Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: 2011 Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix

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In a Nutshell: Was this a Nationwide Series race? Because the Cup regulars certainly dominated like it was one. After leading the first 43 laps, polesitter Clint Bowyer lost the lead to Kyle Busch during yellow-flag pit stops… who never lost it after that. Busch weathered a rash of late-race cautions (five in the last 40 laps) to score his first win of the Truck Series season, his 25th in Truck competition. Bowyer, Kevin Harvick Incorporated teammate Ron Hornaday, Johnny Sauter and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five, as eight Chevrolets finished in the top 10.

Who Should Have Won: Kyle Busch. The man led 107 laps and was never seriously challenged after inheriting the lead during pit stops for the race’s first caution. Like it or not, the Dollar General Toyota was on a rail this Friday night.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Lucas Oil 150

1) Is it already too late for Travis Kvapil?

After spending the 2010 season with Front Row Motorsports in the Cup ranks, racing for 25th on a good weekend, the 2003 Truck Series champion jumped at the chance to declare for a Trucks title run with Randy Moss Motorsports. Toyota trucks and a driver that’s already returned to Trucks successfully before (he won four races and finished third in points for Roush Racing after PPI Motorsports folded in 2007) seemed to be a stout combination on paper, but the 2011 season has been an utter disaster for both Travis Kvapil and the No. 5 team.

After being involved in a massive crash at Daytona thanks to a cut tire, Wisconsin native Kvapil found Friday night was more of the same. Contact with Ricky Carmichael on lap 58 sent Kvapil spinning in turn 2 (Nelson Piquet Jr. also made contact with his Tundra earlier in the event). It wasn’t over there; Kvapil’s already damaged truck cut down a tire on lap 101 and tried its darnedest to knock down the turn 3 wall.

The truck entirely demolished, Kvapil finished dead last in the field, extending a stretch that has seen the former Series regular without a top-10 finish in Truck competition since Homestead back in 2008.

Mired in 29th in the standings, the lowest ranked of all Truck drivers to have started both races this year, Darlington may already prove to be a make-or-break race for the No. 5 team.

2) Is Germain Racing Even No. 2 in the Truck Garage?

Todd Bodine is the defending Truck Series champion and has provided stout competition for Hornaday and the strong horses continually being fielded by KHI the past few seasons. And heading into 2011, on the strength of three new teammates in Max Papis, seasoned by a rough-and-tumble stint in Cup racing, 2009 ARCA champion Justin Lofton and Brendan Gaughan (who came within a few laps of winning the 2003 Truck championship), this was the year that Germain was to take the top spot alongside KHI as a multi-truck powerhouse.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: Max Papis on Rolex, 2011 Truck Series Transition

It hasn’t quite worked out that way thus far. Two races into the season, none of Germain’s four trucks have cracked the top 10 even once, with only Papis in the top 10 in points. And while the addition of these teams have provided much needed stability in the form of sponsorship (a seemingly never-ending struggle for Bodine and the organization’s flagship No. 30 truck), one can’t help but wonder if growing from one to four trucks over the course of one offseason may have been too much, too fast.

Sure, a great deal of the current points debacle can be attributed to three of the team’s four trucks getting torn to pieces in the Big One last weekend at Daytona, but look at Friday night; only Bodine ever cracked the top 10 the entire evening. Meanwhile, ThorSport’s two teams have every bit the look of title contenders, with Matt Crafton leading the points and Sauter right in the thick of that chase in fourth.

It is early. But while Papis may still be learning stock car racing, the same can’t be said for Gaughan and Lofton. Bodine has proven time and time again that Germain Racing has the equipment to win and win often. That magic has yet to show in a four-truck garage.

3) How Long Will the 40-plus Truck Fields Continue?

The good news; the Truck Series field has been very healthy, averaging 43-44 trucks a weekend two races in (in contrast, the Trucks only had 40-plus entries for five of 25 races in 2010). The problem? The same trucks are missing races. A number of regulars from 2010, including Brent Raymer and Tayler Malsam, have missed both races thus far this year, alongside Rick Crawford and rookie Chris Eggleston.

Forget the owner points hole trying to climb back into a locked-in spot in the field… how long can these teams go without any race winnings entering the bank account? Keep a close eye on the entry lists over the next month.

Truck Rookie Report
2011 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Joey Coulter (No. 22)
Dusty Davis (No. 15)
Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 1)
Chris Eggleston (No. 27)
Craig Goess (No. 46)
Justin Johnson (No. 51)
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: 11
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 3; Cole Whitt, finished sixth; Justin Johnson, finished eighth; Joey Coulter, finished ninth
Rookie of the Race: Whitt

Rookie Quotes

“Points are points. If you run well, points take care of themselves. With this new points system, it’s going to be tight. One bad day, you can drop eight spots. A good day, you can gain eight spots. We’re in a good position because we’ve stayed smart in the these first two races. We’re definitely good enough to run with those veterans, those guys that have the Truck Series what it is today.” – Cole Whitt, who finished a career-best sixth on Friday

Points Shuffle

Back-to-back top-10 finishes to start the 2011 demonstrate exactly the type of consistency that has kept Crafton a fixture at the top of the Truck Series, and also have the No. 88 driver leading the points two weeks into the year. Crafton finished seventh on Friday night, taking the points lead away from Clay Rogers by a single marker (who held onto second on the legs of a solid, lead-lap finish of 16th).

Rookie Whitt continues to show promise, with a top-10 finish propelling him to third in points. Crafton’s Thorsport teammate Sauter and Timothy Peters round out the top five in the standings.

Quotable

“We had a really good truck, but I was scared there at the beginning. I was like, ‘man, it’s going to come down like last fall… Clint’s [Bowyer] going to walk the dog on this one.’ But Eric [Phillips, No. 18 crew chief] made some changes to this thing that really brought it to life.” – race winner Kyle Busch, who on Friday reached 25 career truck wins faster than any driver in series’ history

“We had a decent truck all night long. Our GearWrench Tundra was a little snug, but they got me right in the pits. Those guys do a great job in the pits. I just put us in a bad position. The hole was open and I went down, and it closed up pretty quick and we spun out. It’s not what we wanted, but we had a good truck and we finished 12th, in one piece. We’ll go to Darlington and maybe make up for it there. As far as I’m concerned, I got my worst track out of the way until we get to Loudon.” – Timothy Peters, finished 12th

“It has been a huge learning experience over the first two races of the season. I shoulder the blame for the problems we have had over these past two races with [Mike] Skinner and I know that we are better than what we have shown over the past two weeks. I truly appreciate everyone’s support in our first season in the Camping World Truck Series and our team is working hard and learning from our mistakes.” – team owner Eddie Sharp, whose two trucks (Craig Goess, No. 46; Skinner, No. 45) currently sit 18th and 35th in owner points

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series heads next to the Darlington Raceway on Saturday, March 12 for the Too Tough To Tame 200. As one would expect at Darlington, experience trumped youth the last time the series visited in August, with eventual-champion Bodine scoring the win over polesitter Peters. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on SPEED.

About the author

Richmond, Virginia native. Wake Forest University class of 2008. Affiliated with Frontstretch since 2008, as of today the site's first dirt racing commentator. Emphasis on commentary. Big race fan, bigger First Amendment advocate.

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