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Top five moments: Veterans leave indelible marks on 2011 Truck Series season

December 31, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Top five moments: Veterans leave indelible marks on 2011 Truck Series season

In a season in which Sprint Cup Series interlopers won 13 of 25 races, there were still plenty of moments of high excitement in the 2011 Camping World Truck Series.

The series' "honorable mention" list even had a few eyebrow-raising moments, including eventual champion Austin Dillon "sticking" his face-first attempt at a slide through the infield grass at Nashville after a win; the veteran Ron Hornaday's charge to win three of five fall races to inject himself back into the quest for his fifth career championship; Kevin Harvick's roll to three consecutive late-summer wins; and in the aftermath of Clint Bowyer's popular home-state victory at Kansas, after Joey Coulter and Kyle Busch had rubbed fenders during the event, Dillon held grandfather Richard Childress' watch and the team owner "popped" Kyle Busch in retribution for damaging Childress' equipment one time too many.

All that couldn't help but elevate the Truck Series' top-five moments to real winners.

5. Waltrip opens with special victory Michael Waltrip hooked up with Billy Ballew's former winning Truck Series operation, which had become Vision Aviation Racing, and came to Daytona to honor his old buddy Dale Earnhardt on the 10th anniversary of Earnhardt's death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, which Waltrip won.

The race had all the shifting fortunes of a Daytona bump-drafting classic, but on the last lap it became even more than that as Waltrip, who had lurked near the front of the field all night and with a broken spoiler element laid flat, passed Elliott Sadler on the last lap and won his first career Truck Series race. It was indeed high drama.

4. Veterans teammates work in tandem In 2011, tandem drafting had become all the rage in the Cup Series and it was proven it was the only way to win a restrictor-plate race. But in the Truck Series, because the vehicles' noses and tails don't make a smooth match, two-truck drafting, while equally as fast as with the Cup cars, was a much dicier proposition.

But on a fall afternoon at Talladega, that didn't matter to Hornaday and Mike Wallace, who were teammates in a pair of Kevin Harvick Inc. trucks -- with Hornaday in the midst of both the series' owners' and drivers' championship battles. On race day it didn't matter to Hornaday, who had won three of the five previous series races. Hornaday fully committed to Wallace and pushed the superspeedway master to his latest stunning win, which, in the twilight of Wallace's career was huge.

3. Busch gets flagged under caution Busch had made his latest, distinct mark on the Truck Series by winning six of the first 23 races, before the series arrived at Texas. And despite getting together with Hornaday early in the race on a three-wide maneuver that involved a lapped truck and wall contact for Busch an argument could've been made that Busch still had a chance to win No. 7.

But when the damage to his truck and the way he felt like Hornaday had taken advantage of him enraged Busch, he caught up to Hornaday and in a move that left a lot of heads shaking in disbelief, turned Hornaday into the wall at high speed under caution. Busch was ultimately parked by NASCAR for the rest of the weekend, which made Harvick's owners' championship-clinching victory almost a footnote.

2. Sauter beats Busch at own game Johnny Sauter, who grew up in a racing family on the rugged Midwestern short tracks surrounding his Wisconsin home, had enjoyed a real love/hate relationship with Martinsville Speedway, where his disappointments far outnumbered his successes.

But this past spring, Sauter, who was making his most serious run at the Truck Series championship yet, was especially focused. With less than two laps remaining Sauter executed a move that Busch has used well -- the bump-and-run -- and he made it stick. The drama was only beginning as Busch used his disgust at losing to launch into three consecutive series wins.

1. Win alone not enough for Sauter At the Homestead finale, Sauter was faced with a challenge that only a racer of his sharp intensity could relish. In order to win the championship, he had to win the race, lead the most laps and then hope for some help to knock Dillon far enough back in the field for Sauter to overtake him.

In the end, Sauter was a show, as he and his ThorSport Racing team often were in 2011. He and crew chief Joe Shear Jr., along with their pit crew, did their jobs well, but fate wasn't on their side. Dillon fell into the field but was coming back to the front, despite a tire problem. And when a rainstorm ended the race prematurely, how many laps Dillon's tire would have lasted was irrelevant. But Sauter's scintillating effort for sure was a 2011 highlight.