Here we are again. Another offseason is coming to a close, and the Truck Series is ready to hit the track once again. Time to shake the cobwebs out of your head and get ready for what should be yet another exciting season of Truck Series racing.
For the first time since its inaugural year, the Truck Series will have a new series sponsor. Craftsman announced they would not return as the title sponsor following the 2008 season, and after what seemed like forever, Camping World announced they had reached an agreement with NASCAR to sponsor the Truck Series.
As is the case with most NASCAR winter breaks, this one was filled with news of rule changes, teams closing their doors and driver shuffling. In an effort to help teams save money, NASCAR changed the number of crew members allowed over the wall during a pit stop. Only five crew members will be allowed over the wall, and teams are not permitted to get fuel and tires on the same stop. In addition, the crew chief must choose only 12 active crew members to travel with the team.
Defending series champion Johnny Benson is one of the many drivers that find themselves with new teams. Prior to being crowned the 2008 champion, Benson announced he would be leaving Bill Davis Racing and might possibly retire from racing full time following the final race of the season. As it turned out, Benson got out at just the right time.
In late December, Triad Racing Technologies purchased Bill Davis Racing and subsequently released Benson’s former teammate Mike Skinner after being told the new team owners would continue to field the No. 5 Toyota with Skinner behind the wheel. It took until mid-January for the 51-year-old to find himself a ride, but after speaking with multiple teams, Skinner has joined Randy Moss Motorsports. He will pilot the No. 5 Toyota alongside Raybestos Rookie of the Year hopeful Tayler Malsam.
But Skinner wasn’t the only former Bill Davis Racing driver to line up a new ride for the 2009 season. Before the 2008 season even came to a close, fans and media alike started to speculate and buzz with rumors about Benson’s future. The Grand Rapids, MI native announced in mid-December that he had in fact joined Red Horse Racing and will pilot the No. 1 RFMS/Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra, and the best part is that Trip Bruce, Benson’s crew chief during the 2008 season, joined him at Red Horse Racing. In the season opener, T.J. Bell will accompany Benson as his teammate in the No. 11 Toyota vacated by David Starr. Should a sponsorship come through for the No. 11 team, Bell may remain with Red Horse Racing for more of the 2009 season.
Despite all of the moves made during the offseason, series veterans Ted Musgrave, Dennis Setzer and Jack Sprague will be sitting on the sidelines this year. Musgrave quit following a wreck in practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after a lackluster season and an argument with team members. Setzer became the innocent victim of Bobby Hamilton Racing closing its doors, and Sprague was released from Kevin Harvick, Inc. after performance woes plagued the No. 2 team.
With multiple drivers in new rides, it’s somewhat comforting to know there was only one major change in the 2009 Camping World Truck Series schedule. After hosting just five Truck Series races, Mansfield Motorsports Park owner Mike Dzurilla announced in mid-December the track had been forced to close its doors and cancel the race scheduled for late May. The same day that announcement was made, NASCAR announced it would make its first trip to Iowa Speedway on September 5th. The 0.875 mile track has a seating capacity of just 25,000 and is a “Rusty Wallace Signature Series Track.”
As has been the case with the last two seasons, it’s time for me to make an educated guess as to who will walk away with the 2009 championship and trophy. It’s easy to say Benson will come back and make a repeat appearance at the head of the banquet table, but I’m not convinced he can do it in 2009. Since Benson just joined a new team, there will most likely be a few growing pains as the team gets used to working together.
Instead, I think it’s more likely that Ron Hornaday, Jr. will add a fourth championship to his resume and his second in just three years. After narrowly edging Skinner for the title in 2007 and narrowly getting beat by Benson in 2008, Hornaday, Jr. knows what it takes to remain consistent enough to be in the championship hunt come Homestead in November.
This season, sponsorships have been harder to come by, and many teams are waiting on that money to determine if and how much they will race. But now that you’re up to speed on all of the changes that have been made thus far, get ready for some racing. The Camping World Truck Series heads to Daytona International Speedway next Friday night to kick off the 2009 season.
Did You Know…
- The Camping World Truck Series celebrates 10 years of racing at Daytona International Speedway when the drivers hit the track next Friday night? Mike Wallace led 59 laps and beat Kurt Busch to the checkered flag by 0.237 seconds in 2000.
- Hornaday and Kevin Harvick, Inc. have added a new sponsor to the No. 33 Chevrolet this year? Longhorn, “the fastest growing moist snuff in the country,” has signed on as primary sponsor for the 2009 season.
- Starr has joined HT Motorsports for the 2009 season? Zachry Holdings will server as primary sponsor for select races as well as a major associate sponsor of the No. 24 Toyota.
- Setzer could be racing part time in the 2009 season? Setzer was scheduled to pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for MRD Motorsports for 12 races with a sponsorship from Malcomson Construction, but the latest reports indicate that sponsorship may have fallen through.
- Former motocross champion Ricky Carmichael has joined Kevin Harvick, Inc? Carmichael is scheduled to pilot the No. 4 Monster Energy Drink Chevrolet for 14 races, and several other drivers will share the truck for the remaining 11 races on the schedule.
- Johnny Sauter has replaced Shelby Howard in the No. 13 Chevrolet. Australian native Walter Giles was named crew chief for Sauter but has already left the team. No sponsorship announcements have been made yet.