Hornaday doling out lessons at Gateway
June 13, 2014, George Winkler, NASCAR.com
MADISON, Ill. -- The youth movement in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is such that Ron Hornaday Jr. is the only previous winner on the entry list this weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park, where the series returns for the first time since 2010.
But for as much excitement as the young guns are generating, it's veterans like Hornaday and series points leader Matt Crafton who might have the most ammunition to win the inaugural Drivin' for Linemen 200 (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Crafton comes to the St. Louis area in first with 232 points, 11 points ahead of ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter and 23 points in front of Hornaday. And even though he's coming off a championship season, Crafton is arguably off to an even better start in 2014.
He has led a career-high 211 laps and has finished in the top five in four of the first six events. Plus, he's coming off a win at Texas Motor Speedway, where he led 118 of 167 laps en route to Victory Lane, giving the driver his first career multi-win season.
It all begs the question: Matt, are you at the top of your game?
"I feel real good, but it's all about the guys," Crafton said. "I can't say that enough. If they were bringing trucks that weren't fast enough, we wouldn't be leading the points. But I definitely feel like I'm at the top my game, for sure."
That's bad news for the rest of the field, especially at a 1.25-mile track where Crafton has posted seven top-10s in 10 races. Since Gateway is a new challenge for the younger drivers on the circuit, Crafton's experience could come into play on Saturday night.
However, he's not completely buying it.
"All the younger guys are going to figure it out," Crafton said. "I think we've got five hours of practice if I'm not mistaken. I guess some of the older guys might get tired in those five hours. Just kidding, but it's going to be a good show, I can promise you that."
Adding intrigue to that show is the presence of the four-time champion Hornaday high in the standings. The 55-year-old veteran has four top-10s in the first six races while driving for Turner Scott Motorsports.
Hornaday also has seen success at Gateway, where he won in 2008 and has three top-fives in eight starts. Add in the fact that 26 of his 51 Truck Series wins have come on tracks 1-2 miles long, and he could just as easily find Victory Lane on Saturday night as Crafton.
With numbers like that, Hornaday has become a popular resource this week, too.
"It's kind of cool this week to see how many people have called me," Hornaday said. "They've watched some of the races and asked how the track drives and stuff like that. It was overwhelming to see how many drivers called to talk about this race."
So, what advice is he giving them?
"It's like Phoenix, you know the pace might slow down, but the good part about it is it's a night race, it's going to gain a lot more grip."
As for Hornaday, can he use his own advice and make a run at a fifth title?
"It's all up to Crafton, he's got to have bad luck," Hornaday said. "And I was kidding around with him, because when he got into me down here, the next week he put on his T-shirt that he wasn't scared. So I figured you better be scared, I was going to wear a T-shirt and do that.
"But he's going to have to have bad luck. The way he's running in the top-threes and the top-fives he's doing, we're going to have to get some wins."
And as the only previous winner at Gateway, Hornaday will be attempting to do just that on Saturday. It could end up being the veterans trying to outduel each other while the young talent nips at their heels.