Off-week notes 2009-03-16

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes Skinner Looking Like Title Contender With New Team Following an up-and-down 2008 season, 2009 is quite a different picture for veteran driver Mike Skinner (No. 5 EXIDE Batteries Toyota). The...

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series News And Notes

Skinner Looking Like Title Contender With New Team

Following an up-and-down 2008 season, 2009 is quite a different picture for veteran driver Mike Skinner (No. 5 EXIDE Batteries Toyota). The 1995 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, who up until late January wasn't even sure if he was going to have a ride this season, finds himself sitting third in points with the support of his new Randy Moss Motorsports team.

Before the team could even start the season, a lot had to be done in a small period of time including a switch to Toyota.

"My team found out I was going to drive for them two-and-a-half weeks before the season started," Skinner said. "They had to change manufacturers, get Daytona trucks ready and get California trucks ready in a short amount of time."

"My team did a fantastic job of getting everything done and giving me a fast, competitive truck to drive in the first three races of this season. It says a lot about Eric (Phillips, crew chief), David (Dollar, co-owner), Randy (Moss, co-owner) and all of these guys. I couldn't be more excited. You can get up in the morning and dread going to the race track or you can get up and be excited to go to the race track. I'm definitely excited to head to the race track each week."

Phillips shares the same excitement as his driver.

"I'm definitely excited about the way that we have started the season," he said. "To run consistently in the top five, top 10 each week when we are still trying to keep our heads above water, because of the switch to Toyota, is a great testament to the people that we have at RMM. You have to have strong people to be able to pull off the switch that we have, so I'm very proud to be working with these guys."

At this stage last year, Skinner was in seventh before a 29th-place finish at Martinsville relegated him to 14th in the standings. It took three races for him to return to the top 10. The highest he reached in points was fourth before finishing the season sixth in the standings.

With a solid start to the year and a team that has quickly adjusted well to a lot of change, Skinner is in the right place to compete for a second title.

Chad McCumbee And Team Seeing Big Results

Chad McCumbee and his No. 07 SS Green Light Chevrolet team are off to a strong start this season. With a veteran team behind him, the 24-year-old is sitting fifth in points after three races.

"Its been great and I'm excited about it," said McCumbee. "These guys worked their butts off over the off-season, and they have put forth a huge effort to come out of the box this strong," he added.

While McCumbee isn't new to the top 10, the team, in its ninth year of competition in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, is experiencing their first time among the top of the standings.

With 199 consecutive starts since 2001, stability and the consistency of having one driver seems to have sparked a major turnaround for the team. "I can't say enough about where we are as a team," said crew chief and team co-owner Bobby Dotter. "The guys have done a great job both at the track and the shop and Chad brings so much to us," he added.

SS Green Light Racing finished 2008 28th in points. With McCumbee at the wheel, they've brought home a top-five finish at Auto Club and a top 10 at Atlanta. The team's previous best finishes were a fourth in the No. 08 truck driven by Dotter at Martinsville in 2002, and fifth in 2005 with Rich Bickle behind the wheel at Mansfield Motorsports Park.

Looking ahead, the team originally didn't have Martinsville on its 14-race schedule. However, with the momentum and competitiveness they've shown, everyone is working hard to find the necessary funding to get them there. "I think we have something to sell right now," said McCumbee. "This is a veteran team and these guys have really turned this program around. We just need a little more support to get to Martinsville and keep this thing going."

Dotter believes they're title contenders. "If we find a marketing partner for Martinsville (March 28th) and Dover (May 29th), we have what it takes to keep him in the hunt for the 2009 championship."

Short-Track Impact On Series Championship

Short tracks comprise less than a third of the 2009 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule but doing well in the seven races on layouts of less than a mile in length is crucial -- maybe critical -- to winning the series championship.

The first short-track race of the season will be March 28 at .526-mile Martinsville Speedway where last fall Johnny Benson (No. 1 Red Horse Racing Toyota) became the first to win at the paperclip-shaped Southern Virginia track en route to winning the series championship.

It can be argued that Benson's victory -- after the trucks of championship rival Ron Hornaday Jr. (No. 33 Camping World/VFW Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick (No. 2 Chevrolet) ran out of fuel late in the Kroger 200 -- was tantamount to handing the title to the Grand Rapids, Mich. veteran. There was a 104-point swing in Benson's favor. He ultimately deprived Hornaday of a fourth title on the final lap of the last race at Homestead-Miami Speedway by a margin of seven points.

"I would say all of our wins contributed to us winning the championship but winning at Martinsville so late in the season really gave us the extra confidence we needed," said Benson.

If more races were run on short tracks, Hornaday likely would have won a greater number of championships. He is the all-time series short- track winner with 18 victories although the Californian remains 0-for-13 at Martinsville where his best finishes are a trio of thirds.

Short-track victories certainly help the cause. Benson won twice in 2008 to Hornaday's single victory. Champions have won at least once on a short track in all but three of 14 seasons.

Consistency, however, is equally important.

In three of the past four seasons Hornaday posted the best short-track average finish en route to first, second and fourth in final points standings. Twice since collection of Scoring Loop Data began in 2005, Hornaday has been the short-track leader in Driver Rating. Ironically, his Driver Rating in his 2007 championship season was second to series runner-up Mike Skinner (No. 5 EXIDE Batteries Toyota) and last year he edged Benson in the category 115.6 to 113.9.

Since 2005, the champion's short-track Driver Rating ranked second overall three times and average finish no worse than sixth.

In The Loop: Rookie Spotlight

Though none of the series' eight Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates are in the top 10 in series points, four in particular are performing like veterans ready for that lofty position.

J.R. Fitzpatrick sits 25 points outside the top 10 in 11th. He also has some impressive Loop Data statistics. Fitzpatrick has a Driver Rating of 77.4, an Average Running Position of 16.6, eight Fastest Laps Run and has 17 Laps Led, which is tops among rookies. He is also the only rookie to score a top-five finish this year -- he finished fourth at Daytona.

Tayler Malsam is 13th in points, and has a Driver Rating of 75.7, an Average Running Position of 15.7 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 52.1%.

Though his points position might not suggest it, statistically, James Buescher has been the top rookie. He is 19th in points, but has the 12th-best Driver Rating (78.1), the 13th-best Average Running Position (15.1) and an 11th-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 62.1%.

Arguably the most impressive rookie performance -- considering the circumstances -- has come from Ricky Carmichael, who is making the transition from motocross.

Carmichael, 8th in points, has a Driver Rating of 77.5, an Average Running Position of 13.7, five Fastest Laps Run and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 65.5%.

Up Next

One more week before the action resumes. The series will make the first of two visits to Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, March 28.

Dennis Setzer (No. 8 Chevrolet) is the defending winner of the race, notching his third Martinsville victory a year ago. At least five previous Martinsville winners are expected to compete in the Kroger 250 including fellow triple winner Mike Skinner.

Fast Facts

Next Race: Kroger 250

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Sat., March 28, 2009
The Time: 2 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 250 laps / 131.5 miles
Track Layout: .526-mile oval

TV: FOX, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM.

2008 Winner: Dennis Setzer
2008 Polesitter: Jack Sprague

Schedule:
Friday -- Practice, 11-11:50 a.m.; 1:45 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday -- Qualifying, 9:10 a.m.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Rich Bickle , Mike Skinner , Johnny Benson , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jack Sprague , Dennis Setzer , Bobby Dotter , Ricky Carmichael , Chad McCumbee , J.R. Fitzpatrick , Tayler Malsam
Teams Red Horse Racing