Sunday, January 10, 2010

Naughty and Nice: 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

With fields consisting of an eclectic pairing of seasoned veterans as well as aspiring rookies, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has a long association with rough and tumble race action. The 2009 season was no exception as circuit regulars Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, and Todd Bodine defended their turf against younger Sprint Cup series prospects. A difficult year off the track for the truck series, the tour was affected both a drop in corporate sponsorship and manufacturer support as well some poorly-placed rumours on the demise of the Camping World Truck Series after this year. Under an ominous cloud of economic ruins, the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series assures the future is vibrant for the stock truck circuit.

Looking back at the 2009 calender, XSL Speed Reporter wants to cast light on the memorable season for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Nice: Matt Crafton Finds His Groove- Matt Crafton career in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series had been a model of perseverance. Since joining the truck series circuit full-time in 2001, Crafton established himself as a consistent competitor by finishing in a top-10 points position in 4 of the 5 previous seasons. However, having run 197 races between 2000 to 2008, Crafton took victory only one time (Charlotte of 2008). In 2009, Matt Crafton, partnered with ThorSport Racing in driving their #88 Chevrolet, was able to gain some sustained attention on his week-to-week performance. Through the truck series' first 9 events, the #88 Chevrolet Silverado finished no worse than 11th place. Despite being winless in 2009, Crafton's consistency allowed to driver to be the perfect championship adversary to Ron Hornaday Jr and the #33 Chevrolet. With 5 total 2nd place finishes on the year, Matt Crafton was unable to catch Hornaday but did secure a career best rounder-up position in the truck series points as well as an very honourable mention to the 2009 season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

Naughty: Mad Matt- In the September running of the Copart 200 at Gateway International Raceway, Matt Crafton, who had quietly been capturing championship-contending finishes all season long, made an extreme ruckus in the final stages of the truck series race. With 10 laps to go in 3rd place, the #88 Chevrolet Silverado of Matt Crafton was tempted heavily by a chance at victory. Instead of using precision passing to pass the two trucks, Crafton decided it was 'Hammer Time' for his Menards-sponsored truck taking out Todd Bodine as well as the championship points leader Ron Hornaday in the course of two restarts to take the races lead. Removing Bodine's Toyota and Hornaday's Chevy from contention, the resulting two incidents made casualties of three other race trucks. Inferring “I'm not scared!” after the first incident, NASCAR officials penalized Crafton for has brazenly aggressive driving. Finishing 6th, Matt Crafton lost the chance for a 2nd truck series victory but seemingly skated with a slap on the wrist compared to the damage done at Gateway.

Nice: Randy Moss Motorsports Goes All the Way- In only his second full season as a NASCAR Truck Series team owner, football wide receiver Randy Moss has evidently been a fast-learner to building a competitive NASCAR race team. As Bill Davis Racing was sold off and shut down, Randy Moss Motorsports, who had just begun a manufacturer switch from Chevrolet to Toyota, made homes for rookie driver Tayler Malsam as well as 1995 series champion Mike Skinner (Skinner also got to keep his truck #5). While Malsam fought a good fight with Johnny Sauter for the 2009 rookie of the year award, Mike Skinner scored 3 victories and a 3rd place overall in the overall points standings. Although endlessly praising the efforts of the entire Randy Moss Motorsports #5 team, Skinner had indicated the lack of resources and sponsorship dollars have kept the team from challenging the KHI Chevrolet of Ron Hornaday.

Naughty: Manufacturer Support being pulled by Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge- Just by looking at the full grid of a 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race will tell which auto manufacturer is still committing support. Toyota Tundras outnumbers the combined contingent of American badged vehicles. With Ford and Dodge drawing down their support for truck series operations before the 2009 season, General Motor's bankruptcy affected the Chevrolet Silverados campaigned by Kevin Harvick Inc (KHI) and ThorSport Racing. In the case with KHI, while Ron Hornaday Jr's #33 truck remained strong, those cuts seemingly impacted the team's junior drivers Rick Carmichael and JR Fitzpatrick. For the final races, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman took over driving duties in a move to please victory-seeking truck sponsors but left 2 NASCAR prospects out the door of KHI.

Nice: Hornaday Streaks to the Championship- Winning his 4th NASCAR truck series championship title this year, Ron Hornaday Jr is a long-time competitor in the tour. Between driving trucks for Dale Earnhardt Inc and the Richard Childress Racing team which eventually began KHI, Hornaday holds records in many of the series' categories including most wins, expended to 45 this year. Hornaday's 2009 season run was highlighted by a 5-race winning streak (a record for a NASCAR driver in the top three touring series since 1972 or the establishment of NASCAR's so-called modern era). Winless after his streak-ending race at Nashville Superspeedway on August 1st, Ron Hornaday finished well-enough to maintain a comfortable lead over Matt Crafton clinching the top spot in points after the 2nd to last round in Phoenix.

Naughty: Treatment Shown to Former Series Champions- Ron Hornaday Jr won his 4th championship in 2009 proving that the veterans are still a force to be reckon with in the truck series. However, other past champions were hit hard in 2009 as economics and promotion of younger drivers made the veteran champions' off-track fight more challenging than the fender-beating action of the NASCAR truck series. Starting with three-time truck series champion Jack Sprague. Sprague sat out the entire 2009 schedule after being dropped from the Wyler Racing Toyota after the Homestead finale in 2008. I have yet to determine if Jack Sprague has retired or has been racing elsewhere in this past year.

Entering the 2009 season, Mike Skinner was hustled out of his race team since 2004 when Bill Davis Racing sold his operations to a buyer interested only in supporting race team in NASCAR. Fortunately, Randy Moss Motorsports picked up the veteran and just three weeks before the Daytona International Speedway truck series race. Winning 3 races, Skinner's on-track results proves that the inaugural truck series champion deserves to be respected.

Johnny Benson was also a victim of the Bill Davis Racing team shut down after winning his 2008 NASCAR truck series championship. Enjoying a racing career renaissance which once had Benson driving in the Cup series, 2009 would be a most unkind year. Starting the season inside another Toyota Tundra, the #1 campaigned by Red Horse Racing, Johnny Benson lost his place in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series when his team was forced to suspend operations due to lack of sponsorship. With his truck ride lost on June 8th, 5 days later Benson was seriously injured in a IMSA Supermodified race held at his home track of Berlin Raceway. He returned later in the year as a commentator for the Speed channel truck series coverage. For 2010, Kyle Busch Motorsports is considering fielding a truck for Benson, pending sponsorship.

Photo Credit: Getty Images for NASCAR

Nice: Kyle Busch's Commitment to the Camping World Truck Series- Being the first division that Kyle Busch was able to display has eventual prowess as a NASCAR superstar, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seems to hold a special place in the heart of the young racer. Only 16 years old at the time he debuted in the series with a Roush Racing Ford F-150, Busch's presence actually led to a NASCAR rule change when a truck race weekend was co-sponsored by a tobacco company. Because tobacco advertising laws, a rule mandating a minimum competitor age of 18 disqualified Kyle Busch's participation in the race. The next season, NASCAR declared a minimum age of 18 throughout the top three touring series.

Despite Busch's early set-backs in the NASCAR Truck Series, he returned to the series in when Billy Ballew Motorsports wanted a driver for their DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc)-supported #51 Chevrolet. Earning the fitting nickname 'Rowdy Busch' on similarities of his truck to the car seen in the movie Days of Thunder, Busch has intensified his raid on the truck series in recent years driving a #51 Toyota. Closing the 2009 NASCAR season with only 69 starts in the truck series, Kyle Busch holds a magnificent 16 victories in the tailgate competition. In 2010, Kyle Busch will become even deeper embedded into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series when he takes on the role of owner through his purchase of Xpress Motorsports in December forming Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Photo Credit: Kyle Busch Motorsports

Naughty: Kyle Busch's Commitment to the Camping World Truck Series- While Kyle Busch's involvement in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is viewed as positive by some, the age-old argument of Cup drivers competing so prolifically in the Truck and Nationwide series has grown in recent years. With corporate sponsors demanding top value even in the lower levels of NASCAR, Cup drivers running on the lower series are often preferred over the entry-level drivers. While Kyle Busch has an intense thirst for racing in his young career, he attracts top sponsorship money and resources to dominate the shorter truck races. While some fans might continue to grumble about the presence of Cup drivers in the ladder series of NASCAR, Kyle Busch's involvement in 2010 will actually aid the younger drivers breaking into NASCAR. Through Kyle Busch Motorsports, Tayler Malsam will run the full season in the Camping World Truck Series will Brian Ickler will share Kyle Busch's truck through 2010.

Nice: A Trio of First Time Truck Winners- Colin Braun, Brian Scott and Timothy Peters have all broken through the established Camping World Truck Series ranks for their first victories on the tour. For Colin Braun and Brian Scott, their 2009 wins may shape up to be their only victories on the schedule in the foreseeable future as both drivers transition to the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2010.

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