After suffering through that season of uncertainty, Johnny Sauter was ready to find another permanent home in 2009; and after choosing to make a significant change, he hopes to have found a place in NASCAR’s “AA” Division, the Camping World Truck Series. Driving the No. 13 Chevrolet, Sauter is going for the series championship in 2009 with sponsorship from Fun Sand, Curb Records, and several other associates that will keep his team competitive in a season where others are simply trying to make it through the year without closing shop. Amy Henderson talks to Sauter about his promising start to the season, the differences in racing trucks compared to Nationwide or Cup Series cars, and finds out the one man capable of stopping one of the sport’s most aggressive drivers dead in his tracks.
Four races into 2009, it’s safe to say that David Ragan’s season has been among the biggest disappointments on the track thus far (sans Mark Martin). The Cup circuit’s most improved driver in 2008 has struggled since a top 10 in the rain-shortened Daytona 500, with no top 10s and a DNF despite having Roush Fenway Racing’s vaunted intermediate package underneath him. Sitting 22nd in points, Ragan’s certainly not where many thought he would be in 2009, but surely a mediocre stretch of four races couldn’t be enough to threaten the job of crew chief Jimmy Fennig? Right?
It’s Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With Cup practice roaring to life on the track and the Cup garage bustling with activity, I’m making my way over to the Truck garage for my four o’clock interview with Brent Raymer. I get to the No. 85 team’s hauler, only to find… no one.
The Frontstretch family would like to congratulate David Starr and his wife Kim on the birth of their first child, David Starr Jr. David Jr. came into the world at 11:21 a.m. on March 12th, at 7 lbs, 17 inches long. Baby, Mom, and Dad are all doing well!
Just three races into the season, the Camping World Truck Series is already on an extended break. The series will return to action on March 28th at Martinsville Speedway. So now is a good time to look at the rule changes NASCAR implemented during the offseason. In an effort to help the teams save a large amount of money each week as they travel, NASCAR implemented rule changes that allow a team only a limited number of crew members traveling to the races. In addition, only five crew members are allowed over the wall at any given time on a pit stop, and teams are not able to take tires and fuel during the same stop.
Matt’s stuck at home with a nasty case of the flu this week, so I’ve been pressed into service as a last-minute replacement for his column. Usually, I try my best to match his sarcasm when I sub in (although in reality, no one can even come close). But this week, in terms of Mouthing Off… I’ve pretty much already done it on a variety of subjects in my weekly version of Did You Notice? on Wednesday. So, I thought that instead of spewing more venom at the NASCAR powers that be this week, I’m going to play around with the term “Mouthing Off” in a different way.
Beneath the surface, all was not as healthy as it seemed. While Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards were there to win the race per usual, the reasons some cars and drivers showed up were far different than what you’d want to believe as a race fan. These teams – nestled within the middle and back of NASCAR’s starting fields – were there not to compete, but to turn a healthy profit, all while padding the sport’s bottom line in the process. For these organizations – which have comprised up to 20% of the Truck Series field in some races – their version of competition is to slowly take a qualifying lap around the racetrack, making the starting lineup in the back of the pack – only to pull the car off the speedway in the first few laps of the race, what’s known in racing circles as the dreaded “start-and-park.” In doing so, they bring an undamaged car in the garage area, make off with tens of thousands of dollars in purse money, and ensure the sport collects its most important lifeline of all… cold, hard cash.
Both NASCAR and a crewman from the No. 47 team, Jimmy Watts, took a lot of flack for the yellow flag that flew in the midst of a pit cycle as a result of the crewman chasing a tire, causing several good cars to be trapped a lap or more down. But was either one really wrong in their decision?
As the 2009 season wears on, some of the teams that have had early success are finding themselves in a point standings freefall. As they disappear from view, the composition of the top 12 is starting to take form, with annual contenders slowly creeping towards and into that coveted threshold. The season may be early and the beginning of the Chase months away, but these men are proving they will be threats nearly every week. At the other end of the points are heavily-funded teams that find themselves one bad race away from beginning Martinsville, the first race that uses 2009 owner points, without the comfort of being locked in via the Top-35 rule. For them, the upcoming week off will be filled with little sleep and lots of worry, their very futures hanging in the balance on the high-banks of Bristol in two weeks.
The first thing I do on Friday afternoons is click on SPEED to check out either Cup Pole Qualifying or practice – whatever is actually on. This past Friday was like the start of any other NASCAR weekend; but the minute I turned on the television, I immediately saw a graphical error scrolling across the screen. Todd Bodine had entered this past weekend’s Kobalt Tools 500 with the No. 35, a R&D team for Germain Racing. Well, the on-screen scroll at the top of the screen showed Bodine’s name up there – but with the wrong number attached (Scott Speed’s No. 82). I’ve mentioned this type of an issue before occuring during Truck Series races, but I’ve never seen it transfer over to Cup. Of course, this mistake was confusing for fans, with the more casual ones having no clue what was right or wrong on TV.