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Tearing Apart the Trucks: Kyle Closes Half His Truck Team – What Now?

As the Camping World Truck Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the WinStar World Casino 400K, they’ll do so without Tayler Malsam and the No. 56 Toyota, fielded for the the first seven races this season by Kyle Busch Motorsports. But for Malsam, that’s a good thing.

Earlier this week, Malsam joined Braun Racing in the Nationwide Series, and that opened up the window of opportunity for cost-cutting measures for KBM. The No. 56 team has been shut down for at least the remainder of the season, while the No. 18 team will continue to strive for the owner’s championship.

To put it like I would have when I was younger, this sucks. I had high hopes when the announcement made official the long time speculation that Kyle Busch would become a team owner in the Truck Series. Here I was thinking about how great it would be to have another new team joining the series with the kind of funding behind it to actually get it off the ground. Boy, was I mistaken!

Having said that, I’m pleased that only one truck team was shut down rather than the entire operation. After all of the news about contractors being owed money and Kyle’s comment that he would never have started the team had he known the financial burden, we’re lucky to at least have that one truck left out on the track. And in even better news, Johnny Benson gets to pilot that No. 18 Toyota tonight at Texas (more on that a little later).

No matter how you feel about the guy, Kyle Busch has been influential in the development of the Truck Series throughout the last couple years.

Consider for a moment everything Kyle Busch has done to help in the Truck Series. During his tenure with Billy Ballew Motorsports, he drove for free – that’s right, free. All winnings were given to team owner Billy Ballew to put back into his team. In turn, Kyle brought some great publicity to the team with his success, scoring 13 wins in the No. 51 Toyota and three in the No. 15.

Along with his success behind the wheel, Busch brought Brian Ickler to the Truck Series last season to cover races that would conflict with his Sprint Cup Series obligations. And with the help of some tips from Kyle, Ickler saw success almost immediately, scoring a top-five finish in his first outing at Kansas Speedway last May.

Also, after Benson was dropped from his ride at Red Horse Racing, Kyle Busch worked with Billy Ballew Motorsports and then-sponsor Miccosukee to allow the 2008 champion to pilot the No. 51 Toyota at Michigan International Speedway, his home track. Unfortunately, that never came to pass due to injuries sustained in a late-model wreck shortly before, but in the end it was the thought that counted.

Enter Kyle Busch Motorsports. From the beginning, the plan for KBM has been to prepare young drivers for the NASCAR world and give them a start in climbing the seemingly broken ladder of progression, with the ultimate goal of becoming the future of the Cup Series. And so far, KBM has done just that.

First there was Ickler, who was promised a spot in the No. 18 any time Busch’s Cup Series obligations prevented him from racing in the Truck Series, mirroring the agreement last season with BBM. Then it happened – Kyle began to see the realization of his dream. A couple weeks ago, Ickler was offered a part-time gig in the Nationwide Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

And Busch has been nothing but supportive of the opportunity presented to Ickler.

“I have no reason to hold Brian Ickler back. It’s all for his best interest,” Busch said. “I feel like I’ve done what I needed to do to help him move on up so, hopefully, he can make a name for himself and a place for himself over there at Roush and do a good job.”

That’s the exact reaction I would expect any Truck Series team owner to have. Though there are some guys that have made a career out of being a star of the Truck Series, any owner would be crazy not to share in the happiness of the progression of one of their drivers.

Then, this week saw KBM’s other young driver receive a similar opportunity. Malsam joined the team during the offseason, and now he’s headed to the Nationwide Series to pilot the No. 10 Braun Racing Toyota starting with this weekend’s visit to Nashville Superspeedway. Once again, Kyle has been fully supportive of the change.

“Braun offered him (Malsam) a chance to move up to the Nationwide Series, and we have no reason to hold him back,” Busch said. “He’s a driver, like Brian [Ickler], who absorbed a lot of knowledge from myself, Rick Ren (competition director) and the rest of the guys at KBM. We support him all the way.”

The hope through the offseason was for KBM to run a third truck for 2008 champion Benson. Unfortunately, sponsorship struggles forced the shelving of that idea. But because of the plan, Benson was the obvious choice to replace Brian Ickler when he moved to RFR in Nationwide.

“I wanted to put Johnny [Benson] in a third truck if we could ever find the money to do it. Here’s the first available time and he got the call. I think it’s a great opportunity for him,” Busch said. “I think we’ve got great equipment. Our trucks run really well and we’re fast. Of course, it’s a Toyota, so him driving Toyotas is all familiar to us. I wish him all the best and hope he wins for us.”

All in all, Kyle Busch really isn’t a bad guy. He’s attempting to fill a spot left vacant when Roush Fenway Racing ended its Truck Series development program with the graduation of Colin Braun to the Nationwide Series at the end of the 2009 season. Here’s hoping Kyle can hang in there long enough to score sponsorship dollars that allow him to continue what he started, because it’s something the series sorely needs.

Did You Know?

  • Austin Dillon scored his first career pole yesterday afternoon? He’ll start on the front row with Matt Crafton in tonight’s WinStar World Casino 400K.
  • Drivers Ricky Carmichael and Aric Almirola are scheduled to participate in the Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway next week? They’ll be racing with Team St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital with Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Robby Gordon, Ken Schrader and Ray Evernham.
  • Schrader will return to the Truck Series this weekend behind the wheel of Kevin Harvick Inc.’s No. 2 Chevrolet? Schrader previously raced the No. 2 at Kansas last month, where he finished ninth.
  • Mike Harmon will run a special decal on the hood of his truck tonight for the “Ride for Dime” foundation? Honoring “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott, who was killed on stage in 2004, “Ride For Dime” supports Little Kids Rock, a program designed to bring all children a musical education.

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