Last season Ron Hornaday Jr. won his record 4th Truck Series championship and 2nd in the last 3 seasons with Kevin Harvick Incorporated and the 33 team. But after losing the mastermind behind the success, crew chief Rick Ren, to Kyle Busch?s new Truck team it opens the door for the rest of the field to knock Hornaday off the mountain.
The series will be missing Colin Braun/Roush, Brian Scott/Xpress, Terry Cook/HT Motorsports and maybe Dennis Setzer and Johnny Benson in 2010 which opens the door for driver and teams both new and existing to fill the void.
Here's the likely contenders, notables and teams that'll fill the field for 2010:
Ron Hornaday Jr. ? One of the best drivers to never really get a shot at Cup (drove the full season in 2001 for AJ Foyt), Ron returned to the Truck Series in 2005 after a successful run in Nationwide with RCR and has rattled off 19 wins and 2 championships in the 5 seasons since. Ron ran away with the 2009 championship and KHI managed to hold on for the owners championships with the 33 team. But the loss of Rick Ren could be a major factor; in Ron?s first two seasons with KHI he won 3 races in total and finished 4th in the standings in 2005 and 7th in 2006 before Rick Ren jumped aboard in 2007. While KHI has grown and become more competitive as an organization since then, this could still be the chink in the armor that will prevent Ron from becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Truck Series championships. All that being said he still goes in as the favourite and should win some races as he contends for the championship.
KHI ? Along with the #33 of Hornaday, KHI will be fielding a 2nd full time Truck, the #2 Chevy which was the 4 last year, for owner Kevin Harvick, Cup driver Elliott Sadler and another driver to fill the rest of the schedule. Harvick and Sadler will share the ride for 15 races. After running rookies JR Fitzpatrick and Ricky Carmichael for the majority of the season in the 2/4, Harvick took over late in the year and won the last two races of the season. Harvick should be leading laps and contending for the win in all of his starts while Sadler will be running his first Truck races since 2003 so he?s more of a question mark. Depending on who they get to drive the remaining 10 races of the schedule, the #2 team could contend for the owners championship and make it a KHI 1-2 along with the #33.
Matt Crafton ? A Truck Series lifer, Crafton will drive the #88 Thorsport Chevy for a 9th season as he tries to improve on a runner-up finish in the standings in 2009 and get himself and Thorsport their first championship. Crafton was a model of consistency last year, like he has been throughout his career, with 21 top ten?s in 25 races. He has 109 top ten?s in 222 career starts yet only has 1 win to his credit back in 2008 and it was the lack of wins and laps led that was his downfall compared to Ron who led the series in wins and laps led. Even his teammate Johnny Sauter got to victory lane last year. Crafton is going to need to lead laps and win races this season if he wants to beat the likes of Ron Hornaday, Todd Bodine and Mike Skinner who are proven capable of doing plenty of both.
Johnny Sauter ? The former Cup and Nationwide Series returns to the #13 Thorsport Chevy for a 2nd season. With 76 Cup starts, 3 NNS wins and 195 NNS starts to his credit he cruised to the 2009 ROTY award thanks to a midseason surge that included his first career Truck win. Issues with his ROTY eligibility aside, Johnny made a heavy contribution to what was Thorsport?s best season to date. While Crafton is easy and consistent, Johnny is a hard charger who?s been prone to winning or wrecking but was surprisingly calm and collected throughout the season and his only DNF due to a crash was the first race at Daytona. If Sauter continues to show that form and the talent that got him to Cup and NNS success then he could be Thorsport?s best chance at the championship.
Randy Moss Motorsports ? David Starr joins RMM after replacing Tayler Malsam in the 81 RMM Toyota while Mike Skinner, the inaugural Truck Series champion, returns to the #5 RMM Toyota for a 2nd season. Formerly the Morgan Dollar team, RMM had a great first season in the Trucks in 2009 with Skinner winning 3 times and finishing 3rd in the standings while Malsam finished 12th with 10 top tens. With a year in the books and two veteran teammates and winners, Skinner looks primed to improve on 2009 and contend for the championship while David Starr will have a good chance of getting back to victory lane and improving on a 9th place finish in the 2009 standings with HT Motorsports.
KBM ? Kyle Busch will become a owner-driver in the Truck Series in 2010 as KBM will field two Trucks, the 18 Toyota with himself and Brian Ickler sharing while sophomore driver Tayler Malsam will drive the 56 Toyota full time. Despite losing Miccosukee as a sponsor for the 18 things are going ahead as planned. Rick Ren will be overseeing the team in a managerial position, bringing a record number of Trucks win and 2 championships as a crew chief to the table. While Kyle will be contending for wins as always, Ickler should be good for some strong runs like last year in a number of starts for Ballew Motorsports. While new teams are always a wild card, Malsam showed a lot of maturity and consistency for a rookie last year and that should continue this season as he contend for a top 10 points position and his first career win.
Todd Bodine ? The 2006 Truck Series championship enters his 7th season in the #30 Germain Toyota with as many questions about sponsorship as the start of 2009. Despite the early financial woes last season Bodine started the year with three top 3 finishes to lead the standings (excluding Kyle Busch) before the season turned on its head. Bodine won twice, was tied for 2nd in top five?s with 11 but was 10th in top ten?s with only 12 in what was an odd up-and-down year. 5 top five?s in the last 6 races boosted Bodine up to 4th in the standings and should give them reason to be optimistic about returning to contention for the championship. But how long can Germain continue scrapping together sponsorship as they go, especially when they also have a full time Nationwide team and half-time Cup team to support? If they get the sponsorship and avoid the bad luck that plagued them in 2009 then Bodine will be one of the front runners for the championship.
Aric Almirola ? After revitalizing his career with Billy Ballew in the Trucks last season Aric will drive the #51 Ballew Toyota full time to go along with a Cup ride with James Finch. The former JGR and DEI developmental driver has one NNS win to his credit which was actually Denny Hamlin?s (see the 2007 Milwaukee debacle http://bit.ly/9YiDcv), a best career finish of 9th in 26 Cup starts and finished 18th in the standings in his only previous full season in the Trucks. But last season Aric was a regular front runner driving both the 51 and 15 Trucks with 7 top fives, 10 top ten?s and an average finish of 8.9 as he was close to his first Truck win on numerous occasions. Aric becomes The Man at Ballew Motorsports as Kyle Busch leaves to form and drive for his own Truck team, and while it?ll be tough to live up to Kyle?s past accomplishments with the team he should get his first career win and contend for a top five position in the points. (15 Ballew Truck will run Nate Monteith for 7 races, Ted Musgrave for Daytona, rest of schedule unknown)
Red Horse Racing ? RHR will have at least two full time teams in 2010, the 17 with Timothy Peters and the 7 with rookie and 2009 ARCA champion Justin Lofton. Nelson Piquet Jr. may also run the full season beyond Daytona if sponsorship is found. Peters got the opportunity of a life time after taking over for Johnny Benson at RHR midway through the season and ended up getting his first career win and finishing 8th in the standings. The same should be expected from Peters in 2010 while Lofton will be a front runner for ROTY, a win and the top 10.
Austin Dillon ? The grandson of Cup Series owner Richard Childress, he?ll be a rookie in the Truck Series in 2010 as he drives the #3 RCR Chevy. I already covered the rookies, including Dillon, in another blog but the good RCR equipment should give him a good shot at ROTY, a spot in the top 10 in the standings and a win.
Rick Crawford ? One of the icons of the Truck Series, Rick will drive a 14th straight season for Circle Bar Racing in the #14 Ford. Crawford suffered a down year as he went winless for a 3rd straight season after having 4 straight winning seasons and only managed 10th in the standings. He may be approaching the end of his competitive years in the series but with CBR closing down the 10 team and going back to 1 truck the consolidation around the 14 could help Crawford finally get back to victory lane and improve on 2009. But the championship is a long shot.
Turner Motorsports ? One of the new teams in the Trucks this season, they?ll be fielding two teams: The #4 Chevy with Ricky Carmichael running full time and the #31 Chevy with James Buescher which will run 19 of the 25 races. Both Carmichael and Buescher were rookies in the Trucks last year, Ricky with KHI and James with Circle Bar. Buescher?s Truck schedule will coincide with his full time Nationwide deal with James Finch. The team will be getting equipment and support from KHI and Monster signed a multi-year extension to continue sponsoring Carmichael. Ricky?s development should continue to progress well as he?ll also run 9 ARCA races, and with the help from KHI he should have some top fives and top ten?s. This might end up being Buescher?s only ride for the season if Finch can?t find sponsorship for his #1 NNS team.
Others - Jennifer Jo Cobb and Brett Butler will be rookies this season, Jo Cobb in the #10 which she bought from Circle Bar Racing and Butler with Rick Ware Racing. RWR will also field a 2nd truck, the #6 Chevy, with Donnie Neuenberger, Chrissy Wallace, Tim Brown and Michael Guerity sharing the ride.
The #60 Wyler Racing Toyota and Stacy Compton are entered at Daytona but full season plans in questions after previous rumours of the team?s demise.
Derrike Cope and his twin nieces Angela and Amber will share the #74 Stratus Racing Group Dodge which?ll run the full season.
SS Green Light Racing will field the #07 full time with Sean Murphy, Tony Jackson and Donny Lia sharing the ride, and the #23 full time with Jason White.
Long time ARCA competitor Mario Gosselin will compete the full season in the #12 Chevy owned by DGM Racing after running most of the Truck schedule last season.
Daisy Ramirez Motorsports, a new team, will field the #01 Chevy full time with rookie Dillion Oliver; Oliver will start at Martinsville while another driver will run the first two races of the season.
The #48 Chevy, owned by Andy Hillenburg, will run the full season with a variety of drivers.
The #49 Chevy, owned by David McClure, will run the full season with Chad McCumbee running Daytona and a variety of drivers to follow.
And there?s questionable teams like the #93 with Shane Sieg, #85 with Brent Raymer, #76 with Ryan Hackett and #39 with Ryan Sieg who intend on running the full season but are dependent on finding sponsorship.
Summary ? With seemingly more teams lost than gained after 2009 there?ll probably be less than 20 teams that will be truly competitive this season. The top players from last year should continue as such in 2010 with Hornaday, Crafton, Skinner, Bodine, Sauter and Almirola the main contenders for the championship. Almirola, Lofton and Dillon are the likeliest to get their first career wins, and ROTY will come down to Lofton vs. Dillon.
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