Toni Montgomery · Thursday March 17, 2005
Silly season has come early to the Craftsman Truck Series this year. Word is that Kerry Earnhardt has already been released from the No. 15 Billy Ballew Motorsports team, apparently due to a lack of sponsorship as Albertson’s has also departed. I was a bit surprised to see Albertson’s in the first place, after they left the sport entirely following the 2003 season. Their first departure left Jason Keller and ppc Racing in the Busch Series in the lurch heading into 2004.
At the time, Albertson’s said they decided to concentrate their marketing dollars in a different direction, apparently not feeling they were getting their money’s worth from NASCAR sponsorship. I believe the problem was a direct assault on their market share by Wal-Mart and it’s super grocery centers and a mad scramble by Albertson’s to counter it. Their return made one think maybe their departure from the sport came with a departure of NASCAR loyal fans from their aisles, driving home exactly how much value they were getting.
I guess they’ve changed their minds again. Or maybe after two races their bill was going to end up being a little higher than anticipated due to a large volume of bent up trucks. That’s speculation on my part but I can’t help but notice Earnhardt hasn’t brought home a single truck intact. That includes backups. He’s managed to wreck his primary truck in practice both races and managed to wreck his backup during the race both times. It’s not an auspicious start to a new relationship with a team or a sponsor. With Albertson’s gone, Ballew would be left footing those bills on his own. What owner not affiliated with a Nextel Cup Series team could afford that kind of carnage?
Shane Hmiel is scheduled to take over this weekend in Atlanta. Hmiel tends to have a bring back the trophy or just the steering wheel trying to get it mentality but I still think he took more trucks home in one piece last season. He took a trophy home too.
Long time readers may recall I haven’t always had the highest opinion of Hmiel but everything else aside I have to admit he makes it exciting. Atlanta is a good track for that kind of action. Anyone remember what happened last spring in Atlanta? In case you don’t I’ll remind you it was one of the more exciting finishes for the truck series.
Mike Skinner and Bobby Hamilton had been battling for the win in the closing laps. They came out of turn four side by side, beating and banging. Hamilton managed to keep it straight and get the win but Skinner was the star of the highlight reels, losing control and sliding backwards through the infield grass to a second place finish. Barely. Rookie driver David Reutimann had a bird’s eye view of the whole thing and ended up looking Skinner right in the eye as he flashed across the line in third and gaining.
Skinner should be a poster child for the truck series. He has always had a unique ability to drive anything that is sideways and out of control. His career could make a highlight reel all it’s own. Finishing a race the way he did in Atlanta last year is the embodiment of what the Craftsman Truck Series proposes to be all about.
And now the trucks head into Atlanta once again. Here’s to hoping for a repeat performance of the great racing we saw last year. I have no doubt that once again the tough trucks will be the highlight of the weekend. I’d like all those new eyeballs tuning in for the trucks to see that the first two races weren’t a fluke but were in fact a sample of what the trucks seem to offer each and every race.
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