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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Tearing Apart the Trucks: JR Fitzpatrick Debuts With KHI

When the 2009 Camping World Truck Series season began, JR Fitzpatrick planned to run full-time in search of becoming the 2009 Raybestos Rookie of the Year. Last month, all of that changed when TRG Motorsports announced they would run a reduced schedule due to a lack of financial support for the team.

At the time, TRG team principal Kevin Buckler said the team planned to return with Fitzpatrick or another driver. The team was present on the entry list at Lowe’s Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, but Fitzpatrick’s name wasn’t alongside it. Sprint Cup Series driver David Gilliland piloted the No. 7 Hyde Park/FansSponsorMe.com Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200.

Within just the last couple of days, rumors have started flying that TRG has ceased operations, but nothing has been confirmed by the team. The team has also withdrawn their entry from tonight’s race.

Fitzpatrick was left unsure of where his career would lead next, but I had high hopes that he would be picked up by someone. Those hopes became a reality last week when Kevin Harvick Incorporated (KHI) announced they had partnered with the rookie sensation for select Truck Series events, along with at least two Nationwide Series events. The 21-year-old seems excited to get started with his new team.

“This is a great opportunity for me, and I firmly believe that I am joining the best team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” Fitzpatrick said. “I believe racing is all about confidence, and I have that knowing that I am going to be in great equipment driving for Kevin Harvick Inc.”

The young rookie showed great promise in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. After starting 14th, Fitzpatrick went on to lead 17 laps and finish fourth. Since then, he has failed to finish on the lead lap, but that could also be a statement about the equipment TRG Motorsports is able to bring to the track.

Signing with KHI was a great move on Fitzpatrick’s part. As of right now, the team has some of the most competitive trucks out there on the track week in and week out, and they’ve got a well experienced veteran on their side as well.

Fitzpatrick should take advantage of every chance he gets to learn from three time Camping World Truck Series champion and teammate Ron Hornaday Jr. The No. 33 Chevrolet runs up front in nearly every race, and even when the team is down, they pull together to fight through their adversity and score the best finish possible.

Because the rookie has never competed at the “Monster Mile” before, he plans to use a buddy’s simulator to get a feel for the track before following teammate Hornaday Jr. to learn the best lines to run on the track.

Is it possible that KHI has signed this young rookie in preparation for expanding to three full-time teams for next season? It’s a cinch that Hornaday Jr. isn’t going anywhere unless he decides to retire, but I don’t expect that to happen unless he fails to remain competitive. And frankly, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

Ricky Carmichael, who is currently running a part time schedule that has been expanded based on extra sponsorship becoming available, has shown great promise in the races he has run. If it weren’t for getting caught up in a few wrecks he had no control over, the 29-year-old would probably have three or four top-10 finishes instead of the one he currently has to his name. I expect Carmichael will run full-time next season

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for KHI to expand to three full time teams next season. Like I mentioned a couple weeks ago in Tearing Apart the Trucks, there is really a shortage of great team owners in the Truck Series right now. KHI has brought a lot to the series by bringing competitive trucks

Of course, there’s no chance KHI would even think about running three full-time teams unless the team can score sponsorship backing for each team to run the entire schedule. Too many teams have tried to run on their own funds in hopes of signing a sponsor and paid the price by having to withdraw from the series completely.

Now, I could be completely wrong in thinking the team may be looking to expand to include up to three full-time trucks. Since Fitzpatrick is scheduled to run at least two Nationwide Series races, KHI may be considering putting the 21-year-old in their Nationwide car if he has some success in the series this year.

Either way, it’s certainly great to know that Fitzpatrick didn’t have to wait long before someone snatched him up. Without the young rookies in the series, there’s very little place for up and coming drivers to get their start in NASCAR.

Did You Know?

  • A CWTS crew member was suspended indefinitely for violating NASCAR’s substance abuse policy? Andrew Crnkovic, crew member from the No. 07 team, was found in violation of Section 7-5 (substance abuse policy) on May 21st.
  • The AAA Insurance 200 will be run on tape delay tonight? The scheduled start is at 5:00 p.m. ET, but the race will not be televised until 8:00 p.m. ET on SPEED.
  • There are 38 trucks listed on the entry list for this weekend’s race? The list started with 40 trucks, but the No. 22 Dodge and No. 40 Chevrolet of Mike Bliss have withdrawn.
  • Tonight’s race marks the 10th anniversary of Truck Series competition at Dover International Speedway? The series first visited the concrete track in 2000 where Kurt Busch finished ahead of Greg Biffle who would later be crowned champion by 230 points over Busch.
  • There are no repeat Truck Series winners at Dover? Kyle Busch and Hornaday Jr. are the only two drivers on the entry list that have previously won at the track.
  • Mike Skinner has scored the most points of any driver in the last five races at Dover? Skinner has scored 698 points but has not yet scored a win at the concrete track.
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