Usually this column deals with the news and updates of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. However, with the off-season in full swing and not a lot of news to discuss, I thought I would mix things up and review the history and the 2013 season of one of the lower-tier series in NASCAR: the Camping World Truck Series.
The truck series started in 1995 with Craftsman being the series sponsor, until 2009 when Camping World took over. The truck series would be another place for young drivers trying to make it to the Cup Series to prove their mettle along with the then Busch Series.
The inaugural Craftsman Truck Series race took place at Phoenix International Raceway on Feb. 5, 1995. Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner were the first drivers to etch their names in the history book as Hornaday won the first-ever pole and Skinner won the 80-lap race. The second race took place at Tucson Raceway Park and once again Hornaday and Skinner were the two major players. This time the roles were reversed as Skinner won the pole and Hornaday won the race. In fact, Skinner and Hornaday combined to win 14 of the 20 races on the schedule, with Skinner winning eight races and Hornaday taking six. Nobody else won more than two races in 1995. Those eight wins propelled Skinner to the inaugural Craftsman Truck Series title. Skinner and Hornaday would battle head-to-head again for the 1996 title with Skinner posting nearly identical numbers in 1996 as the ones he posted in 1995. Skinner had eight wins and 17 top five finishes again and he had two more top-ten finishes and led nearly 500 laps more than he did in 1995. Despite those gaudy numbers, Skinner slipped to third in the final standings behind Hornaday, who took the title with four wins, 18 top-five finishes, and 23 top-ten finishes. In between Hornaday and Skinner was a driver by the name of Jack Sprague who would be a major factor in the truck series for the next few years.
From 1996-2001 Hornaday and Sprague won five of six titles in the truck series, with Hornaday winning two and Sprague earning three. In fact, they swapped the title for four straight years with Hornaday claiming it in 1996 and 1998 and Sprague winning it in 1997 and 1999. The Hornaday-Sprague party was interrupted by Greg Biffle in 2000. Sprague would then win the 2001 title, his third for team owner Rick Hendrick. With Sprague’s 2001 truck title, Hendrick was the champion owner for two of the top three NASCAR series that year, with Jeff Gordon winning his fourth Cup title as well. Sprague moved to the NASCAR Busch Series in 2002, with moderate success. He had one win, nine top-fives, and 15 top-ten finishes and an overall finish of 5th in the final standings. After that he returned to the truck series and earned five more wins before becoming a free agent following the conclusion of the 2008 season.
Over the next few years, drivers such as Mike Bliss, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Hamilton, Todd Bodine, Ted Musgrave, and Johnny Benson all won the truck championship. Benson’s title in 2008 was sandwiched in between two more for Hornaday, who was now driving for Kevin Harvick. Bodine won his titles in 2006 and 2010. After the run of titles for elder drivers such as Benson, Hornaday, and Bodine, a youth movement began. Twenty-one-year-old Austin Dillon won the 2011 truck title a year removed from winning the Rookie of the Year title. James Buescher won the title in 2012 at the age of 22.
In 2013, Matt Crafton won his first truck title after making his debut in 2000. Crafton wound up with one win, seven top-fives and 19 top-tens in 2013. Crafton had such a large lead heading into the season finale at Homestead-Miami, that he clinched the championship the moment his engine fired, draining most of the drama out of the race. Crafton’s first-place finish marked the seventh straight year in which Crafton finished in the top ten in points. His previous best finish was second to Hornaday in 2009.
The truck series returned to racing’s roots by running at Eldora Speedway, a tiny half-mile dirt track in Ohio last summer. Austin Dillon came from the 19th starting spot to win in his first truck race since winning the title in 2011. It was the first race on dirt for any of NASCAR’s top three series since 1970. The race was such a hit with drivers and fans alike that the trucks will return to the dirt at Eldora on July 23, 2014.
Today the truck series gives up-and-coming drivers the chance to cut their teeth on several tracks that play host to Cup races and it gives wily veterans the chance to prove that they can still get the job done on the track. With the combination of youth and veterans, the truck series is some of the best racing fans can see all year.