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Hornaday Can Show He’s Tougher Than Darlington

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 12 2011

Veteran driver and former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. is hoping he will finally tame Darlington Raceway this weekend. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Ron Hornaday Jr. is a racer. You know: Put him on a track, wrap his fingers around a steering wheel, watch him go. And he doesn’t normally get too worked up about the location of the tracks you put him on. Except this weekend.

Hornaday, a veteran of 500 races in NASCAR’s top three series, will be taking to the track at Darlington Raceway today to compete in the Camping World Truck Series’ Too Tough To Tame 200.

A victory, he said during a telephone call this week, would be extra primo good.

“I look forward to it for all the fans down there,” Hornaday, a four-time truck series champion, said of Darlington. “And, for all the history.”

He’s especially looking forward to it for reasons of personal history. See, the name of the race kind of says it all about Hornaday and Darlington: He’s won 47 truck series races, but zero at Darlington.

“It’s one of the places I haven’t won at,” Hornaday said when asked how badly he want’s to put his Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet into victory lane on Saturday. “I can put that on my resume this weekend. Everybody who’s anybody has won there so, I’d love to put my name on the trophy.”

Hornaday will be making his 12th NASCAR start at the egg-shapped, 1.366-mile oval which Harold Brasington so famously carved out of the South Carolina dirt over 60 years ago.

Two of Hornaday’s starts at Darlington came in Sprint Cup cars, nine in Nationwide cars. He will be making just his second start at Darlington in a truck and thinks the third start could produce victory.

“I like the track,” Hornaday said. “It’s a very demanding track. The biggest thing we have right now is

Ron Hornaday Jr. leads the field into Turn 1 at Phoenix during the Camping World race there two weeks ago. He finished third that night. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

some of the lappers, as they are getting up to speed, they’ve got to ride the groove to get in there because nobody wants to ride the flat part getting into Turn 1 and Turn 3, so that’s kind of a challenge. But other than that, it’s a fun little race track and it’s aged a little bit from last year.”

Hornaday said there are a couple of approaches to racing Darlington and a couple of keys to finishing well there.

“That track is like a momentum race track,” he said. “If you get through 1 and 2 good, you really get into 3 hard. You’re wide open.

“You’ve got to race the race track itself. You can’t race the other competitors. You’ve got to count on your crew getting you out of the pits first. Track position is going to be a little bit hectic. We’ve seen tire wear a little bit last year and I think we are going to see a little bit more of that this year with another year on the track. So, it’s just going to be a matter of managing tires and trying to get out front first.”

Then there be the racing which takes place between the drivers’ ears.

“You think you can hold them off but if you drive into the corners two or three times too hard, all of a sudden the guy running behind you who is running 10th, he saves his stuff and he can pass you. So, it’s just a matter of being patient and racing the race track,” Hornaday said.

Last year, he ran strong but finished third – two spots behind winner and eventual series champion, Todd Bodine.

“I think that track fits the trucks real well,” Hornaday said. “I go back to the race with Bobby Hamilton and Ted Musgrave (in 2002). That was the best truck race I’ve seen in a long time down there.”

A victory Saturday would also be good for KHI. The 10-year-old team will be making its sixth start at Darlington but has not won a race or a pole  at there.

Ron Hornaday Jr. would like to win one for the bosses – Kevin and DeLana Harvick – this weekend. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Getting a victory at Darlington for Kevin and DeLana Harvick, for whom he has been driving in the series since 2005, would be sprinkles on the donut for the 52-year-old Californian.

“Kevin and DeLana, they’re racers,” Hornaday said. “They’ve both raced themselves. DeLana’s raced before, she knows what it takes to win and Kevin does too. They give you all the best equipment. You go in there for your meetings on Tuesday and you don’t have to pull no punches. You just tell them why you won or why you didn’t win. Basically, you don’t have to explain about anything because he sees exactly what happened. He drives these trucks. He drives Nationwide once in a while so he’s definitely the guy who can fix things.

“I’m really happy with what we’re doing. Kevin and DeLana are the easiest people in world to work for. He’s definitely demanding. Third’s not even acceptable to him. There is definitely some reason why you didn’t win and you got to find out why put all the pieces together.”

The Darlington race will be the third of the season for the Camping World Series. The teams and drivers have been idle since racing at Phoenix International Raceway two weeks ago.

Everybody in the series will be happy to get back to racing. Hornaday, 10th in points (17 behind leader Matt Crafton) will be extra happy if he can win at one of the very few tracks where he has not – Darlington.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 12 2011
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