It seems like it was yesterday when the Camping World Truck Series hit the track at Daytona International Speedway to open the 2011 season, but nine months and 24 races later, the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway is once again upon us. And while Austin Dillon needs only a 16th-place finish to clinch the championship regardless of what competitors James Buescher (20 points behind) and Johnny Sauter (28 points behind) do, that only begins to tell the story of what has been an entertaining season. From James Buescher and Ron Hornaday, Jr. each making unlikely runs at the championship to costly mistakes, there are plenty of reasons–both good and bad–to remember the 2010 season.
Once again, the Truck Series has proven why they don’t need a Chase system. Going into Texas Motor Speedway, the top 4 were separated by just 15 points in what was shaping up to be one of the most exciting battles since Johnny Benson barely edged Ron Hornaday, Jr. in 2008. But a poor judgment call by Kyle Busch and a shortage of fuel helped spread out the field considerably. And despite the impact Texas had on the championship battle, Dillon is still not a lock to win.
With James Buescher and Johnny Sauter within 28 points, the two are still mathematically eligible to snag the championship from the sophomore driver and 2010 rookie of the year. In fact, Homestead may be just the place to do it. In his only start at the 1.5-mile southern Florida oval, Dillon came home a disappointing 31st, four laps down after starting on the pole thanks to several bouts with the wall in his No. 3 machine. On the other hand, Buescher has three starts at Homestead and has average a top 20 finish, while Sauter has an average finish of 16.2 at the track. However, since returning to the series full time in 2009, the driver of the No. 13 has finishes of ninth and third and could very well still pull out a championship for ThorSport Racing.
And speaking of Sauter, something else to keep in mind is the black flag he faced at Texas in June. After taking the checkered flag first, he was penalized and dropped to 22nd as the last driver to finish on the lead lap for changing lanes before the start / finish line. The difference in points between the win and the 22nd-place finish? 24 points–a difference that would put him within four points of the leader headed into this weekend. It’s hard to imagine that Texas race isn’t on Sauter’s mind as the series heads into the final race of the season.
But with all of that being said, Dillon statistically deserves the championship. With five poles, two victories, ten top 5s and 15 top 10 finishes, the 21-year-old has bested his competitors for much of the season and salvaged decent finishes even when the teams has faced adversity.
*Series Schedule Changes*
With just 200 miles left until drivers and teams alike close out the season before heading home to join their families for the holidays, NASCAR has yet to release the 2012 schedule, leaving plenty of speculation about the number of races on the schedule and what tracks may replace those that departed this season.
The loss of any track on the schedule is frustrating, but perhaps the one that hurts the most is Lucas Oil Raceway. Having raced at the 0.686-mile oval for 17 years, NASCAR announced in July there were no current plans for the series to race at the track when the Nationwide Series heads over to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2012 season. It’s certainly a shame to lose yet another short track from the dwindling list of bullrings the series visits regularly. But with that being said, the loss of Nashville, coupled with the departure of Gateway at the end of last season, are just as painful in a series that visited 21 tracks this season.
And that brings us to how next season’s schedule is shaping up. Several tracks have released their dates independently, but there are still large holes. One of the big changes that has been announced is NASCAR’s return to Rockingham–the series will visit there on April 15th for the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200. Rumors have flown about the series making a return to road racing, but reports so far have seen those hopes fly out of the window. One thing is sure, though–the sanctioning body definitely needs to finalize the schedule and release it so teams can finalize their 2012 plans ahead of their break for the holidays.
*Kevin Harvick, Inc. Shuts Down*
As the checkered flag flies over Homestead-Miami Speedway tonight, Kevin Harvick, Inc. will cease to exist after ten years of competition in the Truck Series. For a team that’s scored 25 wins and two championships with Ron Hornaday behind the wheel, it’ll be bittersweet to see such a strong organization bid farewell to the series. Sure, teams come and go all the time, but it’s not often such a large team makes a departure.
For a team that’s had at least a limited presence for ten years in the Truck Series, it’s hard to say goodbye without looking at the impact they’ve had on the series. From their humble beginnings as a single truck team operating out of a storage unit to their days in the state-of-the-art 80,000 square-foot facility the organization is currently housed out of, KHI has had an impact on the series. Perhaps most notable is their partnership with Ron Hornaday, Jr. but KHI has been the home to many stars in the series including Matt Crafton, Ricky Carmichael, Jack Sprague, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and even David Mayhew, who certainly has stardom potential if he manages to find himself a ride in the series.
Despite the departure of the team he’s spent seven years with, it appears Ron Hornaday, Jr. has found himself a home for next season. After Kyle Busch’s offer of the No. 18 Toyota for a full schedule next season, Hornaday came out and said he has “signed a letter of intent” but didn’t disclose the team. However, earlier this week, reports have come out that the 53-year-old has landed at Joe Denette Motorsports. While details are still sketchy, there are expectations that an official announcement could come as early as sometime today.
But regardless of where he ends up, the loss of KHI has a huge impact on the series, and it’ll be interesting to see how the fields are filled come February.
*Kyle Busch in the Series*
No collection of defining moments in the series would be complete without taking a look back at the impact Kyle Busch has had this season. For the second season, Busch entered the series as a driver / owner and made 16 starts (not counting tonight’s race), scoring six wins and 13 top-10 finishes in the process. But his presence in the series wasn’t without controversy.
Involved in multiple on track incidents over the past few seasons, Busch stole headlines once again this year. From running all over the track and pushing around drivers without regard to their position on the track to an altercation with Richard Childress in the garage at Kansas, fans have quickly grown tired of perhaps the only driver that could turn fan angst away from brother Kurt. Then there was the most recent incident with Ron Hornaday, Jr. that’s still fresh in everyone’s minds that ended all hopes for the veteran to score a series high fifth championship.
But despite all of the negative that surrounded Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, there’s plenty of positive in the team’s presence in the series. “Kickinthetires.net has reported”:http://kickinthetires.net/news/139-kyle-busch-motorsports-wants-four-teams-in-2012.html the organization intends to field at least two full-time trucks next year. KBM General Manager Rick Ren was quoted as saying, “there will be another full-time truck that I can’t announce yet … and then there is the possibility of a third truck.” While details aren’t clear yet, the growth is a positive sign for the Truck Series.
With tonight’s Ford 200 as the only race left before the series goes dormant for three months and we’re left wondering why the off-season is SO long, it’s hard to believe where the last nine months have gone. All I know for sure is I’ll be back come February for what will hopefully be the beginning of another season full of great racing and the stories that go with it.
_Author’s Note: Did I miss a moment that stands out for you? Leave your favorites in the comments section below! I’ll be interested to see what everyone else will remember most from this season._
*Quotes of the Year:*
_Before I go, here’s a small collection of some of the best quotes of the season. The list is in no way all-inclusive since I only have a limited amount of space, but feel free to add your favorites in the comments below._
“I’ve been emotional all day long. I see one of my buddies and we laugh about things that we did with Dale, and I see another buddy and we cry about it. Frist thing I wanted to do was lead lap three for him. I tried. I got close to leading it, but I didn’t. I came here to celebrate his life with my black truck and my 15 car. I didn’t come here to celebrate a win.” _Michael Waltrip after his emotional win at Daytona_
“I honestly have no words. I feel like I won. I am so happy to have the opportunity to have finished second here at Nashville. We have had such a long road to this point, but we continue to get better each week, and this race was a huge accomplishment. The learning curve in the transition from open-wheel to stock cars is a lot bigger than many people think, but I’m learning. I’m excited to see how we continue to improve in each race this season.” _Nelson Piquet, Jr. on his career-best finish to date_
“I think we would’ve had a shot getting up to those guys, but I learned a lot on restarts behind (Johnny) Sauter and (Ron) Hornaday. You can’t ask for two better teachers than that.” _David Mayhew after finishing a career-best third at Texas in June_
“I think Kyle definitely showed his immaturity, and why he’s just one of those guys that just can’t stand to lose, and just a poor loser. Unfortunate for Ron (Hornaday). It’s too bad that a guy over here trying to win races got in the middle of the championship fight. At some point, he’ll feel the pain. If he isn’t winning the race, he’s pouting and throwing a fit, and it’s one of those things where he’s going to grow up or he’s going to have some swollen eyes.” _Kevin Harvick on Busch wrecking Hornaday at Texas just two weeks ago_
“This is just stupid. He knew I was there–he just drove me into the fence. Let’s have at it, so I can go in there and beat (him). He lives too close to me. We’ll see what NASCAR does. If they don’t handle it right, I’ll be at his house Monday morning.” _Ron Hornaday, Jr. on having his championship hopes dashed by Kyle Busch at Texas two weeks ago_
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