As we close in on the final race of the 2009 Camping World Truck Series season, it’s hard to believe all that has happened over the last 24 races. We’ve had first-time winners, the defending champion finding himself without a ride, rule changes and more. So, in honor of the end of yet another exciting season, I wanted to take a look back at some of the biggest stories from the past 10 months.
Perhaps the most shocking story of 2009 was the release of defending series champion Johnny Benson earlier this season. After narrowly beating Ron Hornaday Jr. for the 2008 championship, Benson left the now closed Bill Davis Racing. At Daytona earlier this year, Benson made his first start in the Red Horse Racing fielded No. 1 Toyota, finishing 26th after being caught up in a mid-race crash.
Just eight races later, RHR was forced to terminate their agreement with Benson due to a lack of sponsorship. The driver of the No. 1 Toyota was shocked along with the media, fans, and other drivers alike. Kyle Busch even worked to get Benson behind the wheel of the Billy Ballew Motorsports No. 51 Toyota at the Milwaukee Mile, but a serious injury in an ISMA supermodified wreck at Berlin Raceway forced the 46-year-old driver to sit out the remainder of the Truck Series schedule.
In the wreck, Benson suffered a break to both collarbones, three broken ribs, a fractured right wrist and second- and third-degree burns on his elbow. Additionally, he bruised his lungs, which led to internal bleeding. After the wreck, Benson reflected on just how bad it was and acknowledged the advances made in safety throughout the years in racing.
“I’ve been in better shape, but it could have been a lot, lot worse. I’m lucky to be alive,” Benson said. “I hit the wall extremely hard. It could have been a different result. Seven or eight years ago, I may not be here today. I’ve got to give credit to the safety devices available now and what I’ve added to my car. You kind of forget how dangerous racing can be.”
Since then, the 46-year-old driver has helped out on a few of the SPEED television broadcasts of the Truck Series races. Additionally, he has said on multiple occasions that he has been fielding phone calls since shortly after his release from RHR. If it weren’t for the nearly fatal accident at Berlin Raceway in June, it’s very likely Benson would have been back to racing during 2009.
Earlier this season, it was rumored that Benson would join a Kyle Busch-owned Truck Series team for the 2010 season, but a recent interview with Busch about his future plans made the chances of that happening sound slim. He has faced multiple road blocks in trying to get his team off the ground and doubts they’ll be ready for full time racing come Daytona in February.
I, for one, am going to be happy to see Benson back on the racetrack, regardless of where he ends up. Let’s just hope he doesn’t agree to join a start-and-park team just to get out there on the track. A former champion with 14 race wins and 85 top-10 finishes in 133 starts (64%) deserves so much more than that.
Aside from seeing the defending series champion sidelined within the first three months of the season, the Truck Series also saw major rule changes. The most controversial change brought about by NASCAR was the implementation of multiple pit stops by drivers. Under the new rule, teams were not allowed to pit for tires and fuel on the same stop. Under that same rule, only 12 crew members were allowed to travel with the team, and the number of crew members allowed over the wall on any given stop was dropped to just five.
The announcers on SPEED always made sure to remind the viewers of that rule multiple times during each broadcast. It got to the point where it was just annoying to hear the same thing being said in the same way each and every week. The rule changes certainly got people talking, but the things being said weren’t necessarily good.
From the beginning I was skeptical about the changes simply because it didn’t seem like the cost savings would be worthwhile to the teams. Sure, they weren’t taking as many team members to the track, but drivers often finished positions lower than they should have after getting trapped on pit road when the caution flag flew at an inopportune time. It’s a good thing NASCAR is allowing drivers to go back to single pit stops during 2010.
It’s hard to talk about some of the season’s greatest moments and not bring up the first-time winners. The 2009 season saw four first-time winners, two of whom are moving to the Nationwide Series for 2010. The first of this year’s new winners was Brian Scott. The driver of the No. 16 Albertson’s Toyota visited victory lane at Dover International Speedway after beating Dennis Setzer by nearly half a second.
Just two races later, Colin Braun beat out Busch to visit victory lane at Michigan International Speedway. Braun lead 26 laps in his No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford before scoring his first career win in only his 35th start.
Coincidentally, Scott and Braun are the two first-time Truck Series winners that will be moving to the Nationwide Series in 2010. Having gotten used to watching them race, it will be sad to see them go, but moving up to the next tier of racing in NASCAR is usually a sign that their career is headed in the right direction. I wish them only the best as they work on their eventual goal of being Sprint Cup Series drivers.
The other two first time winners this season will remain in the CWTS in 2010. After stringing together five top-five finishes in six races, Johnny Sauter finally saw the improvement each week pay off. The driver of the No. 13 Fun Sand Chevrolet clicked with his crew chief Joe Shear Jr., and the driver/crew chief combination has put them within striking distance of being honored at the banquet on Monday.
Just a few weeks later in the following race, the Truck Series saw another first-time winner in Timothy Peters. This was perhaps one of the more important first time winners because Peters had spent the majority of his career working on his own trucks each week before taking them to the track each weekend. A move to RHR with his own sponsor Strutmasters.com following Benson’s release gave the team access to more equipment and allowed them to improve enough to win their first race.
The season finale Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway also marks the end of the first year with Camping World as the series sponsor. Though it was sad to see long-time sponsor Craftsman go at the end of the 2008 season, Camping World has done an amazing job in being involved with the series. They’ve sponsored multiple races across NASCAR’s top-three tiers of racing and look to be coming back strong for the 2010 season.
Though there was the disappointment of the new pit-road rules this season and the failure on NASCAR’s part to go ahead and implement double file restarts when they did in the Nationwide Series, overall it was another typical CWTS season filled with exciting racing and major stories. As we say farewell to yet another season of racing in the Truck Series, it’s time to start thinking about 2010 and what’s in store for us then. Here’s hoping it’s another year we can be excited to have Truck Series racing.