After what seems like an eternity off, the Camping World Truck Series is back in action this weekend for the E-Z Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I never quite understood the reasoning behind racing one week to open the season only to follow it up with back-to-back off weekends. For those teams that were involved in one of the Big Ones during the NextEra Energy Resources 200, the wait has probably seemed longer than it was. But that’s a story for another day.
As promised, it’s time to meet this year’s Raybestos Rookie of the Year hopefuls.
Ironically, each driver vying for that coveted Rookie of the Year title had starts prior to this year’s season opener at Daytona with the exception of Justin Lofton. He comes to the CWTS fresh off of winning the 2009 ARCA Racing Series championship. In the previous two years in the series, Lofton scored seven wins, seven poles and 20 top-five finishes.
Prior to his tenure in the ARCA Racing Series, Lofton spent two years in the Grand National West Series, scoring a total of 10 top-10 finishes.
Lofton’s CWTS debut didn’t exactly go as he had hoped. The driver of the No. 7 Toyota was caught up in a caution before completing the first lap, but the diligent work of his team allowed him to get back on the track to score an eventual finish of 18th. Despite that rocky start, the 24-year-old driver looks forward to this weekend’s race with anticipation.
“Daytona was disappointing but made us stronger. I like Daytona, but I’m really looking forward to Atlanta. I like racing on other tracks this size but haven’t been to Atlanta yet,” Lofton said. “It’s always fun to race on high-speed tracks that let you run wide open. I’m really looking forward to the race.”
One driver joining Lofton has just a little more experience behind the wheel of a truck. Jennifer Jo Cobb got her start racing in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at Lakeside Speedway and I-70 Speedway and finished in the top 10 each season she ran full-time. In 2002, Cobb made her ARCA debut at Kansas Speedway, a race she finished 16th. She scored a ninth-place finish two years later. Cobb has also raced in in the Nationwide Series twice, but each outing ended in a crash.
Cobb made her CWTS debut in April, 2008. She ran just 31 laps behind the wheel of the No. 74 Annexus Group Dodge fielded by Derrike Cope before retiring due to engine woes. She finished a career best 26th twice, once at Kentucky Speedway in 2008 and at Kansas Speedway in 2009. This season, Cobb will pilot the No. 10 Ford for Red Horse Racing in an attempt to become the first female Rookie of the Year in the CWTS.
But Cobb won’t have an easy run for the Rookie of the Year title if Brett Butler has anything to say about it. Butler made his CWTS debut last spring at Martinsville Speedway. He went on to make four starts during the 2009 season, scoring a career best finish of 20th in the fall race at Martinsville.
Butler comes from the Hooters USAR Pro Cup Series where he finished second in the Rookie of the Year standings and 21st in the overall points standings in 2006. He has also made seven ARCA starts split across 2007 and 2009, scoring a best finished of 15th at Iowa Speedway in 2009. The 24-year-old driver is signed on full-time to pilot the No. 47 Fuel-Doctor.com Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. He started the season off well, finishing 11th and earning the Raybestos Rookie of the Race honors given to the highest-finishing rookie each week.
Next, Austin Dillon actually made his CWTS debut last season at Iowa Speedway, scoring his best finish of 12th. He followed up that start with an appearance later that month at New Hampshire International Speedway, a race where he finished 15th. The following month, the 19-year-old driver saw his qualifying time thrown out after his truck failed to meet the minimum height required by NASCAR.
Dillon comes the Truck Series from the Camping World East Series. In 2008, Dillon ran 13 races in the CWES and managed to finish in the top 10 for 10 of those races, including one win. That year, he finished second in the standings behind champion Matt Kobyluck.
But don’t confuse Austin Dillon with Dillon Oliver. The 20-year-old driver made his CWTS debut last March at Martinsville Speedway for Lafferty Motorsports, a race he finished 30th in. He went on to run two more races in 2009 while failing to qualify for three race. He posted a career-best finish of 22nd at the Milwaukee Mile in June. Last season, Dillon Oliver posted three wins in the ASA Late Model Series.
Oliver has signed on with Daisy Ramirez Motorsports to pilot the No. 01 Chevrolet. He will make his first start in 2010 at Martinsville Speedway later this month and try to play catch up in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.
Now you’re up to date on all you need to know about this year’s rookie class. Keep tabs on the rookies as they work their way through the 2010 season by checking out Tracking the Trucks on Mondays following each CWTS race.
News and Notes
Ron Hornaday Jr.’s Crew Chief Replaced
After just one race together, crew chief Dave Fuge was relieved of his duties as Ron Hornaday Jr.‘s crew chief. Fuge was brought in to replace Rick Ren, who left to be the General Manager for Kyle Busch Motorsports. As is usually the case, Kevin Harvick Inc. didn’t explain what caused the split, but the two hardly had a chance to show what they were capable of.
In place of Dave Fuge, Doug George was announced last week as the new guy atop the No. 33 team’s pit box. George joined KHI during the offseason as crew chief for the team’s No. 2 Chevrolet. Hornaday Jr. raced against his new crew chief in 1992 for the Southwest Tour championship, and because of their relationship, the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet is happy with the decision.
“I really like Doug, he and I go way back,” Hornaday Jr. said. “He’s got a confidence about him that makes him a likable leader. Knowing all of the experience that Doug has I feel really good that he is coming to join our team. I think he will be a great addition.”
No. 76 Team Crew Member Suspended Indefinitely
Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that a crew member for the No. 76 team had been indefinitely suspended for violating the substance abuse policy. On February 25th, William Hileman was found in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of the NASCAR substance abuse policy) in the 2010 rule book.
The Ray Hackett Racing team was notified the crew member was found in violation after a random test prior to the series opener at Daytona International Speedway. In response to the suspension, Hileman was immediately released by the team.
Carl Long to Return to NASCAR
Daisy Ramirez Motorsports announced this week that Carl Long will pilot the No. 01 Koma Unwind “Chillaxation Drink” Chevrolet for tomorrow’s E-Z Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Long was suspended for 12 Sprint Cup Series races in 2009 after failing inspection for the Sprint All-Star Race due to an engine that was larger than NASCAR’s allowed specifications.
Long has eight previous CWTS starts, including a best finish of 17th at Texas Motor Speedway in 2000. In that race, Long finished six laps down behind the wheel of the No. 23 Red Line Oil Chevrolet fielded by owner Tom Mazzuchi.
Geoff Bodine Returns to Truck Series
During the last week of February, newly formed Team Gill Racing announced Geoff Bodine would be returning to the CWTS this weekend. For the first time since 2005, Bodine will hit the track behind the wheel of the No. 95 Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project Inc. Dodge.
In 1992, Bodine saw the poor showing by the U.S. Bobsled team while watching the Winter Olympics on television. After learning the team’s bobsleigh were made outside the United States, the Bo-Dyn Bobsled project was born. Bodine used technologies from NASCAR to create the sleds and saw his hard work pay off when Team U.S.A.’s “Night Train” four-man bobsled team won the first gold medal in the four-man event since the 1948 Winter Olympics.
Bodine will have series veteran Dennis Setzer as his teammate in the No. 46 Dodge. Setzer survived the carnage during the season opener at Daytona International Speedway and went on to finish third.
Steve Wallace Makes CWTS Debut
Nationwide Series driver Steve Wallace is set to make his CWTS debut Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Wallace is set to pilot the No. 15 Red Top Auto Auctions Toyota for Billy Ballew Motorsports. In 125 starts in the Nationwide Series, the 22-year-old driver has 19 top-10 finishes, with a career best finish of fifth, a feat he’s accomplished three times. Kevin “Cowboy” Starland is set to serve as crew chief for the No. 15 team, and Wallace is excited to have the chance to race in the Truck Series.
“I’ve always enjoyed watching that series; those guys race really, really hard,” Wallace said. “Running one of those races is something that I’ve wanted to do for a while, but the timing has never been right until now. I’d like to thank Billy Ballew and everyone at Red Top Auto Auctions for this opportunity.”