Just last week when Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter re-signed with ThorSport Racing, I mentioned that Ron Hornaday, Jr.’s job was likely in danger with the “changing landscape” that Kevin Harvick mentioned for the Truck Series team. And last Friday at Richmond International Raceway, Harvick ended up announcing that the team would be shutting down at the end of the 2011 season.
“The one thing I can tell you is there will be no trucks that run out of KHI (next season). But, as far as what happens with the truck teams, that will come in the weeks to come,” Harvick said. “The reason that the Truck program is really–it’s just tough; it’s a tough model business-wise. We have scrimped and scraped and got the sponsorship and things you need. But from a business standpoint, sometimes you just have to make the decisions as to what you want to do and for us it just didn’t make sense.”
That announcement comes as a terrible blow to the Truck Series. In a series that struggles to fill the field each and every week, the loss of a competitive team like KHI takes out two–sometimes three–competitive trucks and opens up those slots on the entry list. Of course there’s four-time champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. and his teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr. who will be left without a ride for the 2012 season.
For a moment, let’s take a look back at the last ten years of KHI and the impact they’ve had on the Truck Series. Back in 2001, Harvick and his wife DeLana decided to start a race team and purchased a storage unit; today the team is housed in a more than 80,000 square foot facility in Kernersville, NC. That first year, Harvick ran his first Truck Series event for KHI at Richmond and finished second. From 2001 through 2004, Harvick ran a handful of races behind the wheel of a KHI truck and scored two wins, nine top-5s and 11 top-10 finishes.
In 2004, KHI fielded their first full-time entry with Matt Crafton behind the wheel of the No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet. Though he didn’t visit victory lane, Crafton did garner 17 top-10 finishes and closed the season fifth in points. The following season, Ron Hornaday, Jr. joined the team full-time. In that first full season, he scored one win, seven top-5s and 13 top-10 finishes in 25 starts to finish fourth in the standings.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Hornaday began to drive the No. 33 truck for KHI. Since the beginning of the 2006 season, Hornaday has racked up two series championships, 22 wins, 69 top-5 finishes and 96 top-10s in 142 starts.
In 2008, KHI expanded their Truck Series stable to two full-time rides with Jack Sprague in the No. 2 Chevrolet. But after scoring just nine top-10 finishes in 20 starts–including back-to-back DNFs in his final two starts with the team–Sprague and KHI parted ways.
“The performance of the No. 2 team was not up to either Jack or KHI’s standards,” Harvick said after the Mountain Dew 250 at Talladega in 2008. “My main goal now is to prepare the team to run for a championship in 2009. I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel in Martinsville. It should be a lot of fun.”
Fast forward to 2009 when Ricky Carmichael joined the team to pilot the No. 4 Monster Energy Chevrolet. An AMA motocross champion, Carmichael struggled to find his footing in his first season, finishing on the lead lap just five times and scoring two top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
This season marked the first time KHI attempted to run three full-time teams with Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Nelson Piquet, Jr. each running the full season along with several drivers sharing the seat in the No. 2 Chevrolet. While it hasn’t been the championship-caliber season they’ve become accustomed to having, this year’s performance hasn’t been terrible either. Hornaday, Jr. and Piquet, Jr. have scored two wins and 16 top-10 finishes in a combined 34 starts so far and sit fifth and 12th respectively in the standings.
“It has been a great run. Obviously one of the hardest conversations I had to have was with Ron (Hornaday, Jr.), telling him where everything was going and he was a big part of helping us to get to the point that we are at today,” Harvick said.
And it’s understandable that Harvick struggled with telling Hornaday about the closure of the team. After all, it was the 53-year-old driver who let his future boss stay on the couch at his home when he was coming onto the NASCAR scene. It’s just a shame that Hornaday will likely be left sitting by watching the youth race in a series that has been his home for so long.
*Benson Planning Truck Series Return*
Along with the bad news surrounding KHI, there’s a glimmer of hope in the form of Johnny Benson. That’s right, readers, Benson has plans to return to Camping World Truck Series competition in 2012. Earlier this week, it looked like the 2008 champion had plans to open his own team with backing from several Michigan companies, but then on Wednesday, Benson told Sirius Speedway that he’ll be working with Stacy Compton and Turn One Racing.
“We’re working with Stacy to try and put together a full season,” said Benson. “He’s worked awfully hard to get his team where it needs to be, and it’ll be nice to race for a guy that I used to race against.”
Of course, the deal with Turn One Racing hinges on the same thing that left him without a ride just eight races into the 2009 season–sponsorship. Simply put, sponsors in NASCAR would rather have a young driver with a pretty face than a driver that has proven on track that he can post results that ultimately bring the most exposure to the company adorning their vehicle, and it’s not something new.
However, the team is talking with Michigan-based sponsors in hopes of putting together the full season for the 2008 champion. Only time will tell whether their effort will be successful.
Turn One Racing started the season with Justin Marks behind the wheel, but he was released from his ride after his sponsorship ran out.
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