A change in sponsorship, a major change in the rules of competition and a change in rides for former champions promise to be the dominant storylines in the Camping World Truck Series this year.

If Johnny Benson is to defend the truck series title he won in 2008 - the last year for longtime series title sponsor Craftsman - he'll have to do so for a new organisation whose sponsorship issues are unsettled.

For now, Benson's #1 Red Horse Racing Toyota team has sponsorship from K&N Filters for Friday's season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway. Beyond that, much is uncertain for the defending champion, and the difficult economy doesn't make things any easier.

"We've got K&N Filters for this particular race, and some of the smaller sponsors are available if they can put something together for one-race or multiple-race deals," Benson said. "Some of the bigger (sponsors) and your major ones - you're talking a long time to get that to happen.

"One, they're going to do their search and figure out what they want to do and where they want to be. Of course, with some of us changing teams, that becomes all of a sudden a little more difficult, because now it's like starting over again."

Ron Hornaday Jr. is in the same #33 Kevin Harvick Inc. truck he drove to a runner-up finish in the series last year, with Longhorn Moist Snuff on board as a new primary sponsor.

Hornaday fell seven points short of Benson in last year's final standings, in a championship that wasn't decided until the final lap of the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Mike Skinner, who won the first truck series title in 1995, has a new ride this year, too, with Randy Moss Motorsports. Todd Bodine, the 2006 series champion, remains with Germain Racing in the #30 Toyota but still needs sponsorship to sustain his racing efforts.

NASCAR has incorporated several new rules into the series this season, all designed to help teams conserve resources. In essence, teams will not be allowed to run a new engine for more than three consecutive races; the over-the-wall pit crew is limited to five members; and a team can take tyres or fuel during a pit stop, but not both - a rule that will have profound strategic implications for the competitors.

Amid speculation that the series might not draw full 36-truck fields for all of its 25 races, Skinner doesn't believe the level of competition will suffer.

"I've been asked this question a lot of times and, yeah, we've got 39 trucks here (at Daytona)," Skinner said. "We've got a tough economy right now, and it's hard to find corporate sponsors. We've got champions without really solid sponsorship.

"I challenge Ron (Hornaday Jr.) to help me out with this, but it's harder to win right now than it's ever been in the Camping World Truck Series. If we go to California (for the second race of the season) and we don't have 36 trucks, they're still going to see one heck of a race."

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News



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