A tail gate party at Daytona

Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' season opener, the Next Era Energy Resources 250, will be 100 laps/250 miles around Daytona's 2.5 mile tri oval.

A tail gate party at Daytona
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For the first time in 2014 I'm going to tell you how much I love the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. That love affair began back in the summer of 1994 when I attended a series exhibition race at the former Saugus Speedway, in Santa Clarita-CA. The 25 lap event was being used by NASCAR officials as a measuring device to determine fan interest. Every fan in the grandstands, and those of us watching from the pit area, left the race track that night very excited.

This Friday night NASCAR's version of a tail gate party, will officially open the 2014 season at the high banked Daytona International Raceway. The trucks are part of the big Speed Weeks weekend that will feature all three of NASCAR's national touring series. Don't be too surprised if the trucks, running the Next Era Energy Resources 250, is the most exciting of the trio of events this weekend. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened.

Hot looking new trucks

First and foremost is the fact that the fans will witness the new manufacturer designs of these racing trucks which will make their official debut at Daytona on Friday night. All three manufacturers worked closely with NASCAR to create a retro look to the truck bodies that greatly resembles the same models of pick ups that you see on the highways, and in the driveways, all over the country. This eye popping design is going to lend a great deal of extended credence to that old racing/retail slogan: "win on Sunday, sell on Monday."

The new designs were officially unveiled on Wednesday, at the Daytona Fan Zone, according to a NASCAR press release which further stated:

"Extensive research and testing went into the development of the new bodies, with the goal of continued close competition while allowing specific features from each model. The new trucks have a unique design that will make it easier for fans to recognize their favorite model.

“The truck has a new look that fans can relate to with their own truck at home,” said Chad Little, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series managing director. “The competitors have been happy with the new trucks in testing in January and we expect to continue to have some of the best racing in NASCAR for our fans at Daytona.”

Some sweet redemption for Jeb Burton

The fact that driver Jeb Burton is even entered into this race at all is indeed a matter of sweet redemption. During the recently completed off season Burton, the son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton and nephew of current Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton, was all set for a full time season in the truck series with Turner Scott Motorsports.

Jeb Burton
Jeb Burton

Photo by: Getty Images

That deal was supposed to be fully sponsored by Arrowhead, a corporation that manufactures and retails electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs as they're often called these days. However, in late January Turner Scott Motorsports announced that Arrowhead had failed to deliver on its first, and very crucial, sponsorship payment. The entire program unraveled and Jeb Burton found himself looking for a ride with the season opener at Daytona only a few weeks away.

Fortunately, the immense talent of this young driver simply could not be ignored and that prompted a telephone call from team owner from ThorSport Racing who fields trucks for drivers Johnny Sauter and reigning series champion Matt Crafton. ThorSport announced that Burton was going to drive their #13 Toyota Tundra at Daytona with hopes of finding additional sponsorship for even more races in 2014.

Then, last Tuesday, came word that a sponsor had been found for Jeb Burton from Vaper Brands International Inc. In a full circle case of redemption, and possible even poetic justice, it turns out that this new sponsor is the manufacturer and retailer of VAMP which is-you guessed it-an e-cig.

Some possible redemption for Ron Hornaday Jr.

Series veteran and icon Ron Hornaday Jr may be getting lined up with some well deserved redemption as well. The four time series champion, with a chart topping 51 wins, spent nearly all of last year driving for team owner Joe Denette. Following a merger, the team eventually morphed into NTS Motorsports.

Ron Hornaday Jr., Wisk Laundry Detergant Silverado
Ron Hornaday Jr., Wisk Laundry Detergant Silverado

Photo by: Ted Rossino

However, prior to the November 8th series' race at Phoenix last year, Hornaday was informed that he would not be in the driver's seat for the season ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway nor would he be returning to the team for the 2014 season. Okay whether you're a driver, crew chief or crew member, sometimes being replaced is a tough situation that often happens. The very same procedure is frequently employed in all of the other major sports as well.

However, Hornaday's situation came with an unusual set of circumstances. It was reported last November that the driver was informed that he was out of the ride approximately ten minutes before it was time for him to get inside of the truck to race. It was viewed by many as being a very inappropriate time and way to handle a delicate personnel situation. Hornaday, being the class act that he is, shook hands with management and then climbed inside of the truck to do his job.

Hornaday was immediately offered a ride by Turner Scott Motorsports for the season finale in Miami where the delivered a top five finish for the team. In recent days it was announced that Hornaday will return to drive TSM's #30 Chevrolet at Daytona this Friday night with sponsorship from Rheem Comfort Products. Team co-owner Steve Turner said he's working diligently to find a way to put a full time deal together for Hornaday to remain with the team.

Even at age 55, Ron Hornaday Jr is far from done with his racing career. He still has that fire that makes him want to drive a little faster down a straightaway and a little deeper into the turns. He's still a master of restart procedures.

If a season long deal can be worked out at TSM, Hornaday will also be an excellent mentor for the team's two young gun drivers: Ben Kennedy and Ryan Truex.

That point was clearly presented at the conclusion of the series' first practice session on Wednesday when young Ben Kennedy topped the speed charts with a lap of 193.806 MPH with Hornaday right behind him following a hot lap that clocked in at 192.291.

Some great news for JJC

During the off season, series veteran Jennifer Jo Cobb was seriously concerned about sponsorship money for the upcoming new season. The situation reached the point where the popular driver was beginning to wonder if she was going to be able to run the entire season's race schedule.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. On February 13th Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing issued the following press release regarding a new, and impressive, sponsor line up:

"Jennifer Jo Cobb is proud to be participating with the Used Truck Association, Wreaths Across America and Fans4Truckers to honor Arlington Cemetery's 150th Anniversary with a "Remember Them All" kickoff. Fans can visit www.uta.org/driven2honor and join Cobb in a fundraiser group to the public and sponsor a remembrance wreath for a fallen soldier at Arlington on "Wreaths Across America Day" this December 13th 2014. The campaign goal is to fund enough remembrance wreaths to be placed on all of the over 240,000 fallen veterans buried at Arlington."

" JJCR will also have co-primary sponsorship from Tyler, Texas-based Grimes Irrigation & Construction, Inc. With a surge of new sponsorship and returning support from Koma Unwind, Arrow Truck Sales, Horejsi Graphics and Waldo's Paint Supply Co., the team is slated to compete in all 22 race events on the schedule. Crew Chief, Steve Kuykendall will lead the team." You go girl!

Dave Grayson

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