|High Sierra Photo|
A 17th-place finish hardly is reason to celebrate, but for Robert Huffman (No. 12 Toyota Tundra Toyota) it’s a step in the right direction.
Huffman, one of 17 Raybestos Rookie of the Year contenders on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, was just happy to be racing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last Friday night. His lead lap finish, after an early spin, had to be a bonus.
And it certainly beat Huffman’s previous weekend in which he – and 10 others – failed to qualify for the race at Mansfield Motorsports Speedway when inclement weather forced NASCAR officials to set the field via the rule book.
“Although a 17th-place finish may not sound that great, it’s actually the first race we’ve finished this season,” said Huffman, a three-time Dash winner at the 1.5-mile facility. “I think we actually had a top-10 truck at the end of the race but, unfortunately, we weren’t in a position to finish (there).”
Still, the 36-year-old Claremont, N.C., competitor picked up Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors as the top finisher among first-year drivers. He is the third different top rookie in the season’s first five races.
Huffman, driving for the first-year Innovative Motorsports, Inc. team owned by George and Vicky deBidart, hasn’t exactly been silent in 2004 – even if his finishes say otherwise. Entering the Charlotte event, Huffman’s best effort had been 29th at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Huffman, who qualified second at Atlanta, shared history with fellow Raybestos Rookie contender David Reutimann (No. 17 NTN Bearings Toyota) as the first rookie drivers to win front row starting positions in a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
Huffman ran consistently among the top 10 until sidelined by a frontstretch accident with seven laps remaining in the event.
“We were among the leaders all day when I made a mistake at the end,” Huffman said. “We’ve been qualifying well all season and now we finally have a good finish and that will surely give us some more confidence as we head into Dover.”
Dover International Speedway, a one-mile banked concrete speedway, hosts the June 4 MBNA America 200, the next event on a 25-race schedule.
Like most Raybestos candidates, Huffman has no experience at the “Monster Mile.”
“I’ve never raced at Dover. In fact, I’ve never even seen the track in person,” he said. “From what people tell me, it sounds similar to Bristol. I do have some (Dash) experience racing at Bristol and I’ve always enjoyed that track. Hopefully, that will help me.”
Reutimann, despite finishing 36th at Lowe’s due to early engine failure, continues to lead Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings by a 56 to 42 point margin over Brandon Whitt (No. 38 Cure Autism Now/McMillin Homes Ford). Huffman ranks eighth in a points chase that ultimately will be based upon a candidate’s 14 best finishes and bonus considerations.