How can you tell?
After the pole sitter led 136 of the 167 laps to dominate the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250, he didn't do a burnout or celebratory doughnuts. Instead, he settled for a victory lap with the checkered flag and then drove straight to victory lane.
With the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' next race slated for Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C., on May 16, Hornaday wanted to be sure his truck was intact. He and Kevin Harvick Inc. teammate Jack Sprague, who finished second, were no doubt pleased with the performances of their trucks, which were each being raced for the first time.
Hornaday, the defending series champion, made a wise decision to forego the victory celebrations and preserve his truck.
Had Hornaday and Sprague, faltered, rookie Colin Braun (pronounced Brown), all of 19, would have been the latest young gun winner at Kansas. He finished third for Roush Fenway.
Hornaday also took over the points lead from Kyle Busch, who was competing in the Nationwide Series race at Talladega, Ala. Busch's team had mulled trying to race a double, but as the Nationwide race didn't finish until shortly after the Truck race started, it wasn't feasible. Busch, who had been the points leader, dropped to sixth. He will be back in the No. 51 truck at Lowe's.
NASCAR moved the start of the Truck race to 5 p.m. Kansas time, presumably so the race broadcast wouldn't be competing against the Nationwide broadcast. Thanks in part to a record-tying 11 cautions, the Truck race finished at dusk. While there was still enough light to finish, unlike the Sprint Cup Series' rain-filled race in 2007 at Kansas, a red flag could have pushed the finish into darkness.
The other factor in the late start was that the Indy Racing League and Firestone Indy Lights cars practiced, and the IRL cars and trucks also qualified Saturday. That busy schedule could have been trimmed down if the Truck Series had qualified Friday, when the ARCA/Remax Series race was won by former Formula 1 driver Scott Speed.
Danica Patrick qualified third for Sunday's Road Runner Turbo Indy 300, but a mechanical failure prevented her from winning for a second straight week. Dan Wheldon became the first repeat IRL winner at Kansas.
Next up for the IRL is the Indianapolis 500.
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It's sometimes easy to forget that Busch is all of 23. He worked the draft to perfection for his second win of the season. The draft seemed to work differently Sunday. Two cars could hook up together and advance through the field.
This strategy saved the day for Dale Earnhardt Jr. After consistently running in the Top 10 or leading, a late-race incident left the No. 88 Chevrolet with damage. Earnhardt re-started back in the pack, but was able to work with Jamie McMurray to move from 29th to 10th - in four laps. He was able to avoid the "big one" on the final lap that relegated McMurray to 21st place.
While the "big one" didn't happen until the last lap of Sunday's Cup race, two crashes marred Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Talladega.
One must wonder if Dario Franchitti would have been hurt if the Nationwide's "Car of Tomorrow" weren't still on the drawing board. Franchitti was driving to gain drafting experience for Sunday's race, but a hard drivers' side impact left him with a broken ankle. That's the catch-22 Cup owners face when their Sunday drivers choose race on Saturday. For Franchitti, who has struggled while transitioning from open wheel to Sprint Cup, the added seat time is crucial for him to gain experience.
David Stremme, who Franchitti replaced in the No. 40 for Chip Ganassi Racing, filled in for Franchitti Sunday. He ran extremely well until he was caught up in a late-race melee. Ken Schrader will drive the No. 40 Dodge at Richmond.
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For Earnhardt Jr., this trip to Richmond marks two years since he has won a Cup race. He leads the Sprint Cup series with seven Top 10 finishes in nine races, and is among the Top 5 in laps led.
Others to watch include Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Denny Hamlin would love to win in front of his hometown fans, while Tony Stewart had one of the dominant cars Sunday but wrecked, and is still looking for his first victory of the season.
Kasey Kahne has been quiet in recent weeks, but runs well at Richmond, as do Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick, whose consistency has kept them at the top of the point standings.
Finally, fans wanting to watch Friday night's Nationwide Series race will want to tune into ESPN Classic or SPEED, instead of ESPN2 at 6 p.m because of the NBA playoffs.
ESPN2 will join the live coverage after the Washington-Cleveland NBA playoffs game concludes. ESPN2 will also re-air the entire race after the conclusion of the race broadcast.
- E-mail Marsha Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org