May 20, 2011

When fans visit Kansas Speedway in 2011 they’ll notice a major development overlooking turn two, the Hollywood Casino, scheduled to open in the first half of 2012. While this will give fans the opportunity to wager on the track’s grounds for the first time, drivers and teams have been gambling at Kansas Speedway for years.

The 1.5-mile tri-oval is known for great racing action, but competitors are frequently forced to tempt Lady Luck when it comes to fuel and tire strategy. This was certainly the case in the eighth running of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck series race on April 26, 2008.

Kevin Harvick Incorporated driver, Ron Hornaday Jr., entered the weekend with the series points lead and was hungry for another point championship after claiming the top-spot in 2007. Things started out well for the California native when he landed the pole position, his second of the season, logging a 170.460 mph qualifying lap.

Hornaday wasn’t the only driver looking to make a splash in Kansas. Hometown driver Jennifer Jo Cobb, making her series debut, hoped to impress the capacity crowd with a solid run. Rookie of the year contender, Colin Braun, aspired to chalk up another Roush-Fenway victory as both Carl Edwards and Jon Wood had done in years past.

It was, however, all Ron Hornaday Jr. when the field went green that afternoon. In all, Hornaday led a race high, 136 laps of the 167-lap affair but he would have to rely on good fortunes to bring home the win.
Pitting on lap 108, Hornaday’s crew chief, Rick Ren, decided that time was of the essence and sent the No. 33 machine back onto the track without taking any fuel, a major gamble to say the least. Under this strategy should the race go green for the remainder of the event, at a track where long green flag runs are the norm, Hornaday would run out of fuel with a half-lap remaining. According to Ren’s calculations, he would need at least 11 caution laps to be safe.

As it turned out, destiny was with the Harvick’s team. The race set a record for the most cautions at Kansas Speedway (12) and Hornaday crossed the finish line with plenty to spare, notching his series leading, 34th career truck series win. Finishing second was teammate Jack Sprague.

Referring to his winning crew chief, Hornaday said after the race, “He sounded like my wife when I’m on the road: save fuel, save fuel, with gas prices what they are, save fuel. So I did. This is what it’s all about.”
Braun, who posted a career best third place, went on to be named the 2008 series rookie of the year. Unfortunately, Cobb’s day didn’t go as well, coming home a disappointing 33rd after experiencing engine troubles.

The 2008 truck series championship truly came down to the wire. Going into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the battle was between veterans Johnny Benson and Hornaday. The winner would be determined simply by who posted the best finish. When the dust settled, Benson finished seventh and Hornaday finished eighth at the Southern Florida facility, giving Benson his first and only series title.