The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will officially launch the first of 25 tail gate parties this Friday, February 18th at the Daytona International Raceway, with the running of the Next Era Energy Resources 250. It appears that NASCAR's truck drivers are going to be in for a highly competitive season based on a mix of returning veterans, hopeful new comers and some new driver-team owner configurations.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
One of those major changes in team configuration involves Germain Brothers Racing, the series' defending champions. The Germains will be kicking off the 2011 racing season Friday night with four truck teams.
First, and foremost, is their #30 Toyota Tundra driven by defending series champion Todd Bodine who has already served notice that he will be seeking his second consecutive, and third overall, title. Bodine will have a very busy Daytona weekend doing triple duty. He's entered in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup races. Tire Kingdom will be the primary sponsor for all three events.
After a 2010 season of part time runs in trucks and Sprint Cup, Max Papis will be running the full truck series schedule this year driving the #9 Germain Toyota with GEICO Insurance on the hood.
New to Germain Racing this year will be their #77 Toyota with Justin Lofton behind the wheel who is considered by many to be one of the up and coming young talents with a very bright future. Lofton Cattle, the driver's family owned business, will be the team's primary sponsor.
Making his return to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be Brendan Gaughan. The eight time series race winner will be driving the Germain Brothers' #62 Toyota Tundra. He's also sponsored by a long time family owned business: the Las Vegas based South Point Hotel and Casino. Gaughan has a guaranteed start in the Daytona season opener, as well as the first five races of the season, due to his team recently acquiring the owner's points from the #6 team operated last year by Rick Ware Racing.
There has also been some highly significant changes at KHI, Kevin Harvick Inc, for the 2011 truck season. Former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Elliott Sadler will be making his official debut Friday night as a new KHI full time driver. Sadler will be behind the wheel of the #2 One Main Financial Chevrolet at Daytona for the first of a series of truck racing appearances. Sadler will be driving a KHI Chevrolet full time in the Nationwide Series and, because of that arrangement, he is ineligible to collect championship points in the truck series. That's due to a recent change in NASCAR policy that states a driver has to choose only one series championship to compete for. However, Sadler's appearances in the KHI truck can be used to help them win the coveted owner's championship.
Also new from KHI is their #8 Chevrolet that will be driven by Nelson Piquet Jr with sponsorship from Qualcom. The 25 year old Brazilian raised more than a few eyebrows with his NASCAR debut last season and will be a driver to watch this year.
His truck will convey a special decal at Daytona commemorating the victims of last month's devastating flooding in Rio De Janerio.
Piquet also hopes to get a leg up on the series' Rookie of the Year title with guaranteed starts in the first five races. KHI has transferred the owner's points from their signature team, the #33 driven by Ron Hornaday Jr, to Piquet's #8. Hornaday, a four time series champion, has past champion's provisionals to fall back on in case he has trouble qualifying for a race. Needless to say, no one expects that to happen.
One of the major team changes for the new season involves Randy Moss Motorsports. While International Truck and Monaco RV returns as the team sponsors, long time driver, and former series champion, Mike Skinner will not be there. He has been replaced by Travis Kvapil, another former series champion, who will have a very busy year racing the full time schedules in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup Series. This driver change was a move that surprised a lot of series observers.
Speculation that said this change was coming began just prior to last Christmas and was officially announced during the final days of last month. That didn't leave Skinner a lot of time to put a new ride together. But the good news here is the fact that Skinner was able to make an eleventh hour deal with Eddie Sharp Racing to drive a second team Toyota with Cushman Utility Vehicles on the hood. There is just enough sponsorship available for the team to participate at Daytona and the second event on the schedule at Phoenix. The hunt is on to see if they keep this arrangement on a full time basis.
Also a new configuration is the official debut of Vision Aviation Racing, the Las Vegas based team who recently merged with Billy Ballew Motorsports. Las Vegas drivers Justin Johnson and Dusty Davis will be the principals for the 2011 season except for Daytona. Feeling like their young drivers were not ready for the high banks of Daytona just yet, the team has placed Aric Almirola, who drove very well for Ballew last year, in their lead #51 truck with Vision Airlines as the primary sponsor.
The second truck, the #15 Toyota, is considered to be a part time, development, ride for 2011 but it will be at Daytona with NASCAR veteran Michael Waltrip behind the wheel. Raceview, Vision Airlines and the Wounded Warrior Project will be the sponsors.
Up and coming driver Jason White will be bringing his Gunbroker.com sponsorship to a new team this year owned by Joe Denette. This is the guy who won the Virginia State Lottery in 2009 and decided to invest some of his new found fortune into NASCAR team ownership.
On the subject of up and coming drivers, Joey Coulter will be making his series debut at Daytona driving a second team Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Coulter has a guaranteed start for the Daytona race. Childress recently acquired the 2010 owner's points from Brent Raymer Racing and that places his new driver within the top 25 in those standings.
Coulter has spent the last two seasons developing his skills in the ARCA Series where he scored his first series win last year. He will be having a very busy 2011. Coulter is also a full time mechanical engineering student at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus.
What would a national NASCAR series be without Kyle Busch? The "Rowdy One" will be driving his self owned Toyota in 15 truck series events this year with all of the races fully sponsored. The remaining ten events will be driven by a returning Brian Ickler with some of the sponsorship program still pending. As a full time Sprint Cup driver, Busch has opted to compete for that series' title and cannot win the truck title per NASCAR's new title. But he's definitely in the running to win his second, consecutive, truck series owner's championship.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
Friday's Next Era Energy Resources 250 is 100 laps, 250 miles, around the Daytona International Speedway's 2.5 mile tri oval.
The race has a healthy 45 entries for the 36 truck starting field. 18 of those entries are on the go or go home list. That means these teams are outside of the top 25 in owner's points and do not have a guaranteed start in the race. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.
The defending race champion is Timothy Peters.
The Next Era Resources 250 will be broadcast live by the SPEED Channel with the pre race show beginning at 7 pm eastern time.