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From the Notebook: RCR rookie Coulter thrilled with Truck award

December 01, 2011, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

From the Notebook: Truck award thrills rookie; Smoke low-key; Busch talks EFI

Joey Coulter scored an early Christmas present, along with a unique twin score for Richard Childress Racing by achieving what the 21-year-old called "the biggest accomplishment" of his racing career, the 2011 Camping World Truck Series rookie of the year award.

Coulter eclipsed the most notable assembly of rookies in any of NASCAR's three national tours this season -- including Nelson Piquet Jr., Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt and Miguel Paludo -- and followed his 2011 series champion teammate, Austin Dillon, who was the 2010 rookie award winner.

Truck Series

2011 Rookie Standings
Pos.DriverBehind
2.Nelson Piquet Jr.-5
3.Cole Whitt-17
4.Parker Kligerman-34
5.Miguel Paludo-46
6.Johanna Long-129
7.Craig Goess-178

"It's unbelievable that we're here, just an unbelievable feeling to have that title," Coulter said. "I've been close to winning rookies of the year before, but this is so worth the wait -- definitely the coolest thing, most meaningful thing that's happened in my career."

Coulter had been a front-runner in the ARCA Racing Series, where he first battled with Kligerman, but 2011 was his first full-time foray into NASCAR, and he landed with both feet firmly planted. He was seventh in the final standings, with five top-five finishes and 13 top-10s, and showed -- most notably through fender scraping battles with such notables as Kyle Busch -- that he would back down from no one.

"We just were able to stay out of trouble most of the year," Coulter said of his biggest key for success. "The guys did an amazing job on pit road keeping me in the front when we were up there, and if we weren't already up front, they did a great job picking up spots getting us there.

"The equipment coming out of RCR is just ... it's unbelievable. I'm pretty sure we had zero mechanical failures this year, and that's huge for anything. It paid off for us in the rookie of the year, it paid off for the 3 [Dillon] winning the championship.

"I think that's one thing that RCR is so good at, is just every tiny little detail that goes into that truck, they make sure they go over it two or three times, and the trucks just ...  they're so reliable. They're fast every weekend. And like I said, the team that was behind me, the entire 22 team just stayed in there and worked hard all year."

A cool side note to Coulter's award is it's the first NASCAR award for his crew chief, Harold Holly, since a dominating Nationwide Series championship score with Jeff Green in 2000. His insight was just one of many bits of minutiae Coulter said he acquired, and looks forward to applying next season.

"I've learned so much this year it's unbelievable," Coulter said. "I really didn't think I could learn that much. But just learning how to race with guys like Kevin [Harvick], I mean, that's been ... every time I can get behind a Cup driver, it's huge, just seeing the little things.

"It's not ever usually anything huge, it's tiny little things that I've kind of picked up all throughout the year. I've gotten to race with Kyle [Busch] really hard a few times, just things like that -- tiny little things that you pick up. I can't even describe them, but just small little things that just add up at the end of the year."

Stewart low-key as new face of sport

In the immediate aftermath of his championship, and on the eve of a hectic Champion's Week in Las Vegas, Tony Stewart said he wasn't yet sure exactly what his breaking Jimmie Johnson's five-year stranglehold on the Cup Series' championship would have on the sport.

"I'm not really sure I understand what it will do," Stewart said. "Obviously, it's been a long reign the last five years of having Jimmie win the championship. Obviously we're not oblivious to listening to the fans and them saying they want to see somebody else win.

"So hopefully no matter who it was, it is the shot in the arm the sport needs right now. I think looking at TV ratings from [Homestead] weekend and the attendance numbers the last couple of weeks [of the season], I think it's hopefully a sign that we're starting that road of recovery -- not that we were in dire straits by any means.

"But I'm glad to see the numbers going back up again, and I don't know if we're going to be responsible for it because of winning a championship. But we're all just hopeful that it's going to keep going the direction it's going right now."

* Champion's Week: Celebration begins with Stewart tour in Vegas | Watch

Busch will take time with EFI

Count Kyle Busch among those who are not overly smitten with electronic fuel injection, which will be used full time in the Cup Series in 2012; and he doesn't think it will radically affect fuel mileage strategy either -- at least at first.

"I think going to the EFI is going to change it a little bit [but] maybe not as much as we all expected it to be," Busch said. "It's just the engineers are certainly getting better with it. And it might not change right away because we don't know everything we need to know about it.

"But I figure over time it's just like anything else. We'll learn from it, develop with it and get better at it."

Busch still stacking up numbers

Busch might be bitterly disappointed at failing to earn a spot in the Sprint Cup Series' top 12 --- and thus missing a chance to appear onstage at the awards ceremony Friday night in his hometown of Las Vegas; nevertheless, he continued to stack up statistical marks in his Toyota race vehicles.

In July, Busch became the third driver to earn 100 wins across NASCAR's three national touring series -- he currently has a total of 104 NASCAR victories. He also became the all-time Nationwide Series wins leader in August and now has 51 series triumphs.

Furthermore, Busch made his 300th start in a Toyota in August and now has 322 combined starts in Cup and Nationwide series' Camrys and Truck Series' Tundras, trailing David Reutimann (329) for the most starts for the manufacturer. Busch has 83 wins in a Toyota across NASCAR's three series -- the most of any Toyota driver.

* Busch Statistics -- Cup: 2011 | Career | Nationwide: 2011 | Career | Truck: 2011 | Career

Lofton back to off-road

Justin Lofton, who was an off-road racing regular before he began driving stock cars, will go back to his roots and pilot a Class 1500 Buggy in Henderson, Nev., on Saturday in the Best in the Desert (BITD) Racing Association's season finale.

"I'm really looking forward to the race this weekend," Lofton said. "We've had a few good runs over the last year but something has gone wrong late. Hopefully we can turn it around this week."

On Saturday, Lofton's class will compete on an 80-mile loop three times, totaling 240 miles. He will have a new navigator on board for this event, as Justin Santz will strap in for the ride.

Lofton's early racing career saw him earn 2004 BITD rookie of the year honors, along with three wins in the Desert Buggy Class and the Class 1000 championship.

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