Truck win for Skinner, Toyota

First off, congratulations to local racer Mike Skinner (I think Susanville, Calif., qualifies as "local") on his Craftsman Truck win Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Skinner wheeled his truck to victory over fellow Toyota Tundra driver Brett Bodine, further consolidating Toyota's ascendancy in the Truck series. I'm curious, though.

How is it that Toyota, on its way to becoming the premier car builder in the world and spending a gazillion dollars in racing, can be so successful in the Truck series and before that in both Champ Car and the Indy Racing League as well as the International Motorsports Association (forerunner to Grand Am and the American Lemans Series), while performing so dismally in Formula 1 and the Nextel Cup? OK, it's only had four Nextel Cup races counting today's Atlanta round, but they have been in Formula 1 for several seasons and haven't really impressed anyone.

True, it did put both cars in the top 10 in qualifying for last night's F1 season opener in Australia, but never challenged for the pole. The race itself ran after column deadline, so you'll have to check out SPEED TV to get the rundown on the finishing order. I have to say, I was quite impressed with rookie Lewis Hamilton, who qualified fourth in his first outing in the McLaren, and with Kimi Raikkonen, who parlayed his first Ferrari drive into a pole position.

Speaking of qualifying, the Dodge boys seem to have that part of the program figured out. After dominating the starting grid at Las Vegas, there are six Dodges in the top 10 qualifying spots for today's Atlanta Nextel Cup race.

Unfortunately for Daimler/Chrysler, when the checkered flag flew at Vegas it was mostly Chevys and Fords finishing up front. Toyota struggled again at Atlanta, with David Reutimann the quickest of the bunch in 24th starting spot.

Dale Jarrett again took the past champion provisional, but he's rapidly running out of that "get out of jail free" card. Toyota's most visible driver, Michael Waltrip, again failed to qualify as did Champ Car transplant A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger has had a particularly tough weekend, also crashing out of a seemingly sure top-10 finish in the Friday night truck race.

Back to Formula 1, the "controversy" theme in NASCAR that I mentioned last week seems to have infected the international open-wheel series as well. The big brouhaha is over whether teams are building cars of their own design, as specified in the F1 regulations.

Never mind that the rule will change in 2008 and "customer cars" will be allowed. This year things are supposed to operate under the old rules and allegations are flying that a few teams are not adhering to those rules.

Specifically, the Super Aguri team appears to be using a chassis design identical to last year's Honda chassis. The irony is that the Super Aguri chassis was faster in Australia than the new Honda!

There are also accusations that the Scuderia Toro Rosso chassis is a clone of the Red Bull car, which in turn is suspect because it was designed by Adrian Newey, who is not officially a Red Bull team member. This is starting to sound like something Congress should hold hearings on . . . but since F1 is international, it will probably be the UN that gets involved.

I'd love to be in Australia to ferret out the inside scoop, but unfortunately the Appeal's travel budget comes up a little short for that sort of thing. So I have been reduced to watching the race on TV, just like the commentary team of Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett, who call the action from a studio in Connecticut.

On the other hand, Reno-Fernley Raceway is just a few miles down the road, within easy reach. The track will be holding the first of two practice sessions on the 3/8 mile clay oval on April 7, with the second practice a week later on April 14. If you are planning to race on the oval at RFR this season, you would be well advised to attend one or both sessions. As opening day gets closer, I'll feature information on ticket prices and race times.


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