The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ sleeping giant may have awoken a little too late to make a title run this year.
It’s not too late, however, for Ron Hornaday to make some noise.
The four-time and defending series champion certainly turned up the volume last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where he outdueled Kyle Busch to conquer the pesky paperclip-shaped oval in his 17th try.
Sixth in the standings and out of the championship hunt for the first time since 2006, all Hornaday has to worry about over the last four races is reaching victory lane.
A few more trophies would be a nice way to conclude a mostly forgettable season that has produced only two wins, three DNFs and more than a few bumps in the road for the Truck Series’ reigning champ and all-time wins leader.
Up next is Saturday's Mountain Dew 250 at Talladega Superspeedway, another track where Hornaday has never won but a place where he feels confident about his chances.
Hornaday is hoping for a better outcome at Talladega, a 2.66-mile tri-oval that is the fastest stop on the Truck Series tour. The Palmdale, Calif., native’s best Talladega finish in four starts was second two years ago.
“I know we’ve got the equipment to run up front down there,” Hornaday said. “We’re really focusing on this race and it’s one of those races I can take off my races I haven’t won. “
Snake-bitten by all manner of misfortune a year after claiming a record-setting fourth Truck Series crown, Hornaday would like to start afresh in the season’s final month.
Matters already seem to have taken a turn for the better since Butch Hylton’s appointment to crew chief for the No. 33 team prior to Martinsville. Hornaday and Hylton worked together during Hornaday’s Nationwide Series days at Richard Childress Racing, and could form an even more potent combination now than they did then.
Hylton will call the shots for Hornaday through the end of the season but a permanent crew chief hasn’t been named.
“We’re all kind of grown up now so we’re not going to have the same head-butting like we used to,” Hornaday said of Hylton. “He’s the crew chief and I’m the driver.”
Hornaday is a hungry driver thanks to a season that has been perhaps his toughest in trucks a year after a dominant, six-victory championship campaign.
But even at his lowest points of 2010, 52-year-old Hornaday insists retirement “never crossed my mind.”
“We’ve been on the up and down side of this thing and it’s just a matter of you’ve got to keep everybody together, you’ve got to keep the morale up in the team, you’ve got to keep knowing that you’ve got the equipment and the team to win and you’ve got to get over this little hump,” Hornaday said. “I could sit here and blame our front tire or sway bar or anything else, but it’s just the whole package.”
If nothing else goes right the rest of 2010, at least Hornaday no longer has to worry about winning at Martinsville.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s a lot of pressure off my shoulders. It made me feel really good. We’d always run good at Martinsville, but it just shows that as a team we’re never going to give up."