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Former Cup racers find home in truck series
Published July 28, 2005
Bobby Hamilton spent 12 years racing in NASCAR's top stock car series without ever finishing better than ninth in the points.
But since losing his Cup ride in 2002, when Andy Petree's team lost its primary sponsor, Hamilton has moved to NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series and become a force, becoming the first driver-owner to win a truck title last season.
And Hamilton, who has won two races this season and is third behind Dennis Setzer and Ted Musgrave, two other drivers with Cup experience, is just one of an ever-growing group of former Cup regulars finding a home in the truck series.
Even longtime star Mark Martin is talking openly about putting together a full-time truck ride after he retires from Cup in 2006 or 2007.
Among other former Cup regulars already driving the big, boxy, competitive trucks - built on Cup chassis - are Jimmy Spencer, Ricky Craven, Mike Skinner, Jack Sprague, Todd Bodine and Johnny Benson - all among the top 14 in points as the trucks take a weekend off before resuming their schedule Aug. 4 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Six of the top 10 drivers in the current truck standings have spent at least one season in Cup. And so far this season, Cup regulars Bobby Labonte and Kyle Busch both have paid visits to the truck series, with Busch winning twice and Labonte once.
"I miss racing (in Cup) now and then," Hamilton said. "I miss my friends and I love road-course racing, I love some short tracks and I love restrictor plate racing. I miss some of that stuff.
"But I can tell you I've not really had the itch because I found out pretty early ... if you're not in a good car it's not worth what you have to put up with. And there's only about five cars in Cup today that consistently win. I was pretty fortunate to sort of make my own decision."
Spencer also has found success and peace of mind in trucks.
"I know I could still drive and win in Cup. But to still be there and be a 35th-place team, or barely be in the race, I would much rather be in a competitive truck," said Spencer, who finished sixth last year in his first full season of truck racing and is fifth so far in 2005.
While Hamilton and Spencer seem content in the trucks, first-year series driver Cravenhopes it is a steppingstone back to Cup, where he spent 10 seasons.
"I have a desire to get back to Nextel Cup and compete and have success," Craven said. "That's part of why this path I've chose to be part of Roush Racing is so exciting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity."
Legge succeeding quietly
Katherine Legge began racing in the Toyota Atlantic Series this spring with little fanfare and a sponsorship deal that didn't guarantee her a ride beyond the first half of the season.
Legge not only performed well enough to remain behind the wheel for the duration of the season, the native Briton has emerged as one of the up-and-coming stars of the developmental series, which will run a support race at this weekend's Taylor Woodrow Grand Prix of San Jose.
The 25-year-old Atlantic rookie made a historic splash by winning her series debut in April at Long Beach, Calif. She proved that victory wasn't a fluke by taking the checkered flag two weekends ago at Edmonton, Alberta.
Before Legge, no woman - not even Danica Patrick - had won an open-wheel race in North America. Legge is the first woman to win an open-wheel race anywhere since Desire Wilson won an Aurora Formula One race in 1980.
"Winning at Long Beach was just like proving a point," said Legge, who drives the No.12 car for Polestar Racing Group. "Maybe people took me more seriously, but I just want to be seen as a driver, not just a female driver."
With four events remaining, Legge (pronounced leg) has five top-five finishes in eight races and is fifth in the points standings.
Outside of the two victories, Legge's Atlantic performance has been comparable to Patrick's. Patrick drove for Team Rahal for two seasons in Atlantics, compiling five top-five finishes as a rookie in 2003 and 10 top-fives while finishing third in the points standings last year.
Patrick, of course, is a sensation in the Indy Racing League after becoming the first woman to lead at the Indianapolis 500.
"What I love about Katherine's performances is that it's not allowing people to say, "Well, it's just that Danica is extraordinary,"' said Lyn St. James, one of the pioneers of women's racing who drove in seven Indy 500s. "She is extraordinary, but she's not the only female human being out there that can be a competitive and winning race car driver."
Atlanta track will be ready
NASCAR president Mike Helton was back at Atlanta Motor Speedway, surveying the damage from a July 6 tornado and reassuring fans that the track will be ready for the Oct. 30 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
Some of the worst damage, estimated at $40 million, was to the suites overlooking the grandstand. After touring the track with its current top executive, Ed Clark, the NASCAR president was confident the upcoming Nextel Cup race will go on as scheduled.
He said the racing surface, as well as the catch fence and garage areas, are ready to race.