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Economy bumps Hillmans truck team

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The No. 30 Toyota Tundra race truck is the defending champion for tonight's NextEra Energy Resources 250 and it has won three straight races on superspeedways.

With Todd Bodine at the wheel and Lockport natives Mike Hillman Sr. and Mike Hillman Jr. running the show for Germain Racing, the team won the 2006 series championship. It finished third in last year's standings after winning the 2008 season finale at Homestead, Fla.

The hood of the truck is shiny and yellow. But it is also blank.

One of the most successful race teams in the truck garage has no sponsor, one of several effects on the NASCAR truck series due to the slumping economy. Mike Hillman Sr., the team manager, and his son, who is the crew chief, have had to lay off employees and discontinue a second full-time truck team.

"The economy is tough right now," said Hillman Sr. "My owners and partners are in the car business [the Germain family owns car dealerships] and we all know how tough the car business is. Their donations to the race team have trickled way back. Hopefully we'll get something on the side of it and keep it all going."

Lumber Liquidators had sponsored the truck but chose not to renew another one-year contract.

"Anything that mentions sponsorship to a corporation right now," said Hillman Sr., "they don't want to hear it."

Hillman Jr. said that while going without a sponsor isn't ideal, he and Bodine have tried to block it out when they're at the track.

"Once we get to the race track, we don't worry about that," said Hillman Jr. "We just worry about winning races. When you're laying in the motel room you might think, 'Man, it's crazy that that thing doesn't have a sponsor on the side of it.' . . . Because our performance is not the reason we're not sponsored. It's just the economy."

Hillman Sr. said that Germain Racing is still fielding a Cup team backed by Geico with Max Papis as the driver, and that he'll be the crew chief there. His son will continue with the No. 30 truck alone on some weekends as he pursues his career goal.

"I'm going to be a Cup crew chief someday, that's what I'm going to do," said Hillman Jr. "It's been great to have my dad with me all the time, but this year we're going to have time apart and it's going to be different for both of us."

***

The No. 30 will start third for tonight's race (8 p.m., Speed) behind pole-sitter Colin Braun (50.721 seconds; 177.441 mph), who was nearly a half-second faster than both Matt Crafton and Bodine (51.172; 175.891 mph).

"The truck is incredibly stable in the draft," said Bodine. "It runs through bumps and doesn't even move. We've got a good shot at doing two in a row. The key is we've got a great race team."

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An ill-advised bump-draft attempt by David Reutimann resulted in the day's biggest wreck as Ryan Newman was sent hard into the wall on the backstretch in the second Daytona 500 qualifying race.

Newman attempted to take a jab at the No. 00 driver, saying, "Reutimann is a good name for him because he root the man right out of the way and bounced me right up into the wall."

A lot of times you'll hear a retort from another driver. These are Reutimann's abbreviated remarks:

"I screwed up. It was my mistake. He ought to be mad. I apologize. I never intended for it to go that way, and it did. I take full responsibility. I can't sugarcoat it."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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