Steamy Weekend

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Just back from Texas Motor Speedway and a most interesting NASCAR Truck Series event Friday night. Jack Sprague may have jumpstarted his ’05 season by stealing the victory with some good fortune and sound pit strategy, while Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday have to be wondering what went wrong. Skinner ran wild for 75% of the event, with no one able to stick anywhere within the same zip code. Finally Hornaday got the right combination under his Harvick Racing Chevy and reeled Skinner in, reminding me of their great rivalry in the first several seasons of the NCTS.

But after a final caution, Sprague parlayed a quick stop and a terrific final setup into the winning drive, ending a near year-long drought. Sprague, the tour’s only three-time champion, has a long way to go to get into title contention this season, but a few more runs like the one we witnessed last Friday could vault him into the championship picture yet again….the Michigander now sits 10th, heading to his home track of Michigan International this Saturday.

But the Truck Series event also showcased the considerable talents of defending Hooters Pro Cup champ Clay Rogers. The 24-year-old had only one previous series start, at Charlotte, where an incident derailed what might have been a top-ten run in a Ford put together by his ProCup team. This past week, Clayton drove the Glynn Motorsports Dodge Ram for Regan Smith, who’d been moved to Glynn’s BGN team at Nashville to replace Brent Sherman. With no testing, with no time with the team prior to Thursday, at a fast place he’d never seen before, Rogers methodically picked his way from 19th on the grid to 8th at the finish, making believers out of many. Clay doesn’t get the “star in waiting” ink many of his less-talented contemporaries do, but it’s no stretch to say he’s more than ready for a full-time shot in a major series. Rogers may well win another HPC title and the big check that goes along with it this year, though he’s been struggling.

But a major car owner would be wise to sign Clayton before too many more weeks go by.

For another Hooters Cup star on the rise, it’s not a matter of if, but when. I had the chance to meet 15 year old Joey Lagano this week, days after his stunning ProCup North Tour win Saturday night at Mansfield. That victory came in his second career start, just weeks after he’d gained his street learner’s permit and thus qualified to run with the Hooters clan. His family-owned team is led by my broadcast partner Scott Sutherland. They are well-prepared and confident. And now their young driver has started to show the entire sport what Mark Martin and others had seen in him many months ago. Lagano is supremely confident and wildly talented; here’s hoping he’s able to keep on enjoying the ride, stay safe, and avoid burnout. If he does there’s no way he won’t be a big winner in NASCAR by the time he’s able to legally buy some Victory Lane champagne.
I’ll have the pleasure of putting him through our career media coaching seminar in a couple of weeks and I’ll thoroughly enjoy knowing I’ve played a small part in Joey’s future success.

I’m looking ahead to this coming weekend at Portland International Raceway, and the Champ Car World Series’ return to the Pacific Northwest on CBS Sports.

Sebastien Bourdais whipped the field at Portland a year ago. This time around look for Paul Tracy, AJ Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, and a host of others to provide strong opposition to Seabass. Bourdais is still the Champ Car pacesetter but Milwaukee showed there’s plenty of fire left in PT’s belly. We’ll also be calling the second Trans Am round of the year for SPEED, and the Toyota Atlantics will run a doubleheader.

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