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*In a Nutshell:* With just 17 laps remaining, the rain started to fall once again over Homestead-Miami Speedway, and just two laps later the field sat on pit road under the red flag with Johnny Sauter in the top spot. Less than ten minutes after drivers parked on pit road, NASCAR called the race, ending the 2011 season 22.5 miles short. Kevin Harvick, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Joey Coulter rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* *Johnny Sauter* In a rain-shortened race, it’s always hard to guess who would have come out on top had the full distance been run. But Sauter had quite the truck in the laps leading up to the caution that ultimately ended the race. For the final 40 laps, the driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet held the top spot, though competitor Denny Hamlin kept closing the gap. Despite a move by Hamlin to the outside, a loose Sauter managed to hang on to the top spot before exclaiming, ‘It’s raining!’ on his radio right after he nearly slid up the track into Hamlin. Sauter led a total of 44 laps en route to his second victory this season.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. What happened between Kevin Harvick and James Buescher?*
Working hard to score his first victory and first series championship, James Buescher started on the pole Friday night thanks to rain that washed out much of the on track activity–including qualifying–all day. And when the race first started, Buescher wasted little time leaving the field in his dust.
But on a lap 35 restart, Buescher tried to block a hard charging Kevin Harvick and nearly spun himself right out of the race. After the contact, the two collected their trucks and moved on with Harvick giving Buescher a little tap to show he wasn’t pleased with the move.
However, it didn’t end there between the two. During a cycle of green flag pit stops, the two headed to pit road on the same lap. Harvick, looking for an advantage, moved outside Buescher to make a pass as the two hit the pit road entrance. But Buescher wanted nothing with it and spun Harvick–not a smart move by any means.
I had to watch the replay a few times to ensure I saw everything correctly, and the conclusion to be made was the spin was completely intentional. When the pair ended up side-by-side, Buescher started to pull away until after Harvick had put his nose in front of the No. 31, and that’s when Buescher turned right and sent the No. 2 spinning.
Now I can’t say what Buescher was thinking at the time, but it appeared he found out who was next to him and spun him. Whether it was because of the aggressive entrance to pit road Harvick had taken or as a result of the earlier contact between the two is anyone’s guess. But either way, the move was uncalled for.
*2. Where will KHI drivers Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Nelson Piquet, Jr. end up next season?*
With the drop of the checkered flag Friday night, Kevin Harvick, Inc. ran their last Truck Series race after ten years in the sport. But along with the team closure came two drivers–Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Nelson Piquet, Jr.–looking for a home for the 2012 season, and Friday those plans became a little bit clearer.
First up was Ron Hornaday, Jr., who announced during his media availability at Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday afternoon that he’d be joining Joe Denette Motorsports in 2012. He’ll pilot the No. 9 Chevrolet with Jeff Hensley atop the pit box. There is no word yet on sponsorship.
“We are proud to have a champion like Ron Hornaday joining our team. It’s not every day that a young organization gets the opportunity to bring a veteran driver, like Hornaday, on board,” team owner Joe Denette said. “He will bring a lot of experience and an entirely new dimension to our team. We are dedicated to winning races and contending for a championship in 2012, and we think our decision to bring Hornaday and Hensley to JDM shows that commitment.”
Having run in the series for 14 years, Hornaday has racked up some pretty impressive stats–four championships, 27 poles, 51 race wins, 146 top 5s and 208 top-10 finishes.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to work with JDM next season. This is a young team and they have put a lot of the right people in place to win races and compete for the championship in 2012,” Hornaday said. “I’m honored to continue my relationship with Chevrolet and I’m looking forward to a successful 2012 season.”
Not long after Hornaday’s announcement, Turner Motorsports sent out a release announcing the addition of Nelson Piquet, Jr. to their 2012 lineup.
“Turner Motorsports prides itself on cultivating young talent. One of our main objectives is to give drivers a platform to showcase their abilities to help propel them to NASCAR’s highest level,” team owner Steve Turner said. “Nelson brings a significant amount of experience and depth to our driver line up. He also brings a strong international fan base to our program. I am confident he will compete for both race wins and the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.”
Closing out his 2011 rookie campaign Friday night, Piquet, Jr. scored six top 5s and 10 top-10 finishes in 25 starts including a career-best of second at Nashville in April.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to come to Turner Motorsports in 2012. They are one of the top organizations in our sport and are proven winners,” Piquet, Jr. said. “I know we will be in the hunt for the Camping World Truck Series championship and I will gain invaluable experience behind the wheel of the Nationwide Series car. I want to thank Steve Turner and everyone at Turner Motorsports, and I know 2012 will bring great things for me and my new team.”
As part of the deal for 2012, Piquet, Jr. piloted the No. 30 Bienvenidos a NASCAR Chevrolet in Saturday’s Ford 300, a race where he finished 24th, two laps down.
*Truck Rookie Report*
*2011 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
Joey Coulter (No. 22)
Dusty Davis (No. 15)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 1)
Chris Eggleston (No. 27)
Craig Goess (No. 46 – Left team due to performance issues)
Justin Johnson (No. 51)
Parker Kligerman (No. 29)
Johanna Long (No. 20)
Chase Mattioli (No. 99)
Miguel Paludo (No. 7)
Nelson Piquet, Jr. (No. 8)
Cole Whitt (No. 60)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 11 (add Ty Dillon, Blake Feese, Dakoda Armstrong, German Quiroga, and Ross Chastain)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 3; Nelson Piquet, Jr., finished fourth; Joey Coulter, finished fifth; Ty Dillon, finished sixth
*Rookie Of The Race:* Nelson Piquet, Jr.
Joey Coulter took home Rookie of the Year honors when he capped off his season with a solid fifth-place finish Friday night. Nelson Piquet, Jr. moved into the second spot and finished just five points behind Coulter. Cole Whitt dropped to third while Parker Kligerman and Miguel Paludo rounded out the top 5. In his rookie campaign, Coulter scored five top 5s and 13 top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
Despite a few tense moments late in the running of the Ford 200, Austin Dillon managed to pull out the championship by six points over race winner Johnny Sauter while becoming the youngest series champion, a record previously held by Travis Kvapil who won at 27 years of age. James Buescher, who looked like an early favorite to win before tangling with Kevin Harvick, ended the season in third, 29 points behind the leader. Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Timothy Peters rounded out the top 5.
Defending champion Todd Bodine finished out the season in sixth followed by Rookie of the Year Joey Coulter who jumped a spot. Matt Crafton dropped to eighth after a disappointing 19th-place finish. Rookies Cole Whitt and Nelson Piquet, Jr. rounded out the top 10.
“It’s a huge accomplishment, coming out here and doing what we needed to do. Six points is a bummer. You can think back on the season–dominating Kentucky, broke an axle, 20 to go, leading the race; ORP, leading the race, flat tire; the lane violation at Texas, 22 points; six points at Pocono. You can go down the list–but everybody can. That’s just racing. Twenty points was a long shot coming into tonight, but you just never know. We did what we set out to do. That’s all we can do. This is big. Two wins in a season. I’ve been trying for years in my NASCAR career to get two wins in a season. Unbelievable.” _Johnny Sauter_
“I knew I had a Dollar General Tundra that could get around Johnny (Sauter), but I just wanted to be patient and wait until later stages of the race, and also to ensure that we kept the third-place guy behind us and tried to use the draft. Strategy didn’t work out. It probably cost us a win today, but they told me one lap before the rain came that it looks like rain is coming, so if I got anything I’d better go. That was my last-ditch effort on the corner to try to get around him. He slid up and got into us and we got in the wall–it was one of those things. We were not in a position to really race him that hard anyway.” _Runner-up Denny Hamlin_
“You can’t go out of the Truck Series any better than this. Beginning of the year at Daytona, we went into the media tour telling everybody we wanted to go out and win this championship. We had our goal. We had a good team behind us and fast trucks. It’s unbelievable. Kevin Harvick told me to celebrate–I’m going to celebrate. The biggest thing is, I’ve been saying the last few weeks, you can’t play defense, you have to play offense. When you start playing defense, you get wrecked. We’ll try to stay up front, get a good place to run. There’s places you can’t put yourself in a compromising position. You go out and race these guys like we have all season.” _Austin Dillon_
“Like Austin said, the last restart was quite guy wrenching. Just awesome to be a part of this deal with Richard (Childress), Mike (Dillon), Austin and Tina (Dillon), and everybody that just let me have this opportunity to be a part of it. Austin Dillon is just a great up-and-coming race car driver. I am just really happy to be a part of it. We had a heck of a good race team, and just got to thank everybody back at the shop for all their hard work.” _Danny Stockman_
“I remember my first championship with Dale Earnhardt. I had the same feeling [Friday] watching my grandson. It’s just fantastic to win a championship and watch how hard these guys worked all year and how much these guys put into it. To see that black 3 back in victory circle–couldn’t be prouder. It’s so special when you’re family. Our whole family is involved. Danny Stockman (Crew Chief), Bass Pro Shops, everybody on the No. 3 team did so much to help put it together. Austin kept it together so good under pressure. For a 21-year-old guy, man, to be able to hang in there and do what he did was very special.” _Team Owner Richard Childress_
“Congratulations to Austin from all of us at Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Marine and all our Tracker independent dealers. Austin is a fine young man who loves racing, loves the outdoors and has a great future ahead of him. What a proud moment for Austin’s grandparents Richard and Judy Childress and his mom and dad Mike and Tina Dillon.” _Bass Pro Shops founder Jimmy Morris_
The Camping World Truck Series Banquet will be Monday at 6:00 PM ET at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. Hosted by SPEED’s Krista Voda and Rick Allen, the banquet will air on SPEED Friday December 2nd at 7:00 PM ET.
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