap 39 and got as high as second.
Then there were some pre race favorites who watched their California dreaming turn into
But the real hard luck story belongs to Travis Kvapil. It was Kvapil who gave Toyota their first ever NASCAR win at Michigan and a lot or racing observers were positive that he was going to give the manufacturer another win at Fontana. Kvapil easily won the pole position by scorching the California Speedway's two mile oval at 178.669 MPH. However the pre race favorite suffered a crash during the final practice session and had to go to a back up truck which meant he started the race at the rear of the field. During the first caution flag of the race, on lap 8, Kvapil made repeated pit stops to try and repair a broken power steering pump. It was the beginning of a long night and the pre race favorite had to settle for a 18th place finish.
Overall the race took one hour and 34 minutes to complete the 100 laps and their were 12 lead changes among six drivers. The four yellow flags, which took up 21 laps, slowed the race's average speed to 127.141 MPH.
The American Racing Wheels 200 was the first event to be held completely at night and under the California Speedway's mammoth new lighting system. The sight of the paint jobs on the Craftsman Trucks under those lights was breathtaking.