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Tracking the Trucks: Coca-Cola 250 powered by Fred’s

Tracking the Trucks: Coca-Cola 250 powered by Fred’s

*In a Nutshell:* Mike Wallace took the checkered flag 0.057 seconds ahead of Ron Hornaday, Jr. to win the Coca-Cola 250 powered by Fred’s Saturday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway. Wallace held onto the top spot during a two-lap sprint to the finish despite a hard-charging James Buescher and Ricky Carmichael to score his first Truck Series victory since 2000 (he’s made 43 series starts since that victory). Buescher, Carmichael and Jason White rounded out the top 5.

*Who Should Have Won:* Mike Wallace. Throughout the race, the two-truck tandem of Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Kevin Harvick, Inc. teammate Mike Wallace was clearly the pair to beat as they pulled out to as much as an eight-second lead over the rest of the pack. And though the two did swap and allow Hornaday to lead a few laps, the tandem worked better with Wallace’s No. 33 Chevrolet out front. Wallace led for 54 of 94 laps en route to his fifth career victory.

*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*

*1. Did NASCAR make the right call with Austin Dillon?*

After working together for several laps, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch expected to restart from the sixth and final caution on the second row with just a handful of laps remaining and a real shot to best the Mike Wallace / Ron Hornaday, Jr. duo that had been unstoppable all afternoon. But it wasn’t meant to be. While trying to save fuel, Dillon lost a few positions on the track and though he moved back up through the field before reaching the start / finish line, he was penalized for the lack of speed.

NASCAR’s ruling came when they determined he did not maintain a reasonable speed–typically the speed of the pace car–under caution, a rule they reiterated during the drivers’ meeting earlier in the day. As a result, Dillon was dropped to 17th in the running order. And while he was able to gain quite a bit of ground and finish seventh, the points leader wasn’t too happy with NASCAR’s call.

Austin Dillon might have disagreed with NASCAR’s call, but the point leader had to serve a penalty at ‘Dega for not maintaining pace car speed under caution.

“They (Crew Chief Danny Stockman) said we were seven laps to the good but I was being conservative, saving it, shutting it off and releasing the clutch,” Dillon said after the race ended. “And when I released the clutch is never came back to me. It shut off on me and I got all my positions back before I got to the start / finish line. I know if you don’t maintain position, they take you back spots, but if anything, I [should have] lost five or six positions.”

But did the sanctioning body actually make the correct call?

There’s no question that Dillon was unable to maintain his speed as he was clearly passed by several trucks before getting his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet re-fired and moving back up to where he expected the restart. But because he did slow significantly on the track, NASCAR clearly made the right call in a case where a precedent has previously been set.

Just ask Marcos Ambrose, who found himself on the receiving end of a similar penalty last June in the closing laps of the Sprint Cup race at Infineon Raceway. After shutting off his motor and coming to a complete stop, Ambrose was penalized for not maintaining a reasonable speed and ultimately cost himself the win.

But Dillon feels like his incident was different than that of Ambrose.

“Marcos Ambrose’s deal–he came to a stop at Sonoma [last year]. They’ve got to clarify it better because I was still rolling. I was maintaining speed if you ask some people.”

Regardless of what the points leader thinks about NASCAR’s call, the reality is that they made the correct decision. While Dillon was clearly unhappy about the call, he still managed to salvage a solid seventh-place finish and hold onto his points lead–and that’s something anyone should be happy about leaving a track like Talladega.

*2. Why do veterans find themselves forced to search for a ride? *

It’s happened time and time again. There comes a point in a driver’s career where he finds himself on the outside looking in, hoping to find a home to fuel the passion for racing that lives inside them. Saturday afternoon’s winner Mike Wallace, Ted Musgrave, Rick Crawford and Terry Cook are just a few that have fallen off of the radar in recent years.

Then, Johnny Benson became the victim of sponsorship woes. After being released from Red Horse Racing, Benson has been unable to find anyone to put him behind the wheel of a truck despite scoring the 2008 championship. And though he made a handful of starts in 2010, no team was willing to go in head first to field a full-time ride for him.

Fast forward to 2011, and you have champions Todd Bodine and Ron Hornaday, Jr. in very serious danger of losing their spots in the Truck Series as well. Bodine already faced the music earlier this season when Germain Racing was forced to enter into a joint effort with Randy Moss Motorsports

Why is it such an issue for veteran drivers with a proven track record to find a suitable ride?

Sadly, the underlying problem lies first and foremost with the cost of racing in the series. With last place at Talladega paying a paltry $9,000, it’s nearly impossible for a team to recoup the cost of travel, lodging, tires, engines and any other expenses they encounter without major backing, even with the guaranteed starting spot a past champion can bring. And with that being said, the sponsors themselves have quit looking for experience and a proven track record, instead preferring a pretty face that’s marketable.

Until NASCAR can step up and help make competition more affordable and more financially worthwhile for teams, there are veterans and young guns alike that will ultimately find themselves on the receiving end of a pink slip and the unemployment line.

*Truck Rookie Report*
*2011 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
Joey Coulter (No. 22)
Dusty Davis (No. 15 – No longer racing due to sponsorship problems)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 1)
Chris Eggleston (No. 27)
Craig Goess (No. 46 – Left team due to performance issues)
Justin Johnson (No. 51 – No longer racing due to sponsorship problems)
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:* 14 (add Grant Enfinger, Josh Richards, Dakoda Armstrong, Blake Feese, Patrick Sheltra, B.J. McLeod, and Jamie Dick)

*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 0

*Rookie Of The Race:* Grant Enfinger, finished 12th _(Author’s Note: Because Grant Enfinger did not commit to running for the Rookie of the Year award, the official rookie of the race is awarded to Cole Whitt, finished 14th)_

*Points Shuffle:*

Austin Dillon maintains the top spot and holds a slim three-point lead over James Buescher, who moved up a spot after a solid third-place finish. Johnny Sauter dropped a spot and trails Dillon by 14 points while Ron Hornaday, Jr. sits just two points behind Sauter in fourth. Timothy Peters rounds out the top 5, 42 points off the lead and pretty much out of the battle barring a major disaster for the top 4.

Todd Bodine and Cole Whitt each moved up a spot to sixth and seventh, respectively, thanks to the misfortune of Matt Crafton, who finished a disappointing 31st and slipped to eighth. Rookies Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman round out the top 10.

*Quotable:*

“It’s been so long since I won a race. Nobody knows what it means to me–it’s monumental. I’m very emotional right now because a lot of people doubt you. They doubt your ability. An opportunity like this proves, ‘Hey, I can get it done. Give me something good to drive, and I can prove I can do it.’ I’m numb. My son’s at home, my daughters … I wish they were all here. It is my wife’s [Carla] and my anniversary this weekend. It’s a cool anniversary.” _Mike Wallace_

“What a veteran Mike Wallace is. I had him sideways, I had him down in the infield. He gathered it up every time. Unbelievable. That was a lot of fun. That was the most hectic fun I’ve ever had at Talladega. It was pretty cool.” _Runner-Up Ron Hornaday, Jr._

“I don’t know that I’ve ever had as much fun in Victory Lane. To see the emotion and excitement from Mike, that is one of the most rewarding things you can ever ask for as a person. It was a lot of fun.” _Winning Team Owner Kevin Harvick_

“That was a lot of fun today and the GEICO team did a great job of keeping me up front. I’m very happy I was able to keep the No. 9 GEICO Tundra up front all day. It was hard to be here today knowing that many of my friends were in St. Petersburg (Florida) for the funeral of Dan Wheldon. But I know if Dan could talk to me he would tell me to get my butt in the truck and go race. I hope I made him proud today.” _Max Papis, finished tenth_

*Up Next:*
The Camping World Truck Series heads to Martinsville Speedway next weekend for the Kroger 200. Last season, Ron Hornaday, Jr. beat out Todd Bodine on a green-white-checkered finish to score his first career victory at the 0.566-mile oval. Coverage begins at 2:00 PM EDT on SPEED; the race can also be heard on your “local MRN affiliate.”:http://www.racingone.com/stations.aspx

“Contact Beth Lunkenheimer”:http://www.frontstretch.com/contact/14353/

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