Four Truck Races, Four Fabulous Finishes at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
At first glance it's just another nondescript grey section of asphalt that could make up any speedway, but a second look tells a different story.
Under closer examination that same faded grey segment begins the transition between banking and straightaway but yet it still doesn't tell the whole story. One final, broader look produces the keys to unlocking the story. It's Turn 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway; a perfectly weathered segment of speedway which helped produce four fantastic finishes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Mark Martin, Ron Hornaday, Bobby Hamilton, Bobby Labonte, Johnny Benson and Mike Skinner are just some of the names that have crossed over this section of track after 129 grueling laps, staring down the checkered flag. Not all have made it through this transition to actually see the flag wave. Just ask Skinner.
"He made a veteran move, got up alongside me and pulled the air off just enough to spin the tires," commented Skinner after watching his chance to win literally slip away in the initial Craftsman Truck Series in 2004.
Skinner and Hamilton raced side-by-side and nearly door-to-door as they took the white flag. The pair would continue their battle through Turns 1 and 2 down the backstretch and into Turn 3 with neither giving an inch. As they made their way through the final corner, the two trucks made contact sending Skinner sliding sideways across the infield grass by the finish line, just behind Hamilton.
Hamilton's post-race comment summed up what fans would come to know about the truck races at Atlanta and what the Oct. 28 EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 should be.
"I don't know what it was like outside the driver's seat, but it was exciting on the inside," said Hamilton. "It took awhile for the fans to leave, so I figured it must have been good for them, too."
A year later and under the lights for the first time, Hornaday and Labonte waged a similar battle keeping the fans in their seats long after the checkered flag and creating another instant classic.
"There with about 20 to go, it was no holds barred, I am not sure who was doing what. We were high, low, all over everywhere, it didn't seem to matter," said Labonte. "Everybody was going for it at that point but it sorted out pretty quick who was going to be there at the end."
Having swapped the lead with previous year's winner Hamilton late in the race, Hornaday allowed Labonte to claw his way into the action as well. As the laps wound down, he passed Hamilton and set his sights on Hornaday. A late caution produced a green-white-checkered finish. The two black Chevrolet Silverados mirrored each other on the final lap with neither driver willing to give an inch as they approached the Turn 4 transition point and headed for the finish line. In the end, only .008 seconds was the margin of victory for Hornaday over the hard charging Labonte.
"Ron raced me really clean those last two laps and it was fun," commented Labonte. "I knew he had me 'cause I was seeing more of him than I was seeing of what I needed to see to be in front."
It's recorded in the annals of the truck series history as closest superspeedway finish, but it's just another unbelievable finish in the legendary history of Atlanta Motor Speedway. Later in 2005, in the third truck series event at the speedway, Kyle Busch would reap the rewards of making it through Turn 4.
A late caution set-up a three-lap sprint and allowed Busch and his team to gamble and take four tires for the final dash to the front after leading four times. Busch made it to leader Jack Sprague's back bumper as they entered Turn 3 on the final lap moving to the outside. As they reached the critical point on the final turn, Sprague became loose as Busch brushed the wall on the outside making the pass. Sprague spun collecting Bobby Labonte and Johnny Benson and others as Busch drove on to take home the checkered flag.
"It was pretty wild there at the end. I am not sure exactly how I squeezed through it but we did and I saw the hole to make it to the start finish line so I kept going for it," said Busch after grabbing the victory.
"What amazing finishes we have had here at Atlanta," Speed commentator Phil Parsons remarked on the telecast as pictured showed the carnage remaining from yet another unbelievable finish.
The fourth edition of truck racing at Atlanta would produce another new winner as well as another memorable conclusion. Mark Martin made his way through the field to make his way to leader Todd Bodine for the green-white-checkered finish. Martin jumped to the inside as the green flag flew over the shootout. The two remained door to door until the exit of Turn 2 on the final lap when Bodine gained the advantage leaving Benson and Martin to battle side-by-side for second. The real action was behind the trio with many of the drivers spinning, sending trucks through the frontstretch grass, down pit road and spinning across the finish line.
"The No. 75 just got air loose up front and all havoc broke loose. I was turning right and my spotter was telling me to go down pit road, just couldn't react before I got caught up in the mess," said Hornaday after the smoke settled. A year earlier he was a participant in the fantastic finish, this year he just another victim of the last lap excitement.
"These things are awesome. I love this racing," said Martin, who edged Benson for second. "This is the best racing."
Fans can purchase tickets to the Bass Pro Shops 500 race weekend, including the EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200 by contacting the AMS ticket office at (877) 9-AMS-TIX, (770) 946-4211, at www.atlantamotorspeedway.com or at an authorized Ticketmaster retail outlet.