Childress' Hall of Fame career: 'only in America'
Richard Childress talks about living the American dream during his induction speech at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Skinner hit by a Gale force wind
Contact sends Cale Gale into Mike Skinner , destroying both trucks just past the halfway point of the race.
Prolonged excellence has Childress Hall of Fame bound
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 MORE: Photos from voting day, of class Journeyman stock car racer Richard Childress caught lightning in a bottle, not once but twice. NASCAR's only driver strike, on the eve of the 1969 inaugural race at Talladega Superspeedway , gave Childress the opportunity to earn enough money to build his first race shop and lay the foundation for Richard Childress Racing , the powerhouse Chevrolet organization which to date has claimed 11 owner titles across NASCAR’s three national series. Nearly a decade later, the Winston-Salem, North Carolina native met Dale Earnhardt. Together, the pair won six NASCAR premier series championships along with 67 races between 1984 and 2000. Earnhardt entered the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of its 2010 inaugural class. Childress will be enshrined in the hall on Jan. 20 in Charlotte, N.C. (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), along with Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons. Childress, 71, grew up selling peanuts and popcorn at Winston-Salem's legendary Bowman Gray Stadium. Soon after, he bought a 1947 Plymouth for $20. "That's where it started," he said in a Grainger.com interview. "It's the best investment I ever made." Top drivers – those with factory contracts – made a decent living while independents like Childress barely scraped by. He went to Talladega in the fall of 1969 to compete in a preliminary event but was asked by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. to enter the Talladega 500 when Professional Driver Association members withdrew, citing high speeds and tire failures. "I had made three or four thousand dollars on Saturday," Childress told The Birmingham News in 2009. "The money that (France) paid us to run – we called it deal money in those days – plus my winnings, I came back with seven, eight, 10 thousand dollars. In those days it was big money. "It was my big break. Life’s all about the breaks and when you take advantage of them. That was the difference between making it and not making it." Childress never won a race as a driver but was able to secure enough sponsorship to keep going. His equipment generally was immaculate and pleased supporters, who ultimately would provide much greater – and crucial – financial backing. Earnhardt, who'd won his first championship in 1980, chose not to accompany Rod Osterlund's team upon its sale to J.D. Stacy. He joined Childress for 11 races, replacing the owner in the driver's seat. "I didn't want to get out of the car but I knew the opportunity was there – and I didn't want to pass it up," Childress told Foxnews.com last year. "I knew Dale was a championship driver. That was one of the biggest breaks in the history of RCR and Richard Childress. "I was maxxed out. I did everything I could do on my home. I sold everything I thought I had that I could sell just to run Dale in those (11) races." Earnhardt left to race for Bud Moore, and Childress – thanks to a bail-out from primary sponsor Wrangler Jeans – was able to continue. With Ricky Rudd, RCR scored its first victory in June 1983 at Riverside International Raceway. Earnhardt returned to RCR the following season, capturing the team’s first premier series title in 1986. Additional championships followed in 1987, 1990-91 and 1993-94. Longtime racing executive and Charlotte Motor Speedway promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler credited Childress for molding Earnhardt into one of NASCAR's greatest drivers. "In his own, quiet Southern way, Richard instilled in Dale all he knew," Wheeler wrote in "Growing Up NASCAR." "Richard knew what to say and when to say it and he knew how to get the best out of his driver. Richard was a brilliant, brilliant coach, something most drivers never get." Earnhardt and Childress finally won the long-elusive Daytona 500 in 1998, three years before the driver's death on the final lap of the "Great American Race." Childress considered leaving the sport – "Probably all the way up until Tuesday. Sunday night, definitely," he said – but recalled a hunting incident after which he and Earnhardt agreed each would go on if something happened to the other. RCR promoted its NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Kevin Harvick to drive its Chevrolets – retiring the iconic No. 3 in deference to the late Intimidator. Childress returned the number to its cars several years ago when his grandson, Austin Dillon , moved to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after winning NASCAR Camping World Truck and XFINITY titles. To date, RCR has won 105 NASCAR premier series races. The organization counts four XFINITY owner titles and the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner championship in 1995 with Mike Skinner . RCR also captured the XFINITY Series driver championship in 2013 and the Camping World Truck Series driver title in 2011, both with Austin Dillon . Childress, recipient of the 1986 Bill France Award of Excellence, is a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, International Motorsports Hall of Fame and North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR Hall of Fame unveils new lineup of iconic cars
RELATED: More on the Hall of Fame " Fan Appreciation Day CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For just the third time since the NASCAR Hall of Fame first opened its doors in 2010, race fans will see a new Glory Road exhibit encircling the Great Hall in the museum's main level. Glory Road "ICONS" features 18 cars representing some of NASCAR's most recognizable vehicles as well as its legendary drivers. The exhibit will officially open to the public Jan. 7. Friday, Hall officials held an unveiling for members of the media and various local dignitaries. Seventeen of the vehicles were on display when the hour-long event got underway. The wraps on the 18th, the No. 28 Ford Thunderbird piloted by Davey Allison for Ranier-Lundy Racing, were removed during the program. Among those in attendance for the unveiling were Allison's father, Bobby Allison, the 1983 series champion and winner of 84 races, Davey's son Robbie Allison, Joey Knuckles (Allison's crew chief for 19 races in 1987), Larry McReynolds (Allison's crew chief at Robert Yates Racing from '91-93) and Lorin Ranier, son of team owner Harry Ranier. "I notice in this general area Alabama is represented really well," Robbie Allison said, noting his father's car sits between those of his grandfather and fellow Alabama Gang driver Neil Bonnett. "We're doing pretty well I think. "When I look at this car, one thing that stands out is I always see the snippet online of him driving down pit road at Talladega and the whole crew is on top of the car. ... I see it all the time. All the good times that he and his team shared and our family was able to share through racing." Davey Allison scored his first NASCAR win in the top series in '87 at Talladega Superspeedway . He would add 18 more victories, including two more at the 2.66-mile Talladega track, before his death in 1993. Bobby Allison's racing career had ended in 1988 when his Buick slammed into the wall and was then struck by another race car on the first lap of a race at Pocono Raceway . Clifford Allison, Davey's brother, was killed in a crash during practice in 1992 at Michigan International Speedway . "Something that my granddad says to me all the time is that racing has taken a lot away from us but it's also given us an awful lot at the same time,” Robbie Allison said. "There are so many good memories ... "The words that everybody that knew (my dad) on and off the track, determination, hard work, obsession even, always willing to put in that extra effort to be better every day. ... He was definitely as good of a father as he was a racer.” McReynolds, now a NASCAR on FOX analyst, said Allison "actually made my job pretty easy because … I think a lot of it was the way Bobby brought him up through the racing ranks he knew what was going on with that race car and he had a pretty good idea what we needed to do to make it better. ... "He obviously did a phenomenal job in that race car but he did a really unbelievable job outside the race car. He loved his race fans." The 18 cars featured on the new Glory Road "ICONS" exhibit span the history of NASCAR, from the 1952 Hudson Hornet driven by Marshall Teague -- a dominant combination in the sport's formative years -- to the 2015 Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota Camry that carried Kyle Busch to the series championship. Other entries in the exhibit include: • 1957 Ford Fairlane driven by Fireball Roberts • 1964 Plymouth Belvedere of Richard Petty • 1966 Ford Galaxie owned and driven by Wendell Scott • 1966 Dodge Charger fielded by Cotton Owens and driven by David Pearson • 1939 Chevrolet Coupe piloted by Richie Evans in 1970-71 • 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Darrell Waltrip • 1978 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bobby Allison • 1982 Oldsmobile Omega driven by Sam Ard • 1989 Ford Thunderbird driven by Neil Bonnett • 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by Harry Gant • 1992 Ford Thunderbird driven by Bill Elliott • 1995 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Mike Skinner • 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Dale Earnhardt • 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo driven by Jeff Gordon • 2013 Chevrolet SS driven by Jimmie Johnson Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said his group began with a notebook of "100 to 120 cars" that had to be trimmed considerably before beginning the process of selecting and obtaining the final 18. "If I handed you that notebook you would probably agree that 80-90 are iconic cars," Kelley said. "There are others that are noteworthy of acknowledging at some point in time, but would it pass the sticker test ... would you say 'yeah that's iconic?' " As with previous Glory Road exhibits, the "ICONS" exhibit will remain on display for three years. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Live streaming schedule for Champion's Week
RELATED: Full Champion's Week schedule Champion's Week is here, and NASCAR.com will live stream several events from Las Vegas as NASCAR formally wraps up the 2016 season. Below is the complete schedule. All times are ET. WEDNESDAY, NOV. 30 -- 12-12:30 p.m.: Miss Sprint Cup with Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus ( Watch live ) THURSDAY, DEC. 1: -- 2-4:15 p.m.: NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon ( Watch live ) -- 4:45-5:15 p.m.: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France ( Watch live ) -- 6-7:15 p.m.: NASCAR Victory Lap Fueled by Sunoco ( Watch live ) -- 7:15-7:30 p.m: Matthew Dillner, Claire B. Lang ride to NASCAR After the Lap location, the Pearl ( Watch live ) -- 7:30-8:05 p.m.: Mike Skinner and Angie Skinner at the Pearl, with guests ( Watch live ) -- 8:05-9:30 p.m.: NASCAR After the Lap Sponsored by Chevrolet, Ford & Toyota ( Watch live )
Analysis: How guidelines affect race to all-time wins
RELATED: New guidelines put limits in place The updated 2017 driver guidelines will have an effect on many drivers, as it places a limit on the number of NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series races in which veterans of the premier series can compete. It also will have an effect on two NASCAR records -- the all-time wins in both the XFINITY and Camping World series. Kyle Busch is closing in on Ron Hornaday Jr .'s Truck Series mark, but will have fewer opportunities to catch him due to being eligible for fewer races. As NASCAR announced Wednesday, all drivers with at least five years of experience in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series can compete in a maximum of seven races in the Camping World Truck Series and 10 races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. WATCH: Driver analyzes new guidelines Here's how the records books might turn out: XFINITY SERIES Leader of the pack: With 85 career wins, Kyle Busch leads second-place Mark Martin by … uh, a lot. Martin has 49 career series wins, followed by Kevin Harvick (46), Carl Edwards (38) and Brad Keselowski (34). What it means: Busch has piled up stats over the past eight years. From 2008-15, he started 203 events in the XFINITY Series, an average of about 25 per year. That will go down drastically -- to a maximum of 10 -- but it may not create as much of a hardship as one would think. The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has cut back on his XFINITY schedule in recent years, starting 15 races in 2015 and 16 this year through 30 races. March to 100: Busch has 100 series wins in his sights. He averages one win in about 4 starts in his career, but the past two years the start-to-win ratio is nearly 2:1. With those recent numbers in mind, if he makes the maximum of 10 starts per year in the future, we expect Busch to reach 100 series wins in 2019. And that record … : The XFINITY Series all-time wins record likely will never be broken. CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES Leader of the pack: Four-time series champion Ron Hornaday has 51 career wins, but Busch is on his heels with 46. Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague both have 28. Todd Bodine is fifth on the all-time list with 22. What it means: There's even less of an impact here for Busch as he has lightened his Truck Series load considerably, spending most of his energy in the series as an owner ( Kyle Busch Motorsports). March to 52: Two wins in eight races over the past two seasons is an excellent ratio for "Rowdy." While there's a chance he cuts out Truck Series races completely, being so close to Hornaday is going to be like a gravitational pull to someone as competitive and talented as Busch. And that record … : Call it an average of two wins per season moving forward, mimicking his numbers this year, and you're looking at a new all-time series wins leader in … 2019, the same year we project him to get to 100 XFINITY Series wins.
Bowyer gears up for 'best opportunity' with Stewart-Haas
RELATED: First look at paint schemes of 2017 CONCORD, N.C. -- There's been plenty for Clint Bowyer to adjust to in the brief time that he's officially been a member of Stewart-Haas Racing 's driver roster. He's had to acclimate himself to the way that his new team operates. He's also had to become more familiar with the personnel on the No. 14 Ford that Bowyer will drive in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. A helpful hand from his new crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz, has helped Bowyer adjust to both of those new concepts. When Bowyer half-jokingly asked Bugarewicz if he had a team roster to keep him from addressing his crewmembers with, "Hey, buddy," or similar salutations, the second-year crew chief unexpectedly delivered. "He's such a dedicated person and so prepared, he literally went and took pictures of all the guys and e-mailed me the names of them," Bowyer said Wednesday during a preseason media event at the sprawling Ford Performance Technical Center. "I'm like, 'Man, you didn't have to do that. I could've come down.' " At which point Tony Stewart , his team owner and predecessor in the No. 14, interjected: "He says he didn't need that. He needed that, trust me." Laughing aside, Bowyer continued to underscore his point. "That's the level of dedication that you have at Stewart-Haas," Bowyer said. "And it doesn't just end with Mike , it's all across the board. If you ask for something … you've got to be careful asking for something because it's just done." RELATED: Harvick bullish on changes " Transition to Ford among top story lines The next adjustment that Bowyer may have to make is getting accustomed to relevance, something in short supply even before he was announced Sept. 30, 2015 as the successor to three-time series champion Stewart for the organization's flagship team. Bowyer drove in relative obscurity for Michael Waltrip Racing in its waning days, then languished through a throwaway season in 2016 with the former HScott Motorsports operation as he waited his turn to join SHR. "If he could've clicked his heels three times and made it 2017, he'd have done it in a heartbeat," Stewart said. "But we were all just reminding him: 'Be patient. You've got a lot to look forward to.' And we were hoping that his season would turn around at some point, too, but it didn't work out that way and it wasn't for a lack of effort on their side. "I think the nice thing, though, is -- as odd as this sounds -- I've seen him a lot calmer than I saw him all last year. I don't know that he's ever calm, but you can tell he's excited about what's coming up. He's genuinely excited about getting in the 14 car and that makes us happy, too." RELATED: Stewart at ease in new role at SHR Bowyer's authentic anticipation is attached to what he calls "the best opportunity I've ever had." Not only does the 37-year-old driver now have an avenue to potentially return to Victory Lane for the first time in more than four seasons, he also has the chance to place his name back among the sport's top tier. Bowyer has always been known as one of the most animated and energetic figures in the NASCAR garage. But performance -- or a lack of it, in the case of Bowyer's most recent body of work -- has a way of shuffling even the most engaging figures to the shadows. Bowyer's return to a high-profile ride likely changes both the prevailing perceptions and his exposure level, but the results will need to follow suit. "Here's what I hope -- I sure hope you're watching me," Bowyer said. "At the end of the day, relevancy in this sport is everything and I've lost that a little bit. Not a little bit, a lot. And I felt it and didn't like it. It's up to me to go out and become relevant again, have you watch me and talking about me. "It makes everything better. This is a business. This is racing, but once you race at this level, it becomes a business and it trickles down to everything in your life. We're race car drivers but we do this for a business. From my dirt program, everything, my (car) dealership, it just really trickles down. Every business thing that's happened really feeds off of your success on that race track. I had a bad year and I want to become relevant again. You don't work as hard and you have a hell of a lot more fun." RELATED: Key moments in SHR history Before he embarks on that goal, Bowyer has had fun getting better acquainted with his new surroundings, no doubt aided by Bugarewicz's handy chart. But the jollity has also extended to enjoying the luxuries of championship-level equipment for a change. Bowyer marveled at the comfort and quality of his new carbon-fiber seat, remarking "I feel rich" with regards to the perfectly tailored fit. And in a further illustration of Stewart-Haas' attention to precise details, Bowyer was asked last weekend about his preference for a gearshift handle. When the newest SHR driver reacted with indifference in saying that any handle would do, he was presented with eight possible choices. "I think we have dialed in the right gearshift handle for myself and my success this year," Bowyer said with a wry smile. "If not, we have plenty of extras to go around." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Rick Ware Racing to field Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team
THOMASVILLE, N.C. -- Officials from Rick Ware Racing (RWR) announced today the team’s intent to compete in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as an "open non-chartered" team beginning with next month's 59th annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway . RWR's return to the elite level of NASCAR will have Timmy Hill aboard the No. 51 Chevrolet for Speedweeks with a rotating list of drivers to follow throughout the season including longtime RWR drivers Stanton Barrett , Cody Ware and road course veteran Kevin O’Connell to name a few. "We've been eyeing our return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since the end of last year," said RWR team principal Rick Ware. "We knew with the competition level stronger than ever, we needed to take the steps to make sure we could come to the track and be as competitive as possible, while focused on building our organization as the season presses on.” RWR also announced the team has acquired assets from Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) for use this season, including cars, pulldown rig and technology support. Additionally, longtime industry veteran Joe Lax, also previously with TBR will serve as crew chief, while pro-motor engineering (PME) will supply the horsepower during the season. Furthermore, Mike Hillman Sr., a longtime fixture in NASCAR joins RWR in a newly created role as team consultant. "I feel like we've done a great job getting our stars aligned for this year," Ware added. "Between acquiring cars from Tommy Baldwin Racing and having a good open relationship with them, plus being able to bring key personnel aboard who have the desire and drive to make our team the best it's ever been. "One component I'm really proud about is our initiative to bring our body work in-house. We really have hired some talented and experienced personnel overall and I couldn't be more excited to get our season underway." Hill is hopeful to make his "World Center of Racing" debut in next month's Super Bowl event. The 23-year-old hopes to make his 49th Cup race in his first ever Daytona 500 . Despite no Cup starts at Daytona, the Port Tobacco, Maryland native has four XFINITY starts at the 2.5-mile oval with two career top-10 finishes including back-to-back top-10 runs for Rick Ware Racing in 2012 with a career-best seventh in the season-opening race. "I'm thankful to continue my relationship with Rick Ware Racing for the 2017 season," said Hill. "I've always wanted the chance to compete in the Daytona 500 and thanks to Rick and Lisa (Ware), I'll have that opportunity. It won't be easy, but as a team and Joe (Lax) leading the way, we’re focused and will give it all we have and hope we’ll be one of the 40 cars running in the Daytona 500 !" In addition to their effort in the Cup Series, Rick Ware Racing will also compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) this season with recently announced driver Spencer Boyd at the wheel. Sponsorship for the team’s Cup entry will be announced at a later date. </p>
Veteran Crafton plays mentor role to up-and-coming rookies
CONCORD, N.C. -- Being a two-time champion in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has its share of perks for Matt Crafton . But besides the laurels, there's also a certain amount of responsibility, one that involves helping the next generation of drivers learn their way. For the third straight season, Crafton has helped preside over the series' rookie orientation meetings, joining series director Elton Sawyer in providing insights for the truck tour's new crop of talent. In recent years, the duty has fallen to the reigning series champion, which Crafton achieved with consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014. But with last year's champ, Erik Jones , shifting to the NASCAR XFINITY Series full-time this season, Crafton was asked back. "If it's something where I feel I can help the rookies and possibly make it better racing, that's what it's all about," said Crafton, who's back on top as the series' points leader after last weekend's victory at Dover International Speedway . "I remember being a rookie and going to some of these places and not having a damn clue what I was doing or what to expect on some new race tracks, so if you can give them a little bit of insight as a group and then I always tell them at the end, if you ever have any questions, they're always free to ask me whatever they need to ask me in the trailer afterward. It's part of it." It's been 15 years since the 39-year-old Crafton was a truck series newbie, almost as long as the lifespan of some members of this year's rookie crop. When Crafton was on the other side of the first-year drivers' orientation, he learned from a rotation of the series' pioneers -- Ron Hornaday Jr ., Mike Skinner , Todd Bodine . Times may have changed over the course of Crafton's career, with the driver roster seemingly skewing younger. But it's also tilted to an even more ambitious and talented class in one of NASCAR's most competitive divisions. "Just to think they're racing in the Camping World Truck Series at 16 years old like they can do, it's nuts," Crafton says. "It's just crazy the amount of pressure that's on these kids. The thing is, they're in great, great equipment. I can honestly say, everybody always says each and every week that, 'oh, there's such a great group of rookies out there.' There's been a great group of rookies a lot of years in the Camping World Truck Series since I've been here, but not all of them have always been in great equipment." On this damp Thursday morning, Sawyer and Crafton hold court in the suites over Charlotte Motor Speedway 's pit road. A group of 15 young drivers -- some true rookies and some who were preparing for their first start on the 1.5-mile track -- circled around, awaiting direction over the racket of the Air Titans drying the pavement. Before diving into a discussion about race procedure, Sawyer singled out John Hunter Nemechek , attending his last required rookie meeting at Charlotte -- the last track missing from his truck series portfolio. "I thought Elton was going to bring me a cake this week, a certificate or something for graduating," the 18-year-old Nemechek joked later. "He said he forgot, so I may have to get a cake in to him that says 'Race Director' or something on it." Sawyer emphasized the high notes from the crew chief's handout, providing watch-outs about gamesmanship on restarts and other procedures. But he also ceded plenty of time to Crafton, who answered a question from ThorSport Racing teammate Rico Abreu about the blend zone off pit road and how hard he could hustle back onto the race track. The inquiry led to a detailed description from Crafton about one of the most finicky tracks on the circuit. In vivid terms, Crafton explained the speedway's character, how much the groove widens in time, how delicate side-by-side racing can be, and what he called the "gnarliest" transition as trucks dive into the Turn 1 banking. "When we go to a new race track, it's just learning the basics of the things that we need to look out for, especially here," says 18-year-old rookie William Byron, who became the series' newest first-time winner two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway . "He's talking about the transitions and just things to watch out for in the race. It's good to have a broad perspective of what it's going to be like racing here. It gets you a little bit more comfortable." Even Nemechek, already a two-time truck series winner on intermediate-sized tracks, has seen the benefits. "It was a good experience. They all helped every time you went," Nemechek says. "… Any veteran that you can get and talk to and listen to that you know is going to shoot you somewhat straight when you come to a new place, it can only help you -- from race trends to how to get on and off pit road to the characteristics of the race track." Crafton's 366 career starts -- an all-time series best -- count as an encyclopedic amount of experience, and the back-to-back titles speak to his success. But the longtime veteran says he still finds time to pick up on things from the cub drivers with single-digit starts on their record. What does he learn? "Some of these kids nowadays, they just know more than we do," Crafton says with a playfully satirical grin. "I have a daughter who's 3 and she already knows more than me."
New Hampshire marks 500th Truck Series race
RELATED: Cup drivers in the Truck Series " Timeline of the Truck Series Born to modest beginnings in the American Southwest, NASCAR's launching pad, otherwise known as the Camping World Truck Series, will celebrate a major milestone on Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . There, shortly after 1 p.m. ET (on FS1), the green flag will signal the start of the 500th race in a series that has provided indispensable impetus to the careers of some of NASCAR's top stars. Carl Edwards , for one, recognizes the debt he owes to the series and to longtime owners such as Mike Mittler, who gave Edwards his start in trucks. "The Truck Series means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my career, for the fact that Mike Mittler has owned a truck since the beginning of the Truck Series," Edwards said. "If it weren't for that opportunity from Mike Mittler, and Jack Roush hiring me to drive his trucks, I would not be here today. "So I'm really grateful for the Truck Series, and I had a lot of fun driving those trucks." Edwards won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in the Truck Series in 2003 before graduating to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney are other former Truck Series Rookie of the Year winners currently racing at NASCAR's highest level. The Truck Series has changed markedly since its debut on the national stage in 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway , where Mike Skinner , already 38 years old at the time, won the Skoal Bandit Copper World Classic by .09 seconds over Terry Labonte . In its formative years, the Truck Series was a repository for veteran drivers. Skinner won the first series championship. Ron Hornaday Jr ., perhaps the most identifiable name in series history, claimed the title in 1996, the first of his record four championships. Veterans Hornaday and Jack Sprague were kings of the series from 1996 through 1999 before Biffle won the title in 2000 to advance another rung up the ladder that would take him to the Cup series in short order. The periodic appearances of Kyle Busch notwithstanding, it's fair to say that older, more experienced drivers dominated the Truck Series until 2011. Hornaday won his third championship in 2007 and his fourth in 2009, amassing a series-record 51 victories along the way. Todd Bodine won the second of his two titles in 2010, at age 46, before Dillon and James Buescher notched back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012 at ages 21 and 22, respectively. Dillon and Buescher are emblematic of the changing face of the Truck Series, which now features more teenagers and 20-somethings than drivers in their 30s and 40s. For one thing, team owners like Kyle Busch , Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr ., have embraced the Truck Series as an affordable way to give back to the sport by launching the careers of young drivers. Erik Jones , 19, who drives for Kyle Busch Motorsports, is the current series leader. Tyler Reddick , also 19 and a Brad Keselowski Racing protégé, is second. "I think the Truck Series is a great division," Busch said. "It's certainly a lot of fun. I enjoy it. It's a level at which I can be competitive owning a race team. ... "This level ... I feel it gives us a great chance to bring up the (young) talent to the upper level of NASCAR racing." Owning his own team also gives Busch a chance to compete in the occasional race. With 44 victories in the series, he is second only to Hornaday, and he'll have a chance to move one win closer this weekend at New Hampshire. "Having its 500th race and being in that race is going to be special for me," Busch said. Keselowski is part of the Truck Series' present and future, but his love for the trucks is rooted in the past. His father, Bob Keselowski, raced in the series debut at Phoenix. Bob Keselowski took his only checkered flag in the series in 1997, and he and Brad remain the only father/son combination to win races in the trucks. "The Truck Series for me has been a huge part of my career and a huge part of my family from the get-go," Keselowski said. "My dad ran in the first-ever truck race at Phoenix, and I still remember that day. "I still remember watching that race, and I remember how big a deal the Truck Series was when it started and how big a deal it is now to young drivers and the future of our sport." Two-time defending Truck Series champion Matt Crafton once would have been typical of the series. Now, at 39, he's a throwback to an earlier era. But Crafton is content to race for wins and titles in the Truck Series, as opposed to driving less competitive equipment at a higher level. "If I stay here for the rest of my driving career, I'll definitely be happy with that," Crafton said. "I know each and every week I can go win races. I have no desire to go somewhere where I'm going to run 15th to 25th and be happy with that." A nine-time winner in the Truck Series, Crafton is seeking his first New Hampshire victory this weekend, as he tries to stave off the growing youth movement in the Camping World Truck Series for yet another season.