For the 2009 season, I am pegging several drivers as championship contenders.
At the top of that list are obviously last year's two main players, Johnny Benson and Ron Hornaday Jr.
But who else could have a major say in who takes home the trophy at Homestead in November?
If the Truck Series has taught us anything in the past, it is the fact that these title battles usually come down to the last lap of the season.
As for some other drivers to watch, I think Todd Bodine will climb back into the championship battle, and once again look for strong efforts from Rick Crawford, Matt Crafton, and the HT Motorsports duo of David Starr and Terry Cook.
Look for Colin Braun to be vastly improved, and don't put it past Mike Skinner winning a second series title. Randy Moss Motorsports (as well as HT Motorsports) are sure to get some of the resources from Toyota that would have went in Bill Davis Racing's direction had they not ceased operations.
The major change in the Truck Series for 2009, aside from the sponsor name, has to be the fact that only five crew members will be allowed over the wall at a time, I guess in an effort to save the teams a little bit of money.
Some other changes include the fact that only twelve team members will be allowed to make the trip to the track on a race weekend, and teams cannot change tires and fuel the truck during the same pit stop. And finally, teams will not be able to run a new engine in any more than three consecutive races. This final rule will also be in place for the Nationwide teams in 2009.
Assuming the other measures work in the Trucks, I'd like to see them extended to Nationwide to help out with escalating costs. On to my Top 10 predictions:
Projected full-time teams
1 Johnny Benson (Red Horse Racing)
4 Ricky Carmichael/Kevin Harvick/Ryan Newman? (Monster Energy Drink)
5 Mike Skinner (Randy Moss Motorsports/Exide/Toyota Tundra?)
6 Colin Braun (Con-Way Freight)
7 J.R. Fitzpatrick (Daytona)/TBA (The Racer’s Group/Kevin Buckler)
10 James Buescher (MaxxForce Diesel)
13 Johnny Sauter (ThorSport Racing)
14 Rick Crawford (Power Stroke Diesel)
15 Shane Sieg (at least the first four races) (Ballew Motorsports)
16 Brian Scott (Albertson’s)
17 Timothy Peters (Tahoe Smokeless Tobacco?)
23 Jason White (GunBroker.com)
24 David Starr (Zachry Holdings)
25 Terry Cook (Harris Trucking)
30 Todd Bodine (Germain Racing)
32 Chase Austin (Trail Motorsports)
33 Ron Hornaday Jr. (Camping World/VFW/Longhorn Smokeless Tobacco)
40 Mike Bliss (first six races)/TBA (Westerman Companies)
51 Kyle Busch/Shane Sieg (Miccosukee Resorts)
60 Stacy Compton (Wyler Racing)
74 Larry Foyt (Daytona)/TBA (Cope/Keller Racing)
81 Tayler Malsam (One Eighty Racing/Randy Moss Motorsports)
88 Matt Crafton (Menard’s)
89 Mike Harmon (first two races)/TBA (Lafferty Motorsports)
2009 Camping World Truck Series Schedule
Top-Ten Points Finisher Projections:
1. Ron Hornaday (33)
Hornaday fell just seven points short of his fourth title a year ago, and considering how strong this team runs at all types of tracks, they have to be considered the favorite, especially now that Bill Davis Racing has closed shop. Ron is probably still fuming over how close he came in 2008, so look for a hungry team in 2009.
2. Todd Bodine (30)
There were grumblings over the offseason that Germain would not run this team full-time unless sponsorship materialized. I guess they realized Papis is probably going to break the bank wrecking in Cup—ha ha! Anyways, I don't see how they can keep Todd off the track as long as he is in the title hunt, and he should be as usual.
3. Johnny Benson (1)
JB was smart in moving to Red Horse Racing for 2009. It's almost as if he sensed BDR's days were limited at the end of last season. The defending champion will be working with a new team this year, but he will have the benefit of many of the same people working on his trucks, including crew chief Trip Bruce. Going back-to-back is not out of the question by any means.
4. Mike Skinner (5)
Skinner, like Benson, was a victim of BDR suddenly closing shop. He actually did not find a ride in the scarce Truck Series landscape until two weeks ago, when the serie's most famous owner gave him a call. Randy Moss and David Dollar's team was a mid-pack performer in the GM camp, but moving to Toyota and bringing in a championship caliber driver should do wonders for their performance in 2009.
5. Rick Crawford (14)
The Mobile, Alabama driver has not won in each of the past two seasons, but generally speaking, they have been two of Crawford's better years in the dozen he has spent with Tom Mitchell's operation. Look for the 14 team to continue to be at the head of the Blue Oval Brigade in 2009, and a return to victory lane should be expected.
6. Colin Braun (6)
The former sports-car star's first season in NASCAR had its ups and downs, and as the 20-year old Texan moves into his second year behind the wheel of the Con-Way Freight F-150, his performance should be much more consistent. Braun has immense talent and the support of the Roush-Fenway operation, so there is no reason for him not to capitalize and pick up his first victory.
7. David Starr (24)
David has been one of this series' most consistent performers over the years, but you have to wonder exactly why this will be his fourth team in five seasons. While his performance has slipped slightly in the past two campaigns, aligning with HT Motorsports, which should see more resources coming down the pipe from TRD, will allow him to continue being extremely competitive and a victory lane threat.
8. Matt Crafton (88)
Well after eight years of trying, Crafton finally found victory lane a year ago, and matched his career-best points finish (fifth). Obviously, expectations will be high around the ThorSport shop entering 2009, as Matt finally got the monkey off his back. This team may not have the most resources in the series, but they usually get the most out of what they do have.
9. Terry Cook (25)
Terry Cook returns to Jim Harris' operation, where he spent the 2007 season and end of last year. After three very strong seasons at the beginning of the decade, Cook has merely been average over the past four or five years. However, with such few full-time drivers on the ticket and the fact he will be working with a familiar group, Cook should do just enough to crack the top 10.
10. James Buescher (10)
The pride of Plano, Texas is just 18 years old, but is consistently ranked as one of the brightest prospects in NASCAR. The fact that he won the ARCA race at Daytona this past Saturday and ran fairly well in six Nationwide races a year ago shows just why. Buescher is inexperienced, but has aligned himself with a strong team. It will be crucial for him to lean on veteran teammate Rick Crawford. If he performs up to his ability, winning Rookie of the Year should be almost a lock.
NOTE: I didn't include our boy Rowdy because I have no idea exactly how many races he is running with Ballew Motorsports in 2009, although I am sure it is in the neighborhood of 15-20.
Coming tomorrow: Allen Iverson Career Memorial "Practice?!" Day at Daytona International Speedway, as all three series hit the track for practice on Wednesday.
It will be a day of firsts: the first official drafting practice of the season for the Cup teams as they prepare for Thursday's Duels, as well as the first practices of the season for both the Trucks and Nationwide.
I'll be here with any important developments, and if there are none, I may do a Twin 150s preview of some kind.