Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday August 16, 2012
As the Camping World Truck Series heads to Michigan International Speedway, a couple of drivers won’t be in the rides you’ve become accustomed to seeing them in.
Parker Kligerman, who was released from Brad Keselowski Racing following a solid seventh-place finish at Pocono, announced last week that he had joined Red Horse Racing to pilot the No. 7 Toyota vacated when Daytona winner John King was released just five races into the year.
“When you look at truck series teams right now, there’s no doubt Red Horse Racing is definitely one of the top organizations. I’m really excited to make the move here with the support of Tom DeLoach and everyone at this team to see how we can help the team and be successful,” Kligerman said. “It sounds so cliché to say I’m excited, but it’s the only word to say because it perfectly describes what I’m looking forward to doing, and that’s winning in these trucks.
Kligerman who currently resides sixth in the championship standings, is now teammates with the points leader, only 35 points in arrears.
“I feel like Red Horse gives you the best equipment they can and at the end of the day that’s all you look for as a driver; the actual chance to win, not just the trophy,” he continued. “So it’s our job now to go out there and get the trophy and I feel like this is a place I can do that.”
Clearly Kligerman is pleased with the move to RHR and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue to run well—maybe even better—with his new team. After all, Red Horse Racing does hold three victories this season—one apiece with King, Timothy Peters and Todd Bodine—and the experience not only Bodine but team owner Tom DeLoach can share with the young driver can only serve as a benefit. Kligerman, who was in his sophomore season had already scored seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts, including a runner-up finish to new teammate Bodine at Dover.
But Kligerman isn’t the only driver change you’ll see this weekend. Kyle Busch Motorsports announced earlier this week that they had parted ways with Jason Leffler, who had signed on to run the majority of the races behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota despite scoring six top-10 finishes in nine starts.
“How things have played out this season are not Jason’s fault—we’ve had some bad luck and a few other misfortunate happenings—but when it comes down to it, the No. 18 team has not performed to the standards we’ve become accustomed to and we owe it to our manufacturer and our sponsors to produce better results,” KBM owner Kyle Busch said. “Beginning to make these changes now, instead of waiting until the end of the season, it will allow us to evaluate where our program stands as we begin working towards becoming a championship-contending team once again in 2013. Jason represented KBM and all of our sponsors very well and we wish him the best of luck.”
I’m a little confused with the split though. While Leffler’s results this year were nowhere near the domination team owner Kyle Busch saw last season—six wins and 13 top-10 finishes in 16 starts—you’ve got to remember the experience level difference and the bad luck factor. Remember Leffler has been the victim of a couple of different wrecks not of his making and even managed to turn one of those runs into a solid top-10 finish. Plus, in the other two races when Brian Scott and Denny Hamlin ran the No. 18 Toyota, neither one was really a factor in the win, finishing 13th and fifth, respectively. However, I do understand Busch needs to consider what’s right for his sponsors and is forced to make the tough decisions.
Speaking of drivers that have been released from their rides, Max Gresham and Eddie Sharp Racing announced Wednesday that they will partner for five races beginning with Atlanta in a couple weeks. The 2011 K&N Pro Series East champion will also pilot the No. 8 Made in USA Brand Chevrolet at Kentucky, Martinsville, Texas, and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I hate to use the word excited, but I can’t help it. I’m super excited to go drive for Eddie Sharp Racing. It is hard to describe how much this means to me,” Gresham said. “It will be a new leaf in my racing career and a solid step in the right direction to demonstrate the potential that I have in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It is going to be a strong step and a productive one for me.”
In eight starts with JDM, Gresham suffered three DNFs, failed to finish on the lead lap and posted a best result of 18th at Rockingham in April.
And if the driver changes aren’t enough, there are a couple of crew chief changes to keep in mind as well.
Turner Motorsports welcomes Jeff Hensley who will join Miguel Paludo’s No. 32 team atop the pit box while Mike Hillman, Jr. will remain with the team and serve in the crew chief capacity when Turner Motorsports fields a fourth truck. Most recently, Hensley served as crew chief for Ron Hornaday, Jr. at Joe Denette Motorsports. Hensley started the 2011 season making the calls for Hornaday at KHI, but finished off atop then-teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr.‘s pit box.
Hensley brings with him a wealth of experience as a driver and a crew chief. And while he never visited Victory Lane as a driver, he’s scored 21 wins in his 23-year career as a crew chief, including two with Hornaday last season (Texas in June and Atlanta in September). Hensley also earned Mechanic of the Year honors in 1990 while atop the box for Chuck Bown’s 1990 Busch Series Championship season.
There are two different ways a mid-season crew chief change can ultimately play out — the driver can either click immediately with his new head wrench, or struggle tremendously to find a balance with a new personality atop the pit box. With the forward momentum the No. 32 team has shown in the last couple of events, it’s easy to believe they’ll pick up right where Hillman, Jr. left off when Hensley hops atop the war wagon.
Meanwhile, Terry “Richie” Snyder takes over the crew chief position for Ron Hornaday, Jr.. Snyder started the season atop the pit box for Max Gresham, but took over as truck chief for the four-time champion following the rookie’s release from the team. And because Snyder has worked with JDM for a bit and as truck chief for Hornaday, Jr. already this season, I wouldn’t expect many struggles with the transition.
While there have been plenty of changes leading up to Saturday afternoon’s showdown at the two-mile oval in Brooklyn, Michigan, the Truck Series will still put on the same great race at it always does. The key this weekend is that it will be the first visit for most of the drivers to the newly repaved track, and with the speeds the Cup Series put up in June, it’s sure to be an exciting race.
Update: “I would have really liked to do better than we did today; I can’t say that I’m satisfied with a 13th-place finish when we came in here aiming for a top-five. But we had some good moments and led some laps. The guys did a great job on their pit stops and adjustments and everyone worked really hard this weekend. I had a lot of fun doing another road course, but I’m ready to head to Michigan and go back to focusing on the Truck Series.”
“I’ve been looking forward to getting back to Michigan pretty much since we left there in 2011. I seem to excel on the bigger, more sweeping tracks, and Michigan is no exception. I had a really great race there, finished third, which is my best finish in Trucks so far. I can’t wait to get back there and improve my finish by two more spots.”
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