This weekend, NASCAR racing returns to Rockingham for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Camping World Truck Series will race at the "Rock" on Sunday as a stand-alone event. Due to the lengthy absence of NASCAR from the historic venue, Sunday will mark the first visit to the Rockingham track for almost all of the drivers competiting this weekend.
One driver who is an exception and has experience at the "Rock" is four-time Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.
Hornaday Jr. has raced at Rockingham in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the Nationwide Series during his successful career. I think his experience in running both series' races at Rockingham makes Hornaday a sleeper's pick to lead him to victory lane on Sunday after a tough start to the 2012 season.
One thing Hornaday hopes NASCAR does differently this time around is bringing in a new tire. During a NASCAR teleconference on Tuesday, he he this to say about the need for an improved tire.
"Back in the day, you could go about two laps and then you really had to just manhandle the tires and try to save them and everything... [T]hey still use the asphalt from down there where it still wears the tires out, so you've got to really be patient and control your truck for the whole run and figure out how many sets of tires to get in and see what you've got for the race and plan that out."
Hornaday's knowledge of tire wear and how to run the difficult track will give him more of an advantage than anyone in the field. Hoping to improve his ninth place standing in points, Hornaday should be a threat and gain his first victory of the season this weekend.
When asked about his favorite memories from Rockingham, Hornaday commented, "All I know is it's really fast for the first ten laps, and I just didn't know how to save my tires."
That tells me that tires are going to be a huge factor this weekend, and Hornaday is the man that will know that and have a plan of attack.
One thing Hornaday doesn't feel he has an advantage on is that some of the truck series drivers took to the track in an open test last year at the "Rock." I asked him if he thought his experience should give him an advantage over everyone else at Rockingham, and he said he felt the guys that tested should have the advantage since they've been on the track.
I honestly don't think any of the younger guys in the series have the smarts to save tires and hang around like Hornaday knows is required at Rockingham. The race experience will far outweigh the loss of track time from the test. If he sticks around and uses his past knowledge about the tire situation, then Hornaday Jr. ought to be at least a top-five contender on Sunday.
All quotes were obtained first-hand by the writer.