Well readers, here we are staring down the first race of the season tonight (Feb. 18) at the 2.5-mile superspeedway that is Daytona. If last year’s race is any indication of what to expect tonight, we’re in for another wild ride. But before the green flag flies over the field, it’s time to meet the 2011 rookie class.
Ride: No. 22 Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
Crew Chief: Harold Holly
Best CWTS Finish: N/A
Joey Coulter joins the Truck Series after two full seasons in the ARCA Racing Series. He scored 23 top-10 finishes in 41 starts during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, won at Berlin last July, and finished in the top 10 in points both years. Joining Richard Childress Racing as a teammate to last year’s Rookie of the Year, Austin Dillon, the Florida native will likely pick up some tips from Dillon while teaching a little himself.
Ride: No. 15 Vision Airlines Toyota
Team: VAR/Billy Ballew Motorsports
Crew Chief: Doug Howe
Best CWTS Finish: N/A
Following a merger between Billy Ballew Motorsports and series newcomer Vision Aviation Racing, Whelen All-American Series driver Dusty Davis joins the lineup. With a runner-up finish last season in the Whelen championship standings, the Las Vegas, Nev. native scored four wins in 19 races. The team will have Michael Waltrip behind the wheel this weekend and Davis will take over next weekend at Phoenix.
Ride: No. 1 Fuel Doctor USA Chevrolet
Team: Rick Ware Racing
Crew Chief: Joe Lax
Best CWTS Finish: 18th (Sept. 25, 2010 at Las Vegas)
Jeffrey Earnhardt returns behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. Last season, the fourth generation racer made five starts for RWR and is back this year for a full-time bid for the Rookie of the Year honors. In an effort to help Earnhardt grow as a driver, Jerry Nadeau has been hired to serve as mentor and driving coach for the young star.
Ride: No. 27 Sierra’s Race Against Meningitis Dodge
Team: Winfield Motorsports
Crew Chief: TBA
Best CWTS Finish: 11th (Mar. 27, 2010 at Martinsville)
A newcomer to the series, Winfield Motorsports brings with it Chris Eggleston. The 21-year-old made five starts in the series last year, including an 11th-place finish in his debut. Eggleston got his start behind the wheel of a quarter midget at age five. Now he’s a college student who holds a 3.96 GPA while working to get his racing career off the ground.
Ride: No. 46 Greenville Toyota of N.C. Toyota
Team: Eddie Sharp Racing
Crew Chief: Trip Bruce
Best CWTS Finish: 19th (Oct. 30, 2010 at Talladega)
Ride: No. 51 Vision Airlines Toyota
Team: VAR/Billy Ballew Motorsports
Crew Chief: Doug George
Best CWTS Finish: N/A
Justin Johnson joins Davis on the newly aligned VAR/Billy Ballew Motorsports team. Like his fellow rookie, Johnson comes from the Whelen All-American Series. Last season, the 25-year-old scored 10 wins in 19 starts on his way to winning the championship. The team has tapped Aric Almirola to race in tonight’s season opener, so Johnson will take over next week at Phoenix.
Ride: No. 29 Dodge
Team: Brad Keselowski Racing
Crew Chief: Jeff Stankiewicz
Best CWTS Finish: Ninth (Nov. 5, 2010 at Texas)
Parker Kligerman got his start in the ARCA Racing Series back in 2008 on the road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park, and immediately turned heads by starting second and finishing sixth. He went on to be crowned the 2009 ARCA Rookie of the Year with nine wins and 18 top-10 finishes in 21 starts; he missed out on the championship by just five points. Brad Keselowski Racing has said they will run at least 15 races and hopes to run the full season with the 20-year-old, should they acquire the sponsorship needed to fill in the remaining holes.
Ride: No. 20 Panhandle Grading & Paving Toyota
Team: Panhandle Motorsports
Crew Chief: Kevin “Cowboy” Starland
Best CWTS Finish: 17th (July 23, 2010 at Lucas Oil Raceway)
Johanna Long made her Truck Series debut with Billy Ballew Motorsports, where she scored a career-best finish of 17th. This year, she’s signed on to run full-time behind the wheel of her family-owned Dodge. During the offseason, she won the 43rd annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla.
Ride: No. 99 CollegeComplete.com Ford
Team: Chase Mattiolli Racing
Crew Chief: Cal Boprey
Best CWTS Finish: 30th (July 31, 2010 at Pocono)
Chase Mattioli joins the series full-time this season after making his lone 2010 start at his home track of Pocono last July. Having grown up in the mountains of Pennsylvania, the 20-year-old spent many years working at the track and racing at the Lehigh Valley Quarter Midget Track located just inside Pocono’s turn 3. He also has 21 starts from 2008 to 2010 in the ARCA Racing Series with a career-best finish of 12th. Mattioli is also a college student who has maintained a 3.2 GPA.
Ride: No. 7 Stemco/Duroline Toyota
Team: Red Horse Racing
Crew Chief: Rick Gay
Best CWTS Finish: Ninth (twice; most recently Nov. 19, 2010 at Homestead-Miami)
Miguel Paludo made his Truck Series debut last season with an impressive ninth-place finish for Red Horse Racing, and after four starts with the team, he’s back to contest the Rookie of the Year title. The Brazil native started out in go-karts at the age of 14 and by 2008 he was running in the Porsche GT3 Championship Series. In 2010, Paludo moved to North America to try his hand at NASCAR. Starting in the K&N Pro Series East that same year, he scored a career-best finish fourth in nine starts.
Nelson Piquet Jr.
Ride: No. 8 Chevrolet
Team: Kevin Harvick Inc.
Crew Chief: Chris Carrier
Best CWTS Finish: Sixth (Feb. 13, 2010 at Daytona)
Nelson Piquet Jr. comes from a racing family and began his career in South American karting before he moved on to South American F3. The Brazilian moved into Formula 1 in 2008, working with Fernando Alonso. He has 28 starts in the series with a career-best finish of second. The 25-year-old made his Truck Series debut with Red Horse Racing and scored his career-best sixth-place finish in the season opener.
Ride: No. 60 Red Bull Chevrolet
Team: Turn One Racing LLC
Crew Chief: Marcus Richmond
Best CWTS Finish: 28th (Nov. 19, 2010 at Homestead-Miami)
Cole Whitt joins the Camping World Truck Series after his first full season in NASCAR. He got his start racing BMX bikes at the young age of five and scored his first national win at age six. Fast forward to 2004, and the then 13-year-old driver became a junior athlete for Red Bull after progressing to the semifinals of the Red Bull Driver Search in Sebring, Fla. The 19-year-old spent 2010 behind the wheel in the K&N Pro Series East where he scored seven top-10 finishes in 10 races and finished fourth in points.
Ultimately, it’s seat time that each one of these drivers needs and so far each team intends to run the full campaign. If their plans work out, this could be one of the more exciting seasons with a lot of fresh talent joining the series. And should they need to stick around another season to earn more experience, the series could see its healthiest entry lists in years.
Author’s Note: For those of you that have been around for the last 10 years or more, you know that today is the anniversary of the day the NASCAR world stopped. If you’re like me, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you found out. It’s hard to believe 10 years have come and gone since that seemingly common last-lap wreck. I invite each and every one of you to pause with me and remember Dale Earnhardt. Whether you loved him or hated him, there was still that sense of respect that was shown to the man who earned his nickname.
We miss you Dale.
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