Hensley rode the roller coaster in 1999 By Marty Smith
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., (Dec. 6, 1999) When the 1999 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season began, there was every reason to believe that Jimmy Hensley would be a championship contender. The Dodge by Petty team had jelled nicely in the latter stages of '98, and he was a proven winner at all levels of NASCAR racing.
However, what began as a season full of promise ended on a sour note when team owner Richard Petty released Hensley before the end of the year. It has put a remarkable career on hold in the upper levels of NASCAR. Hensley is the sole driver who is close to achieving the marks of 100 starts and at least $1 million in winnings in NASCAR's three top series -- the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
"This Dodge By Petty team really had an up-and-down year in 1999," Hensley said of his fortunes. "We had a lot of positives, including winning a race at my home track in Martinsville, Va., finishing with more top-10s than we had the year before and running competitively pretty much every week."
Hensley began the year extremely well, posting six top-10 finishes in the first 10 races, including the sentimental victory at Martinsville, which is just 10 miles from his hometown of Ridgeway, Va. In all, he notched seven top-5s and 14 top-10s. For many, that would be an acceptable -- even exemplary -- year, but with the expectations being so high, it just wasn't good enough for the No. 43 team.
"We ended up tenth in the points race -- that is mine and the team's third straight year to finish the season in the top-10," Hensley said. "Unfortunately, we were expecting a little bit more this season.
"After Fred (Wanke) came on as crew chief in June of 1998, the team seemed to click all at once. We honestly expected to contend for a championship this season, but we just had a few too many mechanical failures along the way. And it's not like we were running bad when we had the failures -- for the most part we were up in the top-10 each time."
The No. 43 team did suffer from inconsistency. Six times they finished outside the top-20, all but equalizing the seven top-5s and thus limiting Hensley's chance to ascend on the points chart.
"Our series is so competitive that you need to be running at the end of pretty much every race to be able to contend for the championship," Hensley said. "Overall, 1999 was a success for the Dodge camp in general. We had two teams in the championship hunt late in the season and we had more poles and victories than Dodge has ever had in the truck series. I've been in this series with Dodge since 1996 and we've certainly made some great strides in that time."
Hensley's prospects for 2000 have not yet been finalized, but according to his spokesperson, he's looking at all available opportunities. He has tested in Phelon Motorsports' Ford truck. That team has yet to make its final decision on a driver for 2000.