SANDUSKY, Ohio -Todd Bodine has a winning history at Rockingham Speedway and with his first two races this season with ThorSport Racing giving him the anticipation that a victory is right around the next left-hand turn, Bodine’s got a good feeling about Sunday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ second annual Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine.
Bodine has 35 career starts at Rockingham across NASCAR’s three national tours, with two Busch Series wins, the predecessor of the Nationwide Series, in 1995 and 2001, 11 top-10 starts and 13 top-10 finishes.
As if that experience with Rockingham’s notoriously abrasive track surface wasn’t important enough, Bodine has the more recent experience of tire strategy and management at Martinsville last weekend — when crew chief Jeriod Prince hatched a masterful plan to put Bodine in position to take advantage of fresh rubber on his No. 13 SealMaster Toyota with about 30 laps to go.
The strategy would’ve worked if Kevin Harvick hadn’t spun Bodine out of his way going into Turn 3 in the race’s late stages. Even with that, Prince had to put a set of well-used tires on Bodine’s Tundra and Bodine drove it back into 11th place by the finish.
“Rockingham’s a different animal than Martinsville,” Bodine said. “But Rockingham does eat up tires and it’s wore out. Tire management is critical and I think experience means a lot. If we can get a good truck, experience will come to the top. We’ve just got to be smart, use our heads and not get in trouble.”
Prince and Bodine excelled at that in Martinsville. After struggling to find a balance in their truck during practice, and even in qualifying when Bodine timed-in in the 23rd spot, they kept working and had a great set-up for the race.
At Rockingham, teams will have two-and-a-half hours of practice on Saturday, from noon to 1:30 ET and then from 3 to 4 p.m.
“Your plan is the same as it usually is at any racetrack,” Bodine said. “You’ve just got to get a balance and then work on old tires and longevity and balance on tire runs — and work out your tire wear and everything that goes with it. That’s what you work on.”
Qualifying is set for 11:05 a.m. Sunday — less than three hours before the race. Before he goes anywhere near the place, Bodine knows what he and his crew need to accomplish.
“Track position and good tires is what you really want to have when it comes down to making something happen at the end of the race at Rockingham,” Bodine said. “You’ve got to be toward the front with a good truck and put yourself in a position to take advantage of that track position.
“Depending on how long that last run’s going to be, it might come down to tire management. You can burn the tires off the truck in the first 10 laps and not have anything left or you can let those other guys run hard for 10 or 20 laps and then go after it.
“So there’s two ways to do it, and what you do kind of depends on whatever situation you’re in.”
And Bodine’s hoping that experience he has at the high-banked one-mile oval in the North Carolina sand hills looks on him favorably once again.
“I’ve always enjoyed Rockingham,” Bodine said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win twice there in the Nationwide Series. I’ve always enjoyed it, and I ran good there with the Cup car. Last year with the truck we struggled really bad (31st-place finish), but we found out what was wrong and I’m looking forward to going back with a new team and the right set-up and doing better.”
That leads to Bodine’s blossoming relationship with Prince and his crew. Perhaps the most positive thing about Bodine’s first two races with ThorSport is that, after two races in which circumstances largely out of his control cost Bodine better finishes than he deserved, he’s still seventh in the championship, behind his leading teammates Johnny Sauter and third-place Matt Crafton.
“That’s very positive, there’s no doubt about that,” Bodine said. “To be able to have a new team that you’ve never worked with and to do as well as we’ve done… I’m a realist — I don’t just look at the finish, I look at the performance.
“And the performance indicates we could have won both races (Daytona and Martinsville). To me that speaks volumes for the team and for what Jeriod’s doing.”
The season’s third race gets the green flag at 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Live television begins at 1:30 p.m. with “The Set-up” pre-race show on SPEED Channel, followed by the race broadcast. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 1:30 p.m.