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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Should Ron Hornaday Be Worried? & Other Truck Random Thoughts

This is probably the hardest time of the year to keep up with the Camping World Truck Series. After a couple months off during the offseason, I was anticipating the season opener at Daytona International Speedway a little more than I have in previous years. Following that season opener, the Truck Series took a few weeks off before visiting Atlanta Motor Speedway. And even though the wait between Daytona and Atlanta was the same wait we’re now facing until the series visits Martinsville, it seems even longer this time around.

Perhaps that has to do with the odd way the season got started and anticipation in how some of the stories will pan out. So this week, I’ll be taking a look at a few questions that I’ve had on my mind since the checkered flag dropped over the E-Z-Go 200 last Saturday afternoon.

Should Ron Hornaday Jr. Be Worried?

After a dismal start to the season, Hornaday sits mired deep in the points standings. A 27th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway followed by a 34th-place finish last weekend at Atlanta has left the 51-year-old driver sitting 28th, 192 points behind the leader. It’s shocking to see the defending series champion so far back in the points, but there’s really nothing for Hornaday Jr. to worry about.

Yet.

The 2009 season was an absolute dream season for Hornaday, Jr. He scored six wins, including five consecutive from the Milwaukee Mile in late June through Nashville Superspeedway in early August. Along with those wins, Hornaday Jr. finished outside the top 10 just five times in 25 races, accumulating only two DNFs in the process. With a history of posting such lofty numbers, I’m not willing to count him out just yet.

Sure, the driver of the No. 33 Longhorn Chevrolet currently sits outside the top 25 in points, but bad luck has to turn around sooner or later. Aside from that, new crew chief Doug George has had little time to show what he’s capable of atop the pit box. The No. 33 team was on the track for just 22 laps Saturday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway before a cut tire left them with terminal damage.

With Martinsville Speedway coming, I’m confident Hornaday Jr. will rebound a few weeks. Since joining Kevin Harvick Inc. in 2005, Hornaday Jr. has finished outside the top 15 at the 0.526-mile paperclip just once; that happened in 2008 when the defending champion ran out of fuel late in the race.

Now, if Hornaday Jr. and the No. 33 team can’t seem to turn their bad luck around and still sit outside the top 25 after the fifth race of the season at Kansas Speedway on May 2nd, then it’ll be time to start worrying. Until then, just sit back and watch as the driver of the No. 33 rebounds in the coming weeks.

When Will Aric Almirola Win a Race?

Many thought Billy Ballew Motorsports would be in trouble with the departure of Kyle Busch, but they all forgot about the lesser-known Almirola. The 25-(will turn 26 on Sunday)-year-old driver has finishes inside the top three three different times in the last six races, including his most recent third-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Almirola has been close. I can feel it. For several races, he has been able to run with the veterans and pull a top 5 out of what otherwise would have been a crappy day. But he just hasn’t made that trip to victory lane yet. The driver of the No. 51 Toyota is a surefire pick as a driver who will score his first career victory this season, but the question is… where? Having had short-track success in the past, I wouldn’t count Almirola out in a couple weeks at Martinsville Speedway. He’s hungry for a win, and his success at Atlanta has helped to give him the confidence he needs to get the job done when the pressure is on.

“I feel like we’re one of the trucks that everyone knows they’re going to have to race for the win,” Almirola said. “I wouldn’t say Atlanta was a confidence booster as much as it justified the confidence I had going into the season.”

Since joining BBM in 2009, Almirola boasts 11 top-10 finishes in 18 Truck Series starts, including eight finishes inside the top 5. I may be wrong about Martinsville being the place Almirola will finally get that win, but I’m willing to bet on my prediction that he will visit victory lane not just once, but probably more like two to three times this season.

Who Will Win the Championship?

I know what you’re thinking. With just two races down, it’s impossible to predict the champion, but I say it’s never too early to think about it. With Hornaday Jr. in the deep hole he’s in, a few other drivers have a chance to take advantage of it. Currently it’s Todd Bodine who holds that top spot, with back-to-back top-five finishes to start the season.

But Bodine is closely followed by Timothy Peters, who scored his second career victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Prior to his first career win last season, I knew Peters was a driver to keep an eye on. After joining Red Horse Racing midseason, performance turned around for the No. 17, and the whole organization has continued to compete at a higher level since.

Barring a poor finish at Martinsville Speedway, Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner should be able to jump back in the hunt soon. In the meantime, I’m sure Bodine is enjoying his spot atop the standings. As is typical of the CWTS, several drivers will be in close contention for the championship for quite a bit of the season, but if I had to guess, Hornaday Jr., Bodine and Peters will probably be the ones duking it out in the end.

Which Rookie Will Come Out On Top?

Like the championship question, I realize anything can happen in the next 23 races to change everything, but it’s still fun to guess. At this point, Austin Dillon holds a one-point lead over Justin Lofton after scoring his first career top-10 finish last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Dillon seems like a logical choice when talking about who might be there at the end of the season for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors, but I have a feeling Brett Butler isn’t going to let him run away with it. Richard Childress Racing has some experience in the CWTS, including the inaugural championship Skinner won in 1995, but I’m sure Butler’s team owner Rick Ware has a few tricks up his sleeve.

News and Notes Around the Series

No. 01 Crew Member Suspended

NASCAR announced earlier this week that Matthew Huffstetler, crew member for the No. 01 team, has been suspended indefinitely for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy. Huffstetler was found in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of the NASCAR substance abuse policy). Team owner Daisy Ramirez condemned Huffstetler’s actions in a statement Wednesday.

“We at Daisy Ramirez Motorsports are extremely disappointed that our Daytona weekend hire Mathew Huffstetler has brought this embarrassment to both himself and our new team,” Ramirez said. “We had not seen or heard from Mr Huffstetler since our return from Daytona and consider him no longer part of our program. We condemn the use of any illegal substances and consider it a privilege to participate in NASCAR racing.”

The No. 01 is scheduled to be driven by Dillon Oliver for the remainder of the season. Before that, JJ Yeley piloted the truck to a 10th-place finish at Daytona, and Carl Long failed to qualify at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Matthew Huffstetler joins William Hileman (No. 76 team) and William Wheeler (No. 57 team) as the third CWTS crew member suspended this season under NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

NASCAR Takes Trucks For Measurement

After the checkered flag flew over the E-Z-Go 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR took four trucks back to its Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. According to NASCAR spokesperson Denise Maloof, one truck from each manufacturer was taken for detailed chassis measurements. The data gathered from the measurements will be used in the future when considering rule changes.

The trucks taken were those of race winner Kevin Harvick (Chevrolet), Jennifer Jo Cobb (Ford), Skinner (Toyota) and Jason White (SS Green Light Racing).

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