These days in Nextel Cup, the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and other Chase shoo-ins are focused on nothing but wins, knowing that top-10s and even top-5s today won't mean anything in another month.
The same can just about be said for Travis Kvapil in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Since late spring, Mike Skinner and Ron Hornaday Jr. have run 1-2 in the points, racking up top-5 finishes nearly every time out to build a cushion of 200-plus points over Kvapil and Todd Bodine. With 10 races remaining, no one outside those four is going to win the championship.
Odds are against its being Kvapil unless he rattles off wins in bunches -- in other words, continuing his current run.
The 2003 series champion won his third race in six starts Saturday at the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway, taking over late in his Roush Fenway Ford and holding off -- who else -- Hornaday and Skinner.
"Going into the race, we figured we would be a contender -- that truck won at Michigan and was second at Kentucky, so we knew the truck had speed," Kvapil said. "We just had to get it there. At the start of the race, we were OK, fifth in a 10th-place truck. We made up a couple spots on pit road, and my team just nailed the adjustments. We restarted the race after four tires [on Lap 114], and the truck took off."
Kvapil had a fast truck and luck -- the right-front tire changed on that late stop under caution had a large blister that might have been disastrous had he kept running on it in green-flag conditions. No one in the No. 6 pit knew how it happened, but they weren't about to tell their driver, either. Kvapil heard about it on the plane ride home.
"My crew chief [Mike Beam] said tire wear looked good. He never mentioned anything about that," Kvapil said. "He didn't want me to have something in the back of my mind. What you don't know won't hurt you."
With the win, Kvapil leapfrogged Bodine for third place. He's now 236 points shy of Skinner and 154 behind Hornaday. There's no better points day than a winner's, but the front-runners are making a season out of points days nearly as good. Skinner, in finishing third, actually gained five points on runner-up Hornaday thanks to five bonus points for leading the most laps.
Ten races do remain, but picking up 15 points on Skinner -- as Kvapil did at Nashville -- every time out the rest of the way won't be enough.
"These guys we're battling for this championship, they run top-5 every week, too. You can finish third or fourth and lose a good chunk to these guys," Kvapil said.
So the assignment is all but win-or-bust, which isn't a bad thing. The No. 6 Ford was dialed in last year to the tune of six wins for Mark Martin, and Kvapil has half that total after emerging from an early funk that included six straight races out of the top 10. Compared with the title season in 2003, when he had one win in a Steve Coulter-owned Chevrolet, Kvapil said he is enjoying this more.
"In 2003, I was just a top-5 truck, now I'm a truck to win every week," said Kvapil, whose 22 top-5s in 25 starts in '03 was still plenty impressive. "Winning the championship is a grand prize, but it sure is nice to get these wins throughout the season. To me, winning races is what it's all about."
He needs to be saying that now.
New old Bristol
The trucks head to Bristol next week for the annual Wednesday night show in the half-mile bullring, but there will be a twist in the O'Reilly 200 in that Bristol's concrete surface was redone earlier this year and the trucks will get the first shot at racing on it.
"This is by far the best revamping of a track ever," Bodine said. "No doubt about it. The people here knew what they wanted with the redo, and they went out and did it. This is the way it should be done."
Variable banking was added to the turns to help ease the transition to the straightaways, and the track came out of the renovation 3 feet wider. When testing at Bristol in July, drivers discovered new lines.
"It's kind of the same old Bristol, but they kind of opened the groove up. Made it more forgiving," said Kvapil, the 2003 Bristol winner. "Before, you had to be on the bottom -- it was the fastest place to get around. Now, you can be a couple feet off the bottom and still have good speed. I think the racing's going to be a little bit better. It's still important to have good track position and be out front, but the passing will be a little easier."
Bodine's Germain Racing team is entering this weekend's Busch race at Michigan. Reports have circulated that the defending series champion is trading his full-time ride in the No. 30 Tundra for a full Busch Series schedule in 2008, but team officials said Tuesday that nothing has been decided yet. Bodine, a 15-time Busch winner, ran a Germain Camry for the first time at Gateway (Ill.) last month, leading 15 laps and finishing 10th. ... Nashville has had seven different winners in seven races, but that's not close to a record. New Hampshire and Homestead, both on the calendar for later this season, have had 11 different winners in as many events. ... Speaking of no repeats, 15 drivers have won the Featherlite award this season; it's given to the competitor who improves the most from one race to the next. Jon Wood won it at Nashville, finishing sixth after coming home 28th at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis. ... Skinner's pole at Nashville was his record-extending 40th in the series. He has eight this season, and it would be an upset if he didn't top his 1995 single-season record of 10.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.