It’s hard to believe it’s that time again. The offseason is quickly coming to a close, and people are already making predictions and talking about offseason changes. Perhaps the biggest news during this offseason was the announcement in December that Craftsman will be ending their sponsorship of the Truck Series at the end of the 2008 season.
The Manager of Marketing Partnerships for Sears, Scott Howard, has not ruled out Craftsman’s involvement in other aspects of the series. Instead, Howard said, “We’re looking for ways to break through, be a little more disruptive.” Also, NASCAR’s Marketing Director, Steve Phelps, doesn’t anticipate any difficulties in finding a replacement sponsor.
“The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series represents some of the world’s best racing; the season championship has been determined in the final race of the year in 12 of 13 seasons – including 2007,” Phelps said. The series continues to attract some of NASCAR’s most avid fans because of its intense, side-by-side competition.”
This season’s schedule is reminiscent of the 2007 season. The season opener is part of a tripleheader with the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series’ at Daytona International Speedway. During the 25-race season, the series will visit most tracks once, but they’ll race twice at Texas, Martinsville and Atlanta. Then, in the same way it started, the season will end with a triple-header at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The merger of the Wyler and South Point Racing teams reportedly fell through during the offseason. Late during the regular season, the merger was announced, and the new team, Wyler-Gaughan Racing, had plans to run a few Sprint Cup races in addition to running in the Truck Series. In an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio’s NASCAR station, Brendan Gaughan gave little reason for what caused the split, saying only, “It’s unfortunate when individuals put themselves ahead of the team.”
As a result, South Point Racing was forced to disband, leaving Gaughan without a ride for the 2008 season. Fortunately, Gaughan ended up with Circle Bar Racing in a ride left open by David Starr. Gaughan is slated to run the No. 10 International Maxx Force Diesel Ford F150. Starr is returning to Red Horse Racing after a year away from the team and is scheduled to run the No. 11 RFMS/Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra. In 2006, Starr ran the full season with Red Horse Racing, winning once and finishing fourth in the standings.
Aside from South Point Racing, the Spears Racing Team was forced to close their doors at the end of the 2007 season. In a letter to fans, owners Wayne and Connie Spears wrote, “Unfortunately, the Spears Racing Team and the No. 75 will not be returning to the series in 2008. To us, racing was not a business, it was more like a big family. Walking away from our team and parking the No. 75 is like losing one’s closest friend.”
In other team news, Wood Bros./JTG Racing have split, but it’s not a traditional split. While both teams will have separate directors of competition and separate budgets, they will still be working together in a “marketing and technological partnership” JTG Racing owner Tad Geschickter said. Wood Brothers Racing will field the No. 21 Ford F-150 for cousins Jon and Keven Wood, and JTG Racing has Scott Lagasse Jr. set to run the No. 20 F-150.
Amidst the mergers, splits and team closings, last year’s Rookie of the Year Willie Allen and Rookie of the Year runner-up Tim Sauter have both found themselves looking for work. Allen had his contract with ThorSport Racing terminated less than a month after edging Sauter by just eight points. The 27-year-old seemed a bit confused about his contract and offered his thoughts.
“We had a successful year with ThorSport Racing but I’m hearing another driver is bringing in a substantial amount of money. I have a letter exercising ThorSport’s option on my contract for 2008, so I don’t know how this could happen. I hope that we can put something together with a team in one of NASCAR’s top-three divisions very soon.”
Allen signed on with Sadler Hamilton Racing for the Nationwide Series season opener at Daytona International Raceway but is still looking for a full-time ride.
Sauter found himself in a similar situation after Lester Buildings pulled their sponsorship of the No. 07 Chevy. Shane Sieg tested the truck at Daytona and is one of three drivers slated to share the ride. Sieg will run nine races, and Ryan Lawler and Sean Murphy are set to run seven and six races respectively.
The 2008 rookie class brings with them a wealth of racing experience, and all but one have run in the Craftsman Truck Series before. Colin Braun, Shelby Howard, Andy Lally, Justin Marks, Phillip McGilton and Brian Scott all have plans to run full-time schedules. In addition, Marc Mitchell is currently set to run 21 of the season’s 25 races.
Tune in next week as we talk about who switched rides during the offseason as well as predictions for the upcoming season.