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Truck teams racing as much for cash as checkered flag

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DOVER, Del. — The green flag will fly today for the Camping World Truck Series and some teams could be further in the red by the time the checkered flag waves.

A series that debuted with four demonstration races in 1994 sees its teams battle financial challenges while facing questions about a schedule that has veered from its grassroots beginning.

Brad Keselowski understands all too well what team owners face. He said his truck operation lost $1 million in the 2014 season and says that’s still the average for his organization, which has five victories since 2015.

“It’s a money loser,’’ Keselowski told NBC Sports. “Big time.’’

If an organization lost $1 million in a season (23 races this year), that would equate to losing more than $43,000 per race on average.

Red Horse Racing, which was in its 13th season in the series, suspended operations May 22 after struggling to find sponsorship. It made that move even though Timothy Peters was fifth in the points at the time.

Kyle Busch says it costs $3.2 million a year to run a full-season Truck team at Kyle Busch Motorsports and he has to put some of his own money into the operation. Keselowski says the cost is closer to $4.5 million to run a full-season Truck team, counting reinvested purse money and manufacturer support.

It is amid those challenge that former Truck owner Kevin Harvick recently suggested on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show that the series run at more short tracks — as it did in its early years — to help NASCAR reconnect with grassroots racing fans and give the series a stronger identity.

“I think it’s something that a lot of people want to say and haven’t said, but I think it’s definitely time to look at the grassroots sides of things, and I think the Truck series is a grassroots division,’’ Harvick said last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m not saying we need to take them from Daytona or Phoenix or some of these other places, but there are some places that they don’t need to be going.’’

On his radio show, he mentioned Dover — site of today’s race — as one of those places.

“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars,’’ Harvick said. “Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.’’

Busch likes the idea.

“I would definitely enjoy that model of going back to those race tracks,’’ he said. “Now again, how you accomplish that and how you get that done, that’s for people a hell of a lot smarter than me to figure out.

“But I would certainly enjoy seeing the Truck Series go back to Tucson, or even around here, go to Motor Mile, go to some of these short tracks that you can put 10, 15, 20,000 people in the stands for an exciting truck race.

“Because in all honesty, that’s the crowd count that you’re getting at a mile‑and‑a‑half anyways, so pack the place, make it look good, and put on a good show for the fans and go back to some of the roots of short track racing that these drivers are coming up from.’’

If NASCAR went to some smaller tracks, it might have to lower sanctioning fees and that could mean a smaller purse for teams.

“If we make less money, you’re digging our grave, so the sanctioning agreements can’t be for any less money, that’s for sure,’’ Busch said. “We actually need them to be for more. In order to cut our costs, we need to be able to make more money or compete for more money to race for more winnings. If you cut our winnings out, you might as well just say goodbye.’’

Keselowski said that even when Brad Keselowski Racing wins, it doesn’t cut the spending deficit in a weekend by much.

“If we win the race it is, at best, and this is at best, about 5 percent of what we spent (that weekend),’’ he said.

But Keselowski said that there is a way the finances could work for teams even if with smaller purses.

With more short tracks, Keselowski said, engines are not as great a factor and money can be saved there. Also, more short tracks would make aero development less important and that might be another area to save money.

“I’m a big believer you can’t cut your way to prosperity,’’ he said,“but you can make smart decisions.’’

The race is on to make those decisions before more teams end up like Red Horse Racing and are faced with leaving the sport.

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Todd Gilliland lands six-race sponsorship with Pedigree in Truck Series

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Todd Gilliland‘s Camping World Truck Series debut and five more races this year will be sponsored by Pedigree.

The son of former NASCAR Cup driver David Gilliland, the 17-year-old Gilliland will make his Truck debut on June 2 at Dover International Speedway in the No. 46 Toyota owned by Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The 2016 K&N Pro Series West champion will also drive the No. 46 at Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 28.)

Pedigree will also sponsor Gilliland in four races in the No. 51 Toyota. After Dover, Gilliland will race at Gateway Motorsports Park (June 17),  Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (Sept. 3), New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Sept. 23) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 10).

“I’m proud to have a sponsor as well-known as Pedigree join us at Kyle Busch Motorsports this season,” Gilliland said in a press release. “There’s a family connection with Pedigree, as they were the sponsor on my Dad’s car in 2006. It’s a great feeling to know that they have confidence in me and this race team. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get behind the wheel, earn solid finishes and hopefully get Pedigree to Victory Lane this season.”

Through five races in the K&N West season this year, Gilliland has won every pole and won four races. He has 11 wins in 20 starts dating back to 2015.

Kyle Busch Motorsports also announced the addition of two Truck races to Busch’s schedule. He will drive the No. 46 at Kentucky Speedway (July 6) and Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug.16). He will be sponsored by Banfield Pet Hospital.

 

Father of ex-Truck driver Justin Boston indicted on charges of fraud which funded racing career

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The father of former Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Boston is part of an indictment that includes charges of fraud totaling at least $25 million, some of which funded his racing career.

In an April 18 indictment unsealed Friday, Robert Boston and Robert LaBarge were indicted on four counts of fraud and one count of money-laundering conspiracy by the Western District of North Carolina.

The duo appeared Friday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte where they pleaded not guilty. Boston was released on his $25,000 bond, according to ESPN.

Boston and LaBarge were indicted with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud; one count of wire fraud; one count of securities fraud; one count of bank fraud; and one count of money-laundering conspiracy. LaBarge was also charged with one count of false writing in connection with a FBI investigation

If convicted on all charges, the combined maximum prison sentence for Boston, 53, totals 60 years.

“Mr. Boston has asserted his innocence to all of charges by entry of his not guilty plea,” Boston’s attorney Kevin Tate said in a statement to ESPN. “He has no comment pending the resolution of this matter.”

Justin Boston competed for Kyle Busch Motorsports in nine Truck races to begin the 2015 season. In two of those races, his primary sponsor was Zloop, his father’s electronics recycling company.

KBM eventually released Boston and sued him and Zloop for missed payments totaling $650,000.

That lawsuit is pending due to Zloop’s bankruptcy proceedings, according to ESPN.

The unsealed indictment details the allegations against Boston and LaBarge, alleging they “defrauded franchisees, investors, and lenders of their company, Zloop. The indictment alleges that, through their fraud, the defendants obtained millions of dollars, much of which was spent on expensive personal real estate, a private plane, and the racing career of Boston’s son.”

The indictment also alleges the duo used a fraudulent line of credit with Patriot Bank to spend “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on “a private plane, a new Corvette, and a new Grand Cherokee. After Zloop subsequently drew an additional $1.3 million from the credit card line, the indictment alleges that more than $500,000 was spent on racing-related expenditures and approximately $79,808 on a suite at a professional football stadium.”

William Byron focuses on Xfinity ride; not replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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William Byron says he’s focused on his rookie season in the Xfinity Series.

That’s fine, but others wonder if he’ll take over the No. 88 car when Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires at the end of this Cup season.

Hendrick Motorsports officials have not stated who they would consider for that ride.

Byron said Friday that he wants to race Cup at some point — what young Xfintiy driver doesn’t? — but he has more pressing concerns.

“Every one of us wants to race in the Cup series,’’ Byron said at Richmond International Raceway. “That’s the ultimate goal. I’d be ready for anything I think.

“Right now it’s just focusing on what I can do at (JR Motorsports) and see what we can do the rest of the year and hopefully compete for a championship.’’

The 19-year-old, who has a driver development contract with Hendrick Motorsports, has rocketed up NASCAR’s ranks since he started racing a Legends car in 2012.

Byron won the K&N Pro Series East title in 2015, won a rookie record seven Camping World Truck races in 2016 and led Kyle Busch Motorsports to the owners title. He has two top-five finishes in seven Xfinity starts this season as a rookie.

While there are different tactics to bringing drivers to Cup, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano are among those who moved quickly to Cup.

Larson ran four Truck races and a full Xfinity season before moving to Cup for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014.

Logano ran one Truck race and 19 Xfinity races before his rookie Cup season in 2009.

While Logano endured struggles, he said Friday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that moving up to Cup quickly can be a good thing.

“I think the only way you get better is racing people better than you,’’ Logano said on the show. “So when you put yourself in a very challenging position, you’re going to get better. Right? If you don’t get beat up too bad that you lose all your confidence and you get thrown out of the sport too quick.

“If you lose the opportunity of driving a Cup car because you got into it too green, you weren’t ready for it. That would be a downfall. Everything else is good because you’re going to make the mistakes and mistakes are a good thing as long as you learn from them.’’

Elliott Sadler, a teammate to Byron at JR Motorsports, praised the young driver’s ability Friday.

“He’s got it,’’ Sadler said. “He’s a guy that is going to go Cup and understands it. I think once he understands these tracks and these races and setting your car up for the longevity of them and making adjustments and stuff like that, once he gets all that down, he’s going to win a bunch of races, not only in Xfinity but also in the Cup Series.

“I’m not sure what his future holds, but my job as a teammate, with the experience, is to try to prepare him and help him as much as I can because the better he runs, the better for all of us at the entire company.’’

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Christopher Bell dominates for Truck Series win at Atlanta

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It was a Bell-ringing day in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Pole-sitter Christopher Bell won the first two stages of the event, then regained the lead late after a caution to claim his third career Truck win in 32 starts.

Following a late caution brought out by an Austin Cindric spin, Bell had a great restart with two laps left, holding off a strong charge by former Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.

“This thing was really fast all weekend,” Bell told FS1 in victory lane. “It was a dream machine. It was really, really good.”

Added Crafton, “We had a shot. At the end of the day that was what it all about. It was close.”

MORE: Results of Active Pest Control 200 Truck Series Race At Atlanta

MORE: Bell Takes Over Camping World Truck Series Points Lead After Atlanta Win

Bell dominated the first two stages, leading the first 83 laps. When the third stage began, teammate and team owner Kyle Busch gained the lead coming off pit road, with Bell alongside on the front row.

Busch seemed headed to the win, but he fell back and then cut a tire, making contact with the outside wall and ending his chances at the checkered flag. He finished 26th.

Bell ultimately led 99 laps in the 130-lap event.

Crafton finished second, followed by Johnny Sauter, Ben Rhodes and Chase Elliott. Sixth through 10th were Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Grant Enfinger, Timothy Peters and Ross Chastain.

Prior to the Truck race, Busch won the Xfinity Series’ Rinnai 250 earlier in the afternoon and was seeking a three-race sweep, including Sunday’s featured Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 NASCAR Cup race. He still can go 2 for 3.

STAGE 1 (Laps 1-40) WINNER: Christopher Bell.

STAGE 2 (Laps 41-80) WINNER: Christopher Bell.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: It was a good day for Truck Series regulars, who claimed the top four spots and six of the first nine spots. … Chase Elliott, who made only his second Truck Series start since 2013, finished fifth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Last year’s race winner, John Hunter Nemechek, was knocked out of the race when a right-side tire blew out and sent him into the wall on Lap 79. Nemechek finished 28th. … After avoiding a crash on the first lap and improving from 17th to ninth over the next 25 laps, NASCAR On NBC analyst Parker Kligerman lost power in his truck under caution on Lap 28. He coasted to a stop on the back straightaway. He was unable to get restarted and finished 31st in the 32-truck field.

NOTABLE: Surprising Daytona winner Kaz Grala finished 15th. … Japanese driver Akinori Ogata, making his sixth career Truck start and first of 2017, was involved in a late Stage 2 incident that ended his day with a 30th place finish.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Please, please do not repave this racetrack. This is, by far, the coolest racetrack that we race on.” – Runner-up Matt Crafton on FS1 (AMS will begin repaving the entire track following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race).

WHAT’S NEXT: The Truck Series is off for the next four weeks. The next race is April 1 at Martinsville Speedway.

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