Auto Racing: Bodine is saving his best for homestretch

Troubles and validation.

Win an armful of trophies.

Rinse, repeat.

That seems to be the formula for NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Todd Bodine and the Germain Racing team, which have once again caught a wave of momentum at the end of the racing season.

Bodine, who was at Germain Toyota of Naples on Wednesday signing autographs before Friday night's Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, has won back-to-back truck series races — the Silverado 350 at Texas Motor Speedway and the Chevy Silverado 150 at Phoenix International Raceway — since retaking the driver's seat of the No. 30 Germain Toyota Tundra in June.

"It all starts at the top in any business or any team with the leadership," Bodine said. "They do everything as owners that you need to do to make the team successful."

Bodine won two races in 2004 when the Germain team ran only the second half of the schedule, but left at season's end to drive for Fiddle Back Racing.

The locally owned Germain team started 2005 with truck series veteran Chad Chaffin as its driver, but struggled until Bodine retook the reins at the Milwaukee Mile on June 24. Electrical problems relegated Bodine to a 34th-place finish in that race, but a week later he was back in familiar territory — victory lane.

Bodine led the most laps at the O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway and drove away from the field in a green-white-checker finish. Bodine added another win on Sept. 24 in Las Vegas.

"It was a no-brainer," Bob Germain Jr., one of the team's owners, said of bringing back Bodine.

"Nobody drives to the front like Todd does. He doesn't necessarily qualify that well, but he never goes backwards. He goes right to the front. And it's a lot more fun running up front."

Since rejoining the Germain team, Bodine has rocketed up the standings to third. With only one race remaining, Bodine is mathematically eliminated from catching points leader Ted Musgrave, but the team has experienced great consistency with top-three finishes in nine of its last 13 races.

"Since (Bodine's return), it's been unbelievable," Germain said. "It's hard to believe that we're that good."

But this team is determined not to repeat its past mistakes.

Even as one of the hottest team's on the circuit at the end of the 2004 season, Bodine failed to qualify for the season-ending Homestead race.

This year, the team is assured a starting spot because of its position in the points standings.

Besides, they're bringing the truck they won with at Las Vegas and Texas, a truck that spent six hours in the wind tunnel on Monday.

"I think Homestead (in 2004) was a wake-up call for a great race team that you can make some mistakes that will really bite you," said team manager Mike Hillman Sr., whose son, Mike Jr., is crew chief. "If anything, I think this year we're overprepared."

"We feel like we can go in there and win the race," Bodine said. "We were real fast there last year, we just had trouble qualifying."

Last year's disappointing finish was made worse when Bodine left the team in December, another mistake neither the team or driver will repeat.

Bodine will be back, as will the championship aspirations that never materialized with Chaffin behind the wheel.

"We're done already, we're signed up for next year," Germain said. "I didn't want to make that mistake twice."

"We have all winter to work on the trucks, and we'll come out of the box strong," Bodine said.

© 2005 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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