Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
In a Nutshell: After a blackout at Gateway International Raceway forced the postponement of Friday night’s CampingWorld.com 200, it was Kevin Harvick who came out victorious on a steamy Saturday afternoon, beating Brad Keselowski to the checkers by 5.241 seconds. Harvick overcame a stiff neck and back to dominate, leading 143 of 160 laps on the way to his third win in four starts this season. Johnny Sauter, points leader Todd Bodine and Matt Crafton rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Harvick. After scoring his first career Truck Series pole in his 105th start, Harvick made it clear he had the truck to beat, pulling out to a nearly eight-second lead over second-place Ron Hornaday Jr. before the second caution flew on lap 50. When pit strategy saw the driver of the No. 2 Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q/Kroger Chevrolet restart fifth on lap 78, it took just four green-flag laps for him to once again assume the lead and ultimately the win.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:
1. How did Jeffrey Earnhardt fare in his Truck Series debut?
Fourth-generation driver Jeffrey Earnhardt made his Camping World Truck Series debut Saturday afternoon at Gateway International Raceway. As one of Rick Ware Racing’s development drivers, he drove the No. 6 Fuel Doctor Chevrolet as a teammate to Brett Butler.
For much of the first half of the CampingWorld.com 200, the 21-year-old driver ran in the mid-20s, within a couple spots of Butler. By lap 39, leader Harvick had put him one lap down, but the team took advantage of the wave around when the third caution flew for debris on lap 73.
Shortly after Earnhardt rejoined the lead lap, though, contact with Mike Skinner sent Ricky Carmichael into the outside wall. The No. 4 car ultimately spun down the track, landing right into the path of Earnhardt’s No. 6 Chevrolet. The resulting contact between the two spun Carmichael’s No. 4 Chevrolet a full 360 degrees around before the two came to a stop.
After such a tough hit, Earnhardt and Carmichael were both checked out and released from the infield care center, but both trucks were trashed and unable to continue. Earnhardt was left to settle for a disappointing 30th-place finish in his debut.
“I guess [Mike] Skinner spun Ricky [Carmichael] and Ricky came down the track. Nowhere for me to go – just one of those deals,” Earnhardt said after emerging from the infield care center. “I’m proud of all these guys today, and I hope we’re back in the Camping World Truck Series again soon.”
Through no fault of his own, Earnhardt’s Truck Series debut was cut short and ended in disappointment. But, judging by the way veterans struggled on the slick track, he should be proud of his ability to maintain his spot in the mid-20s throughout the afternoon. The young driver gained some much needed seat time in the series and should be able to use what he learned for his next outing.
2. Is Ron Hornaday Jr. out of the championship hunt?
For the fourth time in just 11 races, Hornaday Jr. finished outside the top 20 after a sway-bar problem left him on pit road for extensive repairs in the early stages of Gateway’s race. The resulting finish of 26th, 10 laps down, saw him drop three spots in the standings to sixth. Now sitting 261 points out of first, should we label the defending champion effectively out of the hunt at this point?
There was a brief discussion about this during the race broadcast, one in which Michael Waltrip adamantly insisted Hornaday is not out of it. But I’m not quite sure I agree with him because the 261-point deficit is a large margin to make up – especially since the team hasn’t quite hit the stride they have in previous years.
Losing championship crew chief Rick Ren to Kyle Busch Motorsports has clearly taken a toll on the No. 33 team. Hornaday Jr. started the season with Dave Fuge atop the pit box, but he was quickly replaced by Doug George after the season opener at Daytona in February. Then, this week George was released after just 10 races with Hornaday. Butch Hylton took on the crew chief role at Gateway, while Ernie Cope will call the shots next weekend at O’Reilly Raceway Park.
By next weekend, the driver of the No. 33 will have his fourth crew chief in just 12 races this season, and that break in consistency alone is enough to distract even the best of drivers. I’m not ruling out the possibility that Hornaday Jr. will get up there and contend for the championship, but the hole the No. 33 team is in gets deeper with each passing race.
That being said, the three-time champion did manage to score five consecutive wins last season. A string of races like that, especially if Bodine were to run into trouble, will put him right back in the thick of the championship hunt.
3. What will it take for Todd Bodine to score a full-time sponsor?
Saturday afternoon, a very hot Bodine had to rest inside the media center following the CampingWorld.com 200. When Ray Dunlap caught up to him for an interview, he lamented the struggles Germain Racing has been running into while trying to line up financial backing for the No. 30 Toyota.
“It’s a shame we can’t get a full-time sponsor. We’re leading the points, top fives when we don’t crash when I don’t lose my head like last week,” Bodine said. “We need that sponsorship to get this team to the next level, to get up there and compete with Kevin (Harvick, race winner).”
Despite having nine top-five finishes in 11 races this season, 2006 Truck Series champion Bodine and Germain Racing have only been able to put together what can at best be called a patchwork sponsorship so far this season. Having led the points since Charlotte in late May and racking up a 6.9 average finish, companies should be clamoring to adorn the No. 30 and grab the coveted television airtime that makes the investment worthwhile.
But sadly, that hasn’t been the case this season. What exactly will it take for the Germain Racing to land a full-time sponsor for the No. 30 team? More laps led? More victories? A different driver?
The answer more than likely lies in the state of the economy today. With all sectors still recovering from an extended recession, even some Sprint Cup Series teams that should pull in sponsors with no problem have struggled to put together full-time backing. So here’s hoping Germain Racing has enough money in the bank to continue running, at least until the economy turns around enough to open up a sponsor for their team.
Truck Rookie Report
No. of Rookies in the Race: 5 (add the debuting Earnhardt in the No. 6 Chevrolet)
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 1; Dillon, finished seventh
Rookie of the Race: Dillon
Dillon started fourth and ran inside the top 10 all afternoon. He still holds a commanding lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings over his nearest competitor Lofton, who finished 27th Saturday.
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Friday afternoon’s qualifying session saw two different tiebreakers settled by owner points. James Buescher took the outside pole on a tiebreaker with Keselowski when both posted a qualifying time of 33.767 seconds. But the ramifications were more serious for Chris Fontaine, who missed the field after he and Chris Jones both posted a time of 35.039 seconds.
Friday night’s power outage came less than half an hour before the green flag was scheduled to fly, and was blamed on a downed power line on a nearby highway. After waiting nearly two hours for power to be restored, NASCAR was forced to postpone the race due to the several hours required to make the repair.
Harvick’s win from the pole Saturday afternoon marked the 12th time the race winner has started inside the top 10. Who was the last exception? David Starr started 14th and came out on top after four attempts at a green-white-checkered finish to win the 2004 Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200.
In the championship Bodine expanded his points lead to 101 over Aric Almirola. Sauter’s third top-five finish in the last four races moved him up two spots to third, nine points ahead of Timothy Peters in fourth. Skinner moved up one spot and rounds out the top five.
Defending champion Hornaday Jr. dropped three spots to sixth, just two points outside the top five. Dillon remains in seventh, 281 points behind leader Bodine. Crafton moved up one spot to eighth, while Starr dropped one position. Jason White moved up one spot to round out the top 10.
“I’m just proud of everybody for putting the effort into this truck and getting it ready for the race today, and everybody at [Richard Childress Racing] for getting the chassis done. It was just a great team performance. Obviously, our trucks haven’t run as well as I expected them to run in the last few weeks, and today, I felt like I had a great truck.” – race winner Kevin Harvick
“The only way we were going to win the race is if he (Kevin Harvick) made a mistake. I felt like he did. He passed the pace car pitting. You’re not supposed to do that. He got away with that one. We didn’t catch that break, but we did all we could to put ourselves in the best position possible. We just needed a little bit more.” – Brad Keselowski, finished second
“Obviously, it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. It’s just one of those things that happened. It’s going to be some adjusting. It’s going to be a very hot day [Saturday]. It’s going to be different for tires, different on the driver, but it is what it is. It’s out of our control.” – Mike Skinner on Friday night’s power outage
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads to O’Reilly Raceway Park next weekend for the AAA Insurance 200 presented by J.D. Byrider on Friday night. In 2009, Hornaday Jr. led 67 laps on the way to his fourth win in a string of a record five straight. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.