Veteran Camping World Truck Series racer Ron Hornaday Jr. pulled off a surprise victory against his teammate for the day Clint Bowyer, who despite being dominant for most of the night finally succumbed to Hornaday's fuel-mileage strategy in Friday's Good Sam Club 200 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Bowyer had looked unbeatable for pretty much the whole night, building up a 4.869s lead in just the first 19 laps of the 1.54 before the first caution of the night came out for Cole Whitt's #60 engine blowing up.
After an accident involving Johanna Long and BJ McLeod on lap 38 brought out the second caution, Kyle Busch took the lead at the restart but clearly didn't have the same raw speed that Bowyer did and was unable to pull away. By lap 53 Bowyer had won a lengthy side-by-side battle with Busch to be able to start pulling out another huge lead, and when the fifth and final caution of the night flew for Timothy Peters spinning in turn 4 on lap 77, Bowyer was untroubled and was soon pulling away again at the restart.
Bowyer had a 6.239s lead over Busch when Kyle came in for his final pit stop on lap 110. Concentrating on the threat of the #18, Bowyer came in next time around to make sure that he too had new tyres for the remaining laps and wasn't caught out.
That was Ron Hornaday's moment to strike: the 53-year-old Truck Series master stayed out to assume the lead, giving up the edge of new tyres and instead playing the fuel mileage game - having last stopped on lap 75 and immediately starting to save gas. He just managed to outrun Bowyer to the chequered flag as a result.
"I told [the crew], 'We don't have the best truck, but we can win by fuel mileage,'" said Hornaday. "See that trophy? We stole it tonight, but I'll take it any way we can get it ... That's cool!"
"I got beat by a guy who snookered me," conceded Bowyer, who admitted that he had needed just one or two laps more to outpace the leader. "He played a better poker hand than I did."
Asked if Bowyer's close battle with Kyle Busch mid-race had sparked any thoughts of opportunities to continue the Harvick/Busch war by taking out the #18, Bowyer replied playfully: "I had orders to wreck him at every chance possible but just couldn't get it done!" before continuing more seriously: "No, man. It's fun racing hard with someone that you know is not gonna crash underneath you. It's cool."
"Glad he could refrain from orders!" replied Busch in similar lighthearted vein. "He tried a couple times ... Nah. It was good hard racing." He conceded that Bowyer's #2 "was definitely the best truck of the night" and added: "He could just stay a lot better on the long run. It seemed like I'd blow the tyres off after about 10 laps and he'd just start getting away from me. Traditional Atlanta, you gotta be better on the long run."
In running to the win, Hornaday had even managed to shrug off an early collision that left the #33 with damage after a restart. "At the start of the race somebody checked up, and I went to the right and I got the front fender in," he shrugged. "We just kept on taping it up."
The tape lasted long enough to deliver Hornaday's 49th series victory in 292 starts and become only the third driver to win multiple Truck races in the 17 races of the season so far (Busch has five, Harvick has three.) It's the fourth consecutive Truck series victory for the Kevin Harvick Inc. team, whose owner Kevin Harvick had personally swept the last three races in the series.
In Truck Series championship terms, Hornaday's victory boosts him up four spots to fifth place. Tenth place was enough to push James Buescher to the top of the points, after former championship leader Johnny Sauter had a wretched night that started with sideways contact with Nelson Piquet Jr., which delivered him a blown left rear tyre and a smack into turn 2 on lap 58.
Full race results and qualifying