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Bodine Gives TMS The Thumb

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 6 2009
Todd Bodine celebrates in victory lane after winning the Winstar World Casino 400 in Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Todd Bodine celebrates in victory lane after winning the Winstar World Casino 400 in Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Todd Bodine picked up one for the thumb Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where he posted an historic fifth victory in the WinStar World Casino 400.

Bodine,  known as “The Onion” for his balding pate, is the first driver in the 14-year history of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to record five victories at one track. It is also a record for wins for a driver in any series at TMS. Bodine and crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. collaborated on a late-race gamble for track position that ultimately kept Matt Crafton and Colin Braun in the rearview of Bodine’s No. 30 Copart.com Toyota Tundra.

“It’s incredible to win five races at one track,” said Bodine,  45, the 2006 series champion and youngest of three brothers of a racing family from Chemung, N.Y. “It’s hard to win anything, but five at one, I got to give credit to the team and (Hillman) Junior and Senior and knowing how to get a truck to run on a mile and a-half. Great Toyota bodies and motors and everything they do for us, it’s the whole package.

“The 1.5s – I hate to say that it’s me – (but) it’s the way I like to race. I love mile and a-halves. I love to hang it out, keep it free, keep it rolling. That’s what you’ve got to do. That’s why Kyle Busch is so good. In those Cup cars he hangs it out and lets it ride. We’re able to do that. We’ve got trucks good enough to do that. We’ve just been very fortunate.”

Brendan Gaughan  and Bodine had shared the TMS record for most victories at four since June 8, 2007, when Bodine won the Sam’s Town 400. Gaughan swept both Truck Series events here in 2002 and 2003. Bodine won single races from 2004 to 2007 before bagging No. 5 Friday in front of an estimated 49,000 fans.

Bodine scored his 10th victory on a 1.5-mile track, and the 18th for Germain Racing, which began competing in the Truck Series in 2004 on a partial basis. The team currently operates in each of NASCAR’s three touring divisions out of a 52,000 square-foot facility in Mooresville, N.C.

Bodine started the season with finishes of 1-2-3, but had fared no better than 18th in his last four events, falling from first to sixth in the points standings. Friday night put an end to that nonsense.

“It was a great win, incredible timing,” Bodine said. “To have four weeks in a row like we’ve had…wrecked three trucks…fastest truck last week (at Dover International Speedway) and got two flat tires…the motto of this team is ‘Never give up.’ The guys don’t give up. They get down, they get kicked and they get  punched and they get right back up and work even harder. That speaks volumes for the guys.”

Bodine led 52 of 167 laps around the high-banked TMS quadoval en route to a margin of victory of 1.321 seconds over Crafton, who took the points lead for the first time in a fulltime Truck Series career dating from 2001.

“That’s cool for now,” said Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Australian Gold Chevrolet Silverado. “I mean, I’m just little bit aggravated because I know how good of a truck we had and I’ve always wanted to win here  at Texas. I want to be over there where that blue truck (of Bodine) is right now (Victory Lane). I can honestly say, without a doubt, this is the most disappointing second-place ever.”

Crafton – who led one lap for five bonus points – now leads Ron Hornaday Jr., who had his two-race winning streak at TMS snapped, by 30 points (1,202-1,172). Hornaday, driver of the No. 33 Longhorn Chevy, was caught on pit road under green flag conditions and went a lap down to the leaders; he finished 19th and four laps off the winning pace.  But the three-time series champion did lead a race-high 55 laps for 10 bonus points.

Bodine grabbed the lead for good from Rick Crawford during the race’s second and last caution period, for debris on Lap 123. Bodine and Hillman Jr. – who also changes the No. 30 Toyota’s front tires – opted to remain on-track along with Braun, while Crafton led the contenders pitting for either fuel or tires.

Bodine’s last stop for fuel was on Lap 104 under green; his last stop for tires and a chassis adjustment was on Lap 107, also under green. Opting to go the distance was a decision worthy of…a  couple of guys at a casino.

“We probably didn’t have the fastest truck for most of the race, and it was just too loose,” said Bodine, who scored his 17th victory in 123 series starts. “Junior made that right call at the end, got that thing perfect and we checked out on them. I knew I had to get a big lead because if it went loose again I was going to have to have some of that cushion to stay in front of him.”

Despite reporting a vibration after his four-tire change, the caution on Lap 123 presented a strategic opening too good to pass up.

“To get out front, that was definitely the key,” said Bodine, who scored his second victory and fourth top-10 finish of 2009. “Junior made a great call not to come back in for gas. We just had enough to get there. I actually had to stretch it at the end. But Junior knew we needed to be up front. Track position is so key and critical and he got it for us. Fortunately, that was the best the truck was. We made adjustments on that (last) stop, took a little extra time and got some adjustments made, and that’s the best the truck was.”

Once the decision to roll the dice was made, Bodine said he was looking for the race to remain caution- free. “Every lap, every lap, when I crossed the start/finish line I was like, ‘Just  go green. No cautions,’ ” Bodine said. “Because I did not want to have to race Matt, that’s for sure. And if a caution came out, Ron was going to get the Lucky Dog. They had some really fast trucks. That was definitely a concern, that the caution was going to come out.”

Crafton, who started third and posted his seventh top-10 finish in 17 races at TMS, said even with his four fresh tires, the race was a matter of truck track position. “The No. 30 truck, he just took fuel only and stayed out there on his tires,” said Crafton, a 32-year-old native of Tulare, Calif. “Truck position was everything. It’s whoever is out there in clean air. I know if I had been out there in front of him, I would have drove away from him. It was whoever had the clean air.

“All in all a good points day for us, and you have to look at the big picture. But dang, I wanted to be over there in that Victory Lane. I wanted to win at Texas.”

Bodine was unsure how close he was to fumes when he took the checkered flag.

“Junior told me on the radio, he said, ‘Go ahead and do your burnout. If you run out of fuel, we’ll come out and push you,’ ” Bodine said. “That’s how close it was. About halfway through that run I started conserving fuel, rolling off early and about half-throttle to conserve fuel. Junior said it was going to be be close, and we’ve always gotten really good gas mileage. Junior wasn’t worried. He didn’t tell me we were going to run out or be really careful. Before we went green he said, ’Conserve a little fuel if you can.’ So we did. He was only worried if we had a green-white-checkered. Then it would have been close.”

Braun matched his career-best with a third in the No. 06 Con-way Freight Ford fielded by Roush Fenway Racing.  “We’ve had some really good runs lately, just haven’t had the luck,” said Braun, a 20-year-old native of Ovala, in West Texas. Braun crashed-out of last week’s event in the lead at Dover International Speedway when a right front tire went down on the concrete surface and sent him into the wall.

“It was nice to come to the checkered flag in one piece,” said Braun, whose best finish this season is a sixth on the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. “It’s just racing these trucks and trying to gain 20 or 30 years of experience in a couple-year period.”

Reigning series champion Johnny Benson Jr. finished fourth in the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota, with Rick Crawford fifth in the No. 14 Circle Bar/International Truck Engine Ford fielded by West Texas businessman Tom Mitchell of Circle Bar Racing.

“Trip Bruce (crew chief) and the guys did a tremendous job on pit road,” Benson said. “The strategy aspect I was a little confused there with for a bit because we were running in the top-five and everybody did green flag stops and were like 15th, and I couldn’t figure that out. So, we did two tires at the end. It was a great call to put us fourth.”

Benson admitted, however, his truck was no match for the top three as they checked out of Cowtown.

“Bodine was like a half-a-track ahead. He was a long, long ways,” Benson said. “The 88 (Crafton), I couldn’t see him, the 30 (Bodine) I couldn’t see and the 6 (Braun) I could see but he was on a fuel mission there at the end. He was really conservative with fuel and he had to do what he had to do to just stay in front of me.”

Pole-sitter Johnny Sauter led 42 laps in his No. 13 Fun Sand/Curb Records/Star De Azlan Chevy and placed sixth, highest finish by a rookie. And Dallas resident David Starr placed seventh in the No. 24 Zachry Toyota fielded by HT Motorsports.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 6 2009
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