Tracy Hines was hired by ThorSport Racing number one, to potentially win Wednesdayevening's inaugural CarCash Mudsummer Classic presented by CNBC Prime's 'The Profit' at Eldora Speedway, the first NASCAR national series race on dirt in 42 years.
Nothing in four hours of practice Tuesday at the high-banked half-mile oval where Hines has 12 career victories in a couple USAC open-wheel divisions or in Wednesday morning's 90-minute Happy Hour practice showed him he couldn't potentially win.
But in a close second to him winning in the No. 13 SealMaster Toyota, Hines -- who drove 48 races for ThorSport owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson in the 2004-2005 Truck Series seasons -- had a broader team goal.
Indeed, both Crafton (seventh) and Sauter (eighth) were in the top-10 in final practice. And they both were pleased with their trucks' performance.
For his part, Hines showed the ability to race all over the 24-degree Eldora banking in the corners, while posting the best 10-lap average speed in Happy Hour. At one point, for three consecutive laps Hines rode one truck length off the inside wall while Crafton ran the preferred, faster line against the outside wall, with Hines keeping pace with his championship-leading teammate.
Hines was 20th of 34 trucks in the opening two-hour practice Tuesday, but he improved to fifth-best in Tuesday evening's session. Hines really hit his stride in Happy Hour, testing a variety of lines to prepare for the evening's variable conditions.
At 5:05 p.m. ET Wednesday Hines is scheduled to qualify 30th of 35 trucks on-site. Qualifying is live on the SPEED Channel. Qualifying will determine the lineups for five eight-lap qualifying heat races, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Four guaranteed starters -- from the top 20 in the NCWTS owners' points -- and one non-qualified driver will come out of each heat.
A 15-lap last-chance race is scheduled at about 8:45 p.m. ET, with the last five qualifiers for the 30-truck feature coming out of it.
Hines is locked-into the field thanks to his truck being in the top 20 in the owners' standings. He just shook his head as he paused to consider what it is that makes his style and Eldora such a perfect match.
"I really don't know what it is," Hines finally said with a chuckle. "Maybe it's the speed and the momentum that you build up or that a lot of times, the cushion is inches from the wall and that kind of fits my driving style."
And while owner Tony Stewart has prepared a surface that's devoid of a true cushion, Hines admitted he's made rim-riding along the top of the racetrack -- cushion or no -- one of his calling cards, akin to what Richard Petty often practiced back in the day or that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is fond of in current times.
"I know a lot guys think that if you're closer to the wall you're closer to crashing," Hines said. "I think closer to the wall means less crashing, because you're already there so the chances of flipping for a long way, are less -- you're probably just gonna bounce off of it."
In truck practice, no less than 32 of the 35 entered trucks -- including all three ThorSport Tundras -- had some degree of right-rear fender damage. And whatever the reasoning, Hines has made it a winning combination.
"You go as fast as you can and just try to keep it under control," Hines said. "I'm especially interested in seeing how much the track's gonna change, because unlike any of the pavement races these guys have been to, in a 150-lap race there's gonna be changes to that track, through the night.
"I know this sounds silly, but with our experience on dirt I think we'll be looking at a five-lap advantage. And what I mean by that is that you're gonna know how the track is starting to change, about five laps before the inexperienced guys -- but let's face it. Most of the drivers are professionals and they're extremely good at their job -- they're gonna get it figured out."
Mudsummer Classic race coverage is scheduled to begin on SPEED at 9 p.m. ET, with The Setup pre-race show preceding the 10th event of the season at 9:30. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 9.