This weekend, the Camping World Truck Series heads to O’Reilly Raceway Park for the 13th race on the 25-race schedule. At this point each year, I like to take a look back at the season so far and ahead to what we can expect for the remainder of the season. Like most seasons, this year has certainly not been short on excitement and surprising stories.
Perhaps the biggest story this season was the release of defending champion Johnny Benson from Red Horse Racing. After running just eight races and scoring a best finish of fourth (twice – Martinsville and Texas) in his unsponsored, No. 1 Toyota, Red Horse Racing removed Benson from the driver’s seat due to a lack of funding. I never would have expected the defending series champion to be the first driver fired in the 2009 season.
Benson had surgery to repair a grade four separated shoulder suffered after a horrific supermodified wreck at Berlin Speedway in June. According to an update from Benson’s wife, he had a pain block in that lasted until Thursday, and he starts physical therapy next week. Benson has stated that he has fielded some “interesting phone calls” since he was released from RHR, so I don’t expect he’ll be out of racing for long.
Another big story this season was the addition of a second pit stop for each driver. Prior to the start of this season, NASCAR announced that drivers would not be able to pit for tires and fuel on the same stop. The rule was designed to help teams save money, but the jury is still out on this one. I’ve made it very clear that I am not a fan of requiring two pit stops. It takes a bit more of the racing out of the drivers’ hands and puts too much emphasis on pit strategy.
Despite the new pit-road rules, some teams haven’t skipped a single beat this season. It’s not surprising to see Ron Hornaday Jr. atop the points standings after 12 races. He currently leads Matt Crafton by 96 points and is well on his way to a record fourth Camping World Truck Series championship. Of course luck can change when you’re racing in the Truck Series, but the luck seems to be falling just right for the No. 33 team this season.
Mike Skinner finds himself solidly in third in the standings, and with a deficit of just 154 points, one bad race for Hornaday Jr. or Crafton could put Skinner within striking distance of the lead. Just behind Skinner in fourth is Todd Bodine, and Brian Scott rounds out the top five.
Sitting just three points behind Scott in Houston, Texas native David Starr. Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Tayler Malsam finds himself in the seventh position just, just 14 points ahead of series veteran Terry Cook. Dennis Setzer and Rick Crawford round out the top 10.
With 13 races still left on the Truck Series schedule, the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings remain very close. Malsam, Johnny Sauter and James Buescher are the only three drivers running full-time in hopes of becoming the 2009 Rookie of the Year. Malsam currently leads Sauter by just three points, and Buescher finds himself just 11 points behind Sauter.
A strong run last weekend at Kentucky Speedway was spoiled with inside 20 laps remaining when Malsam blew a tire. It’s only a matter of time before Malsam does get to take his No. 81 Toyota to victory lane, and I expect that time to come in one of the 13 remaining races this season.
Speaking of first wins, two drivers have scored their first career CWTS wins this season. Scott and Colin Braun sniffed at victory lane last season and in the early parts of this season, but neither one had been able to be out front when it mattered most. Finally, luck changed for both drivers, starting with Scott, at Dover International Speedway in late May.
Scott’s crew chief Jeff Hensley made a late-race gamble and chose to have the driver of the No. 16 Albertson’s Toyota stay on the track rather than pit with the rest of the field. The gamble paid off, and Scott led the remaining 14 laps on the way to his first career Truck Series victory.
Just two weeks later, Braun got to add his name to the list of drivers who had finally scored their first career victory. Braun had a pretty strong truck during the Michigan 200 at Michigan International Speedway, but it looked like no one could beat Kyle Busch. The lapped car of Norm Benning held up the driver of the No. 51 just enough to allow Braun to take a lead he wouldn’t relinquish before the checkered flag flew. Braun will be moving to the Nationwide Series next season with Roush Fenway Racing.
Overall, the 2009 CWTS season has been better than I would have expected. With all the gloom and doom in the economy that all of the news stations like to focus on, I certainly thought the series would be in grave danger at this point. I’m more than happy that I was wrong about that. The remainder of the season should bring at least one more driver scoring his first career win, and I expect that Hornaday Jr. will become the first four-time CWTS champion.
Hornaday Hopes to Make History
When Hornaday Jr. took the checkered flag ahead of Scott to become the first repeat winner at Kentucky Speedway, he also scored his third consecutive CWTS win. No driver has ever won four consecutive races since the series started in 1995, and the driver of the No. 33 Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Chevrolet has a very real chance of doing just that tonight at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
In the 42 short-track races Hornaday Jr. has run, he has visited victory lane in nearly half of those races. Two of Hornaday Jr.’s 19 short-track wins have come at O’Reilly Raceway Park. His first came in 1997, and the second came in 2007. Though the two wins came 10 years apart, the two races did have one thing in common – Hornaday Jr. started second in both races. Of course starting second doesn’t guarantee a visit to victory lane by the No. 33 team, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hornaday Jr. in victory lane with Rick Ren this weekend regardless of their starting position.
Caitlin Shaw Set to Debut
Caitlin Shaw is set to make her Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend at O’Reilly Raceway Park. Shaw will pilot the No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra during the AAA Insurance 200 tonight. Billy Venturini will be calling the shots from atop the pit box, and the Venturini Motorsports ARCA Re/Max crew will serve as pit crew for the No. 1 team.
Shaw started racing quarter midgets when she was nine years old before moving up to mini sprint cars at age 14. In an effort to get approved to race in the CWTS, the 19-year-old driver has been racing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series this season. Since getting that approval, Shaw will finally get to live out her dream of having the chance to race in NASCAR.
“It’s such a huge accomplishment for me to be able to compete in this series. Driving in NASCAR has always been a goal of mine, and it’s exciting to see some of the hard work pay off,” Shaw said. “I can’t wait to get on the track, especially at O’Reilly Raceway Park. It’s a great opportunity that Toyota and Red Horse have made possible for me.”
Shaw has plenty of track time at O’Reilly Raceway Park, but tonight will be her first time on the 0.686 mile track in a truck. Shaw has logged quite a few laps while testing her USAC National midget car, and the 19-year-old feels like she’s debuting at her home track.
“I consider ORP to be one of my home tracks because I’ve been there testing and racing so often with the midget it just feels like home,” the 19 year old said. “I think that will help me to get past the nerves allowing me to focus on running with the other trucks and earning some respect from the veteran drivers.”
Despite her love of racing, Shaw remains committed to her pursuit of a degree in Motorsports Management. She attends Belmont-Abbey College and will be a sophomore this fall. Shaw held a 3.85 grade-point average from 2004-2008 as an Advanced Placement Honors English student.
Debuting alongside Shaw will be ASA Challenge Series racer Tommy Joe Martins and Richard Harriman, who works full-time for JD Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. Check out Tracking the Trucks on Monday morning to see how each driver fared in their CWTS debuts.
Did You Know?
- NASCAR did not fine the No. 33 team any points after being found with an illegal rear end during opening day inspection at Kentucky Speedway last weekend? Hornaday Jr.’s crew chief, Rick Ren, was fined $5,000 and placed on probation until December 31st.
- Kyle Busch returns to the Camping World Truck Series this weekend? Busch will pilot the No. 51 Miccosukee Resort/RedTop Auto Auction Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports.
- Ted Musgrave has joined Sheltra Motorsports’ ARCA Re/Max team? Musgrave will act as a driver coach for 23-year-old Patrick Sheltra.