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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tearing Apart the Trucks: 2008 Halfway Point Season Review

The Built Ford Tough 225 presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers at Kentucky Speedway marked the halfway point of the Craftsman Truck Series season, and it’s also the perfect time to take a look at the year so far and what to expect for the remainder of the season.

Let’s start by taking a look at 2007 champion Ron Hornaday Jr. Prior to the running of the Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky last week, Hornaday Jr. was leading Matt Crafton by 27 points. Unfortunately, a loose lug nut resulted in an unscheduled pit stop that put him a lap down; the driver of the No. 33 battled back to a 10th-place finish but sits in third in the standings, just five points out of first.

As of now, the Craftsman Truck Series championship is anyone’s to win… or lose, and it’s certainly shaping up to be one of the closest battles in the history of the series. Johnny Benson leads Crafton by just one point, and the top 10 are separated by 227 points. At this point last season, Mike Skinner held a 288-point advantage over Todd Bodine in third. Only time will tell who has what it takes to come out on top.

While it’s possible, but not likely, that any driver will really run away with the championship this season, I expect at least one other driver to remain close behind. With the way luck has fallen for most of the top 10 this season, a good race last weekend doesn’t guarantee the team won’t be plagued with mechanical problems or get caught up in someone else’s mess the following week.

Several drivers have already made their truck series debuts this season including Chrissy Wallace who signed with Germain Racing for 2009 after her debut in the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway on March 29th. The 19-year old started 35th and ran as high as 11th before finishing 18th with the help of her father and spotter, Mike Wallace, and Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series driver Tony Stewart.

Along with Chrissy Wallace, two other female drivers made their Truck Series debuts at Kansas in April. Jennifer Jo Cobb and Michelle Theriault helped Derrike Cope get his brand new truck team started in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250. Both Cobb and Theriault had mechanical problems that took them out of the race within 50 laps; they finished 33rd and 35th respectively.

John Wes Townley and Scotty Crockett each made their debuts at Mansfield during the Ohio 250. Townley skipped his high school graduation to race, and after qualifying 23rd, he drove as high as ninth before settling in his final finishing position of 15th. Crockett had a much better qualifying effort and started 13th. He ran mid-pack most of the day before dropping to a final finishing position of 23rd. By bringing their trucks home on the lead lap and in one piece, both Townley and Crockett showed they could have promising careers ahead of them.

Bill Davis Racing development driver Michael Annett also made his debut in the No. 22 Bill Davis Racing Toyota that he is sharing with Scott Speed this season. Annett first hit the track at Texas Motor Speedway when he practiced and qualified the No. 22 while Speed was at Pocono Raceway practicing and qualifying for the ARCA Re/Max Series race.

Annett made his Truck Series race debut at the Milwaukee Mile in mid-June but it was in early June that Annett practiced and qualified in the No. 22 Red Bull Racing Toyota for Speed while he was in Pocono; Annett qualified the truck in 16th before turning it back over to Speed. In his “official” debut at Milwaukee, Annett qualified 14th, dropped back to 32nd after spinning in front of Bodine and worked his way through the field to finish a respectable sixth. In just his third start in the series at Kentucky, Annett led and posted a career-best finish of second to teammate Benson.

In favor of Speed, who brought along a Red Bull sponsorship, Rookie of the Year contender Phillip McGilton was dropped from the No. 22 Toyota at Kansas. In just his sixth start, Speed scored his first Truck Series win in the AAA Insurance 200 at Dover International Raceway last month. Since then, Speed has been focusing more of his time on running for the championship in the ARCA Re/Max Series, allowing Annett to gain valuable seat time.

McGilton was one of only seven rookies working to take home the honor of being the 2008 Rookie of the Year. Colin Braun currently leads Donny Lia by 16 points in the rookie standings. After a solid start for the entire rookie class in the season opener at Daytona, the rookies fell off of the map until Lia won the Ohio 250 at Mansfield Motorsports Park. A last-lap three-wide pass left Lia standing in victory lane in only his eighth start.

Unlike Lia, Roush Racing development driver Braun hasn’t visited victory lane, but his time is definitely coming. The driver of the No. 6 Ford has scored four top-10 finishes so far this season, and if it weren’t for getting caught up in a few unfortunate accidents, he’d have a few more than that. Braun has made his presence known in the series, and it’s only a matter of time before he and the rest of the No. 6 Con-way Freight team get their time in victory lane.

In late April, New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss announced the creation of Randy Moss Motorsports. Instead of starting a team from the ground floor up, Moss purchased 50% of Morgan-Dollar Motorsports from team owner David Dollar. The newly formed RMM debuted last weekend at Kentucky with 2007 Rookie of the Year Willie Allen behind the wheel. Allen struggled in practice but managed to qualify the truck 20th; he went on to finish 15th in a respectable start for a “new” team.

For the most part, there has been little news on who may take over as the series sponsor when Craftsman steps down following the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ray Dunlap reported on SPEED TV a few weeks ago that Kobalt Tools looks to be the leading candidate, but the names of Stanley Tools and NAPA have been thrown in the mix. Any of the three would be a valuable addition to the series.

At the halfway point of the season, so many things can still change. With upcoming races at places like Bristol, Talladega and Martinsville, anything can happen. The points race could see a big shakeup at Talladega or Bristol.

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