HORNADAY'S TITLE FUELED BY PAST.
Ron Hornaday Jr. has been around long enough to know that it takes more than a talented driver to win a championship.
His most recent championship started years ago with a man named Wally Rogers.
Hornaday credited Rogers, the former crew chief on his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team for Kevin Harvick Inc., for laying the foundation for his championship run in 2007.
Rogers has since moved on to KHI's Busch Series team. Rick Ren is Hornaday's crew chief now, but it was Rogers who started it all.
"It's kind of ironic," said Hornaday, a former Saugus Speedway champ from Palmdale. "He used to work for Bill Davis and took a lot of good notes and put it to ours, and everything just seemed to work out."
It was Hornaday's third Truck Series championship and his first with Kevin Harvick Inc. He won fourraces and had 22 top-10 finishes in 25 races. His 33 career wins are the most of any driver in the history of the Truck Series.
"I mean, this is cool," Hornaday said. "We've won at some race tracks that Rick has never won at and he's won at race tracks I've never won at. I won the championship for Rick Ren, Kevin Harvick Incorporated. This is just really special."
Hornaday was the only driver with local ties to win a championship at the national level this year.
Larry Dixon, a Van Nuys High graduate, and Jack Beckman, of North Hills, qualified for the first-ever Countdown, the six-race playoff devised by the NHRA.
Dixon, an NHRA Top Fuel driver, went in to the Countdown to One, for which only the top four drivers qualified, as the top-seeded driver. He came out in fourth place.
Beckman, perhaps the most unlikely qualifier in the NHRA Funny Car division, went from third place before the Countdown to One started to fifth place and out of the Countdown. Beckman ended fifth in the final Funny Car standings.
American Le Mans Series
Santa Clarita-based Honda Performance Development and its Acuras made their debut in the American Le Mans Series. Threeteams -- Andretti Green Racing, Lowe's Fernandez Racing and Highcroft Racing -- used Acura-powered cars in the LMP2 division.
Valencia's Bryan Herta was part of the Andretti Green Racing team that won the LMP2 portion of the season-opening 12 Hours of Sebring.
Robert Clarke, the outgoing president of Honda Performance Development, said winning at Sebring was the highlight of his 15years with the company, which included providing engines and support for teams in the Indy Racing League and the old CART Series.
Highcroft Racing's David Brabham and Stefan Johansson had fourpodium finishes and were third in the final LMP2 team championship.
In addition to winning at Sebring, Herta, a Hart High of Newhall graduate, had podium finishes at the Lone Star Grand Prix in Houston and the Grand Prix of Mosport, just outside Toronto.
Lowe's Fernandez Racing, with drivers Adrian Fernandez and Luis Diaz, had three podium finishes.
Elsewhere, Rip Michels of San Fernando added to his legend at Irwindale Speedway. He won 11races and his third NASCAR Super Late Model championship. Add his Grand American Modified championship and Michels has four track championships. His 55 career wins at the track are the most of any driver.
Tim Huddleston of Agoura Hills put together a four-car team, High Point Racing, to compete in the NASCAR Late Model division at Irwindale Speedway. He won the Late Model championship, the second of his career at the track.
He and his drivers -- Jace Meier, Chris Carmody and Scott Jenkins -- all finished in the top 10 in the Late Model division standings. The four combined to win six of the 15Late Model races at the track.
Meier, a driver from Las Vegas, ended up second in the Late Model standings with one win. Carmody, from Valencia, won two races and was fifth. Jenkins, from Portland, Ore., had six top-five finishes and finished eighth in the standings.
There's always next year
Here are three questions for the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:
1. Can Toyota win a race?
They better. Toyota made its debut in the Nextel Cup Series in 2007. The Japanese automaker provided engines for three teams: Michael Waltrip Racing, Bill Davis Racing and Team Red Bull. None of the teams had much success. They struggled to qualify for races and there were times when none of the Toyota teams were in the top 35 in owners points. The top-35 teams earn at least provisional starting spots for every Cup race.
But the stakes will be raised in 2008. Toyota is teaming with Joe Gibbs Racing and drivers Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. All three drivers are used to qualifying for the Chase for the Nextel Cup and winning races. Toyota better provide both if it wants to keep Gibbs and his drivers happy.
2. Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be a championship contender with Hendrick Motorsports?
There's no reason he shouldn't. Hendrick Motorsports got three of its four drivers in the Chase this year. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are clearly the class of the team. But Busch, who is moving from Hendrick to Gibbs next year, and his team did just fine in the shadow of Johnson and Gordon. A little more experience and patience and Busch might have been in the middle of the championship chase. Johnson and Gordon are still the stars at Hendrick Motorsports and that might be just what EarnhardtJr. needs. Perhaps he can slip into Johnson's and Gordon's shadow and turn his attention to just winning races.
3. Can Johnson win three Cup championships in a row?
No one's done it since Cale Yarborough. Not Richard Petty, not Dale Earnhardt, not Jeff Gordon. Still it's hard to say no to Johnson. He seems to have a knack for putting together his best races at the end of the year. To win a Cup championship these days, that's exactly what needs to happen. If Johnson can pull off four or fivewins in October and November, he will be in the thick of it again.
2 photos, box
(1) Ron Hornaday Jr., right, celebrates winning the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title with team owner Kevin Harvick.
Jason Smith/Getty Images
(2) EARNHARDT JR.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 29, 2007|
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