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TRUCKS: Drivers Will Kick It Old School

Martinsville Speedway, that tiny 0.526-mile track that opened way back in 1946, is one of the last links between the NASCAR of today and the NASCAR of 60 years ago.

Tiny, claustrophobic and a virtual petrie dish for inflamed tempers, Martinsville is a slam-bam-thank-you-man roller-coaster where there’s more beating and banging than at a dozen body shops and more rage than you’d find at a Teabagger summit on health-care reform.

In other words, the perfect place for the men and women of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to butt heads — and fenders — in Saturday’s Kroger 250, race No. 3 of 25 on the 2010 NCWTS schedule.

All told, 39 trucks are entered in Saturday race, with five drivers doing double duty in the Truck and Sprint Cup Series (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Johnny Sauter, Aric Almirola and Max Papis); a former Formula One racer from India making his NASCAR debut (Narain Karthikeyan); and past Truck Series champion Johnny Benson, among others.

At Martinsville, two drivers stand head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of Truck Series victories: Dennis Setzer and Mike Skinner are three-time winners at the 0.526-mile track, while among the drivers entered in Saturday’s race, David Starr, Benson, Rick Crawford, Kevin Harvick and Timothy Peters each have one victory here.

Last year in this race, Kevin Harvick Inc. teammates Kevin Harvick and Ron Hornaday Jr. finished 1-2 in this race, and their Chevrolet Silverados may well be the trucks to beat again.

Harvick has won the last three Truck Series races he’s entered. He closed 2009 with consecutive victories at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, and won earlier this month at Atlanta Motor Speedway after skipping the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

This weekend, Harvick will be reunited with longtime crew chief Butch Hylton, with whom he worked with in 2003 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

“I'm excited about that,” Harvick said. “We’ve talked about getting the No. 2 truck back to where we need it to be, and we’ve won a lot of races in the past, so hopefully we can continue that same success.”

In addition to winning last season, Harvick has logged four top fives and five top 10s here. “Martinsville has been a good track for us,” Harvick said. “We ran really well there last spring, obviously, winning the race. We had a little trouble in the fall race with a flat tire, but we were able to make up a couple laps and come back with a solid top five. Based upon our most recent success in the series, confidence is very high.”

Another driver to keep an eye on is Timothy Peters, a native of nearby Danville, Va. Peters won his first Truck Series race here last year, and is eager to repeat. “I really love Martinsville and I'm really looking forward to going back there as a winner,” said Peters. “Coming off that win in the fall, I have that much more confidence that we can repeat and get this No. 17 back to Victory Lane. Martinsville is a special place for me and I’ve had a lot of success there over the years, but last year’s win was definitely the best moment I’ve had at that track and one of the best moments of my career.”

But don’t count Skinner out, either. When he won here three years ago, he did so in dominant fashion: Skinner led 246 of 253 laps, and according to NASCAR loop data, he was the second-best short-track racer in the series behind Hornaday.

Regardless of who prevails, it ought to be an intense battle Saturday.

“I can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the 15 truck,” said Benson, who will drive a Billy Ballew Motorsports Toyota at Martinsville. “I love racing at Martinsville and I know Billy Ballew Motorsports has the people and equipment to get the job done. (Sponsor) Red Top Auto Auction has given us a great opportunity and I hope we give them a great ride.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.