*In a Nutshell:* Denny Hamlin passed Austin Dillon and Ron Hornaday, Jr. late to take the checkered flag by 1.210 seconds over Hornaday on Saturday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway. Dillon, Johnny Sauter, and Joey Coulter rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* *Denny Hamlin.* Driving the powerhouse No. 18 for Kyle Busch Motorsports at a track where he has dominated in the Cup Series, Hamlin led twice for 68 laps, more than any other driver. Hamlin was masterful on the final restart, when it looked as if the battle was going to come down to Hornaday and Dillon. Instead, both rivals in front of him got a slow start and Hamlin was able to capitalize, diving to the inside to pass the title contenders. The Virginia native then drove away to take the checkers for his first CWTS win; he becomes the 23rd driver to post wins across all three national touring series.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. Can Ron Hornaday, Jr. win his fifth title this year?*
Hornaday has been slowly chipping away at Austin Dillon’s point lead in recent weeks, and cut the margin by a single point at Martinsville to move within 15 markers with two races to go in the season. That’s by no means insurmountable in two races, especially for Hornaday, who won at Texas earlier this year and has a total of three wins at Texas and one at Homestead. Hornaday certainly knows how to find Victory Lane at those tracks, and that is what it will take for the 53-year-old California native to win a record fifth championship.
But it won’t be easy. Hornaday has three fierce rivals to overcome: Dillon, who has a pair of wins this year himself; James Buescher, who has been incredibly consistent with 19 top 10’s in 22 races and is four points ahead of Hornaday in the standings; and Johnny Sauter, who has as many points as Hornaday as well as two wins to Hornaday’s four. Hornaday will need to use every trick he can muster to beat them down to the wire. But if anyone can do just that, it’s this veteran.
If the past means anything, Hornaday has a definite edge at both Texas and Homestead. For one thing, he’s the only driver among the three to have a win at either track. At Texas, he’s the most recent winner, and Buescher was the only other driver to finish inside the top 20 the last time around. Dillon does have a top 5 in his two Texas starts, and Sauter has a pair, but Hornaday clearly has the best numbers there, even if you only consider the last couple of years.
Hornaday’s experience also gives him an edge at Homestead. He’s got a win, but his most outstanding number is his 10 top 10’s in 11 starts. In other words, he’s going to be there at the end. Dillon has only one start at Homestead, and it wasn’t pretty; the young driver finished 31st to close out his rookie campaign. Sauter has a couple of top 10s in four races, and Buescher has run at Homestead three times without a top 10 to his credit — his best finish in those three races is 18th.
There’s no doubt Hornaday has a hard road ahead if he’s to take home the big trophy again. But if any driver can go out and win the last two races of the year, he’s the safe bet to do it. It’s by no means over.
*2. What’s up with the 2012 Schedule?*
With just two races left in 2011, the 2012 schedule has yet to be finalized. That is of concern to race teams, who begin preparations for each season before the previous one is even over.
But the real concern is the length of the schedule. The Truck Series has run just 25 races in recent years, ten fewer than Nationwide and 11 fewer than Sprint Cup. That makes for an awkward schedule for the trucks as all three series begin the year in Daytona and end in Homestead. Even with the addition of Rockingham for 2012, the loss of two races at Nashville and the race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park could leave the series with just 23 races next year unless something is finalized with other tracks in the coming days.
NASCAR has said that they would like to release the final version in the next ten days to two weeks. In order for that to happen with a 25-race schedule, tracks and sponsors would need to finalize their deals with NASCAR before the series rolls to Texas — and that doesn’t bode well.
The slightly shorter schedule the trucks run hasn’t been too bad in the past. It’s less of a financial burden to teams than the Nationwide or Cup Series, certainly. The problem has been that the off weeks have come in large clusters to accommodate the other series’ schedules, and that’s tough — not only do teams lose momentum they gain prior to the numerous off-weeks, but so do fans. It’s hard to get excited about a racing series that goes like gangbusters for a month, and then has a month off. That makes it easy for the fans to lose track of the days and forget about a race or two. Then, just when they get back into it, another two weeks off fall on the schedule.
With what’s looking like a 23-race season for 2012, it’s going to be even harder for teams or fans to find their stride. While it’s encouraging that NASCAR is holding out for more — if they weren’t, they could have released the calendar with the Nationwide Series a couple of weeks ago — it’s hard to foresee more than one eleventh-hour deal falling into place.
*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:* 11 (add Josh Richards, Jeff Agnew, Grant Enfinger and debuting drivers Tyler Tanner and T.J. Duke)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 1; Joey Coulter, finished fifth
*Rookie Of The Race:* Joey Coulter.
Rookie of the Race *Joey Coulter* did not lead a lap at Martinsville, but stayed out of trouble and avoided controversy to score his fourth top-5 finish of 2011.
“This is the greatest race I’ve ever run. Goodyear brought a great tire that let us run two-wide whenever we wanted to. We’ve hit a lull lately and this is going to give us great momentum heading into the last two races of the season.” _Joey Coulter_
“Wow, it seemed like if someone had a shot out there, they took it. I spent most of the day trying not to get in trouble. We had a little trouble early, but once we got back in a position to race at the end of the day we went for it. I hit the curb trying to pass Bodine and it cost us two or three spots. I’m just still learning what a truck wants. It is harder to get through the corners than a Late Model and once you get hit a few times, it doesn’t know what it wants. It just drives a lot sloppier than a Late Model. It kind of wallows around.” _Jeff Agnew, finished 14th_
*Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:*
In a season that’s been filled with start-and-park drivers, it’s important to note that there was just one such driver in Saturday’s Martinsville field. Mike Garvey — citing brake failure — made it just eight laps into the race before retiring his No. 93 Chevrolet.
The points battle got tighter, as Ron Hornaday, Jr. closed to within 15 markers of leader Austin Dillon on Saturday, but Dillon was able to extend his points lead over second-place James Buescher to 11. Hornaday in third and Johnny Sauter in fourth are locked in a virtual tie, with Hornaday’s four wins giving him the edge. Timothy Peters remains in fifth, 48 points behind Dillon.
Todd Bodine held onto sixth after a controversial race for the 2009 champ. Both Matt Crafton and Joey Coulter gained spots, moving up to seventh and eighth as Cole Whitt’s terrible Martinsville race dropped him two spots to ninth. Parker Kligerman hangs on in tenth headed to Texas, but Brendan Gaughan is just seven markers behind him and within striking distance of a top-10 points finish for the year.
“There’s such a great group of drivers that have won in all three series and to be in that group means a lot to me. I told all these guys that this would mean a lot to win a truck race. You never know what kind of momentum that builds for Sunday.” _Race winner Denny Hamlin_
“The stuff on the race track you can deal with and you can lay it off that it’s Martinsville and that’s racing and that’s part of the game. When you’re driving down pit road and the guy keeps running in the side of you – you keep turning away from him trying not to run into each other and eventually you’re going to hit a pit crew – that’s ridiculous. I had to let off and hit the brakes. I don’t know whose crew it was out there changing tires, but I was going to run into them since he (Max Papis) had me so low on pit road. That’s the part that I have a problem with. Endangering those guys – it’s dangerous enough on pit road and we don’t need idiots pulling stunts like that. It snowballed from there. After I pulled behind him, he brake-checked me and I ran into him. He got me again on the race track and ran into me and then off of (turn) two, he got loose, I got under him and tried to get off him, couldn’t get off him because he kept slowing down because his rear tires were off the ground. Finally, I just dumped him around because at that point there’s no saving it. I’m going to get run into. Some of that stuff is Martinsville – some of that stuff is his stupidity and lack of experience racing at Martinsville. We’ve all done those things – I’ve done those things and I’m not proud of those things. It is part of the learning process and you have to go through it. Unfortunately, we had a great Tundra. We were fast. We had a top-5 truck and we thought we had the best truck we ever had at Martinsville. For awhile there, we got to show it and I was running good. We were biding our time and just trying to keep the wheels on it. We got out of sync on the pit stops and that messed us up. That’s why we went down pit road with Max. From there, it was everybody hitting everybody.” _Todd Bodine, finished eleventh_
“We had just a great run and Todd (Bodine) just ruined it. It was going to be my best ever race so far in my career. It is not what you are expecting from a friend – I don’t treat my friends like that or my teammate like that. It’s just disappointing. I was not expecting that and we deserve better. When things like this happen, I guess it ruins team spirit.” _Max Papis, finished 18th_
“I guess he (Brendan Gaughan) just wants me to pull over for him. The 32 (Blake Feese) was wounded on the bottom and he committed high and I’m going to go up under him. He ran me down and I wasn’t going to give. If he’s mad, then I guess we won’t be doing any appearances together anytime soon. I’m out here to race hard for my sponsors – this is my livelihood. We’ll go on to Texas.” _Timothy Peters, finished eighth_
“Him (Timothy Peters) and I have had a lot of problems for a lot of years and I’ve never quite got him back and he just added another notch to it. When it does come back, it might hurt a little bit. I would like to handle it like a man, but I think he would be too afraid. We’ll have to do it the other way. Our Toyota – I haven’t seen the loop scoring data in quite a while, but I believe our Tundra has passed more vehicles this year than probably anybody. We started 28th today and I would like to know if anybody picked up more than 19 positions. I hate qualifying at Martinsville and if I can ever just start up front at Martinsville – I think I would have just a normal day. But I can’t. I always mess up qualifying and it’s on me. I have to figure out how to qualify better here. Our Tundra went to the front. We got up there. We never got to the lead this time, but we got to the top-10. We got to the top 5. We were strong and in the end, we just had older tires so we were just trying to keep that solid top-10 spot and we ended up coming home ninth.” _Brendan Gaughan, finished ninth_
The Camping World Truck Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next week for the WinStar World Casino 350K on Friday, November 4th. Earlier this season, Ron Hornaday, Jr. beat out Parker Kilgerman for his 48th career win. Coverage begins at 8 PM EDT on SPEED.
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