1. Johnny Sauter - No. 13 ThorSport Racing Toyota - In 2011 Sauter eclipsed his teammate Matt Crafton both in performance and stance in the driver standings. The driver of the No. 13 Toyota won two races and came within an eyelash of capturing the championship, losing by just six points to Austin Dillon. Sauter should again be one of the top contenders in the series in 2012. With Dillon moving on to Nationwide Series competition and perennial championship contender Todd Bodine losing his ride, the competition is losing ground. At the same time, Sauter has done everything in his power to elevate him to this level in the truck series.
2. Ron Hornaday Jr. - No. 9 Joe Denette Motorsports Chevrolet - Four-time truck series champion Hornaday saw his hopes for a fifth championship go up in smoke at the Fort Worth oval late last season. The tangle between he and series firebrand Kyle Busch hurt both drivers. Busch ended up on suspension and probation, but the wound to Hornaday cut much deeper. The veteran driver ended up fourth in the final standings after a four-win, 17 Top 10 campaign. Gone is former owner Kevin Harvick and his dominant equipment, and present are new team owner Joe Denette and the new No. 9 team. Hornaday has the right stuff, but the newness of this team situation could hamper his championship hopes in 2012.
3. Jason Leffler - No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota - With the exodus of Kyle Busch from the truck series, the super-dominant No. 18 team takes a fair hit in value this season. Nationwide Series veteran Leffler comes over to pilot the KBR No. 18 Toyota truck for at least 14 of the 25 races. If the journeyman driver can prove to be a quick study, Leffler could be in for more starts and something resembling a full schedule with this team. We don't have to rehash the record number of victories and other eye-popping stats that owner/driver Busch accomplished with this team. Just know that Leffler is a capable wheel man and this is one of the elite rides in the Camping World Truck Series.
4. James Buescher - No. 31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - The four-year veteran of the truck series is coming off his best career effort in 2011. Buescher raced to a series-leading 19 Top-10 finishes and a third-place position in the final driver standings in his first season with Turner Motorsports. We expect bigger and better things for the young driver this season. Buescher returns to a No. 31 Chevrolet team that comes back intact in 2012. Michael Shelton is still calling the shots atop the war wagon and the team still gets technical and engine support from Hendrick Motorsports. Buescher should get his first career win this season and challenge for the championship by the time November rolls around.
5. Matt Crafton - No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota - Crafton has been one of the most consistent drivers in the series the last several years, but he had a down campaign in 2011. The ThorSport Racing star finished a respectable eighth in the final driver standings, but he collected a four-year low in Top 10s with 13. Despite winning one race, the four DNFs and inability to hit the Top 10 weekly hurt Crafton's championship hopes. We expect the veteran driver to reverse those trends in the upcoming season. The driver of the No. 88 Toyota should return to the more familiar 18-20 Top 10 form and throw his hat in the ring for outside championship contention.
6. Ty Dillon - No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - The old cliche "the next big thing" is certainly one phrase that comes to mind with Dillon. The younger brother of reigning series champion Austin Dillon will saddle up in the championship team and set out to win Rookie of the Year in 2012. Given how well his brother performed with this team, and the very impressive reputation that Dillon has in lower divisions of NASCAR, ROTY might be a moot point. The younger Dillon absolutely dominated the ARCA racing series in 2011. He won seven of the 19 events and walked away with the championship in that series. Dillon will have the best equipment and personnel any young driver could want, so we expect him to win races and compete with the best in the series right away.
7. Todd Bodine - No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota - Although the deal is not done at the time of this writing, it does look as though two-time truck series champion Bodine will land on his feet in 2012. His No. 30 team at Germain Racing shut down at the end of last season and left Bodine in limbo for most of the off-season. In late January rumblings of a new team at Red Horse was being put together for a full season run for Bodine. If this team can solidify quickly, Bodine could be an outside contender for the championship. At worst he may win a race or two and peg 12-14 Top-10 finishes. Bodine's racing expertise gives this team a high ceiling with a lot of upside.
8. Tim George/Brendan Gaughan - No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - RCR development driver George and eight-time truck series winner Gaughan will split this strong ride in 2012. George will make 12 starts while Gaughan is inked to make eight. The remaining five events could see Sprint Cup Series stars from the RCR stable step into the No. 2 truck. Despite the shuffling driver lineup, this was one of the stronger teams in the series in 2011. Kevin Harvick and other driver racked up five wins and 20 Top-10 finishes for this team. After we downgrade for the driver talent differential, we still see the No. 2 Chevy team having a fair amount of impact this season despite the lack of a star-studded driver lineup.
9. Timothy Peters - No. 17 Premier Motorsports Toyota - Peters will kick off his eighth season of truck series competition in 2012. In his 118 prior starts the Premier Motorsports driver has collected three victories and last season's career-best fifth-place finish in the final driver standings. Peters just seems to get better each season and we don't see this trend stopping in the upcoming year. The No. 17 team returns veteran Butch Hylton to call the shots as crew chief, and the rest of this successful team remains the same. Peters should win a race or two and challenge the Top 5 of the driver standings in the new campaign.
10. Joey Coulter - No. 22 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet - The 21-year-old debuted in the truck series in 2011 and served notice that he can perform at a high level with 13 Top 10s in his rookie season. Coulter finished a surprising seventh in the final championship standings, and came out of nowhere to win last season's Rookie of the Year in a very deep and talented rookie pool. He will hope to build on those accomplishments in 2012 and possibly contend for the championship. Right now, we think it's a much more realistic goal to set the No. 22 team's sites on winning a race or two and let the championship take care of itself.
11. Nelson Piquet Jr. - No. ? Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - Piquet signed with Turner Motorsports at the end of last season. As of late January, it still has not been announced the team number, crew chief or other details for this driver. The former Formula One driver will be starting his third season of competition in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012. Last year's accomplishments included six Top 5s and 10 Top 10s for former boss Kevin Harvick. Piquet ended last season strong with a pair of fourth-place finishes at Texas and Miami. We have a hard time not seeing this momentum come over to his new team this season. Piquet should continue to improve with Turner Motorsports and build on another solid campaign.
12. Jack Sprague - No. 5 Randy Moss Motorsports Toyota - After a three-year hiatus from the truck series, three-time truck series champion Sprague returns to the series in 2012. He's put together a deal with Randy Moss Motorsports to pilot the No. 5 Toyota Tundra and race for the championship in the upcoming season. At 46-years-old, Sprague may be past his prime, but he's still good enough to push this camp into the "B" tier of truck series teams. In his last two seasons of truck series competition, Sprague won one event and posted a combined 19 Top-10 finishes. That was good enough to earn ninth-place finishes in the driver standings for 2007 and 2008. That should be a good barometer of potential performance for the No. 5 RMM team.
13. Unknown Driver - No. 60 TurnOne Racing Chevrolet - As of late January, we still do not know who TurnOne Racing will pick to be their driver for this full-time team. That decision will be the biggest indicator of potential for the No. 60 truck. Based on what youngster Cole Whitt accomplished with this team last season, the ceiling should be pretty high if the driver has any seat time in the Camping World Truck Series. Whitt piloted team owner Stacy Compton's Chevy Silverado to two Top 5s and 11 Top 10s last season. With potential free agents like Mike Skinner, Rick Crawford and Brian Vickers floating around, this team could climb the rankings with a big free agent signing. A younger, less experienced driver would likely place them in the middle-teens of the rankings.
14. Parker Kligerman - No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Dodge - Team owner Brad Keselowski will return in 2012 with his No. 29 Dodge Ram team. Kligerman will return behind the wheel and hope to build on the solid 2011 season that he logged with this team. The 20-year-old youngster posted eight Top 10s and a surprising 11th-place finish in the standings in his rookie season with this team. Kligerman ended last season in a bit of a slump, but hopefully he and the BKR team can overcome that with a fast start in 2012. Doug Randolph will continue to call the shots for this team and build more chemistry with this young driver in the upcoming season.
15. Miguel Paludo - No. ? Turner Motorsports Chevrolet - The Brazilian is coming off a successful rookie season in the Camping World Truck Series and looking forward to an even more successful campaign with new boss Turner Motorsports. Paludo collected seven Top 10s and a respectable 18.1 average finish in his rookie season with Red Horse Racing. Intermediate and larger ovals seem to be his strength early in his truck series career, although Paludo did log an impressive fourth-place finish at the bull ring in Indianapolis last summer. Turner Motorsports has yet to release the truck number or crew chief for this team, but Paludo's youth and enthusiasm will make him a very coachable driver this season.
16. Justin Lofton - No. 6 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevrolet - Lofton has returned to the ESR team that he finished the last half of last season with in the No. 6 Chevrolet. The unsettled situation for Lofton made 2011 a rough, underperform season. Hopefully, the young driver can rally in 2012 and return to the numbers he posted in his rookie truck series season. Lofton now has 50 career Camping World Truck Series starts, so he's slowly achieving veteran status and leaving his rookie yellow stripe in the rear view mirror. A season of 8-10 Top-10 finishes and challenging the Top 15 of the driver standings should lie ahead.
17. Max Gresham - No. 24 Joe Denette Motorsports Chevrolet - The 2011 K&N Pro Series East champion will make the full-time jump to the Camping World Truck Series this year. Gresham carved out quite a reputation in his three seasons of racing in the K&N Series. The 18-year-old won four races and picked up 16 Top-10 finishes in 25 career starts over there. Now he will join the JDM family and hopefully open some eyes in the truck series this season. While we don't expect Gresham to beat out Ty Dillon for Rookie of the Year, we do expect the driver of the No. 24 Chevy to let Dillon know he's there.
18. David Starr - Unknown Team - Starr won't return to the No. 81 team that he's raced for in the last couple years, but he's actively looking for a new ride. The 43-year-old Texas native has made quite a career racing in the Camping World Truck Series. In the 290 starts Starr's posted in 14 seasons, he has four victories and 115 Top-10 finishes. Starr is proving to be as consistent later in his career as he was early on. That trend should continue if he lands a decent ride in 2012. Eight to 10 Top-10 finishes should be well within this veteran driver's reach.
19. Unknown Driver - No. 7 Red Horse Racing Toyota - Miguel Paludo did some stellar work with this team in 2011, but he moved on to Turner Motorsports this season. Plans have not been announced for this No. 7 team and whether RHR will field it again in 2012. Still, this team is good enough to warrant a Top 20 spot in the rankings regardless of the to-be-named driver. With ample veteran drivers floating around in the free agency pool, a big signing could move this team up the standings in a hurry.
20. Cale Gale - No. 33 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevrolet - Youngster Gale will saddle up for a full season in the Camping World Truck Series in 2012. He takes over the former ride of Kevin Harvick Inc., now with new owner ESR. This will be a great opportunity for Gale to race full-time for the first time ever in one of NASCAR's top three touring series. In 10 career truck series starts he's achieved two Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 20.2. Now that Gale is being handed a decent ride for a full-time schedule, some improvement should follow. Veteran crew chief Jerry Baxter should help make this transition smoother than normal.
21. Jason White - No. 23 Joe Denette Motorsports Chevrolet - White's status is not completely clear as of late January. This is becoming an annual problem for the eight-season truck series veteran. White was able to hammer out five Top-10 finishes in a full schedule with this team last season, but it remains to be seen if this team will be around in 2012. White should land a full-time ride somewhere if the No. 23 team isn't there to field a truck for him. Recent history has shown us that if he ends up in any kind of truck with equipment and backing, we can expect about five to seven Top-10 finishes in the upcoming season.
22. Dakoda Armstrong - No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota - The three-time winner of the ARCA Series will make his full-time move to the truck series in 2012. Armstrong made seven starts with this new team last season and picked up only one Top-10 finish. More importantly, the 19-year-old got valuable seat time in the truck series and started to develop some chemistry with this race team. Armstrong achieved a lot of success in just three short seasons of racing in the ARCA Series, so he's clearly got the gift. ThorSport is among one of the better multi-truck teams in the Camping World Truck Series, so the sky's the limit for Armstrong this season.
23. John Wes Townley - No. 09 RAB Racing Toyota - Townley signed in late January to race for the RAB Racing and their first venture into the Camping World Truck Series. The 21-year-old driver took the 2011 season off, but not by his own choice. His Nationwide Series gig dried up at the end of 2010 and Townley had to sit out all of last season. He will get a second chance to revive his NASCAR career in 2012. Townley is a veteran of 38 Nationwide Series starts and seven Camping World Truck Series starts. He will have to hit the ground running with this new team, as all the team's parts and pieces are coming together just weeks before the season begins.
24. David Reutimann - No. 92 Ricky Benton Racing Chevrolet - RBR signed Sprint Cup free agent Reutimann during the off-season. He will pilot the No. 92 Chevy truck in select races this season. RBR fielded this team in 15 events with Clay Rogers last season, to mixed results. Rogers was able to forge one Top-10 finish and an 18.0 average finish in those efforts. Reutimann brings a lot more experience to this seat, but 15-18 event schedule limits the team's performance. Still, we expect Reutimann to pick up a handful of Top 10s with this team in 2012 and make his presence felt.
25. Ryan Sieg - No. 39 Sieg Racing Chevrolet - Sieg will be starting his fourth season of competition in the truck series in 2012. The young driver from Tucker, Georgia has posted four Top 10s in his 60 career starts in this racing series. Improvement and level of performance have been a real struggle for this small race team. Additional sponsors have come on board with the No. 39 team for the upcoming season, so hopefully some additional funding will help Sieg on the race track each week. He needs to improve upon the mediocre 21.5 average finish that he posted in 2011.
26. Ward Burton/Jeb Burton - No. 27 Hillman Racing Chevrolet - After a five-year NASCAR hiatus, the lovable veteran driver Burton returns to action. He signed a deal in late January to be part-time pilot of the new No. 27 team of Hillman Racing. The Daytona 500 winner will be joined by his 18-year-old son Jeb in driving this Chevy Silverado. The younger Burton has only one ARCA Series start to his credit, so the learning experience will be vast for him in 2012. With Jeb taking the wheel of this team far more than Ward, the overall level of performance won't be that impressive. However, when Ward pilots this truck on the larger ovals, a major sleeper alert needs to be issued.
27. Ricky Carmichael - Unknown Team - A three-season relationship with Turner Motorsports and primary sponsor Monster Energy Drink came to an end during the off-season for Carmichael. That leaves him stranded in the free-agency pool as the new season gets cranked up. Carmichael was just starting show some promise in NASCAR with his last two seasons of performance. He posted a combined 16 Top 10s in 2009-10. Now Carmichael will set out to find a new sponsor and new race team for this season. Chances are not good for him to land a full-time ride. He may get in a few spot starts with some different, small teams, but we don't expect anything significant to develop for Carmichael, at least this year.
28. Paulie Harraka -No. TBD Wauters Motorsports Ford - The young star of the K&N Pro Series West has put together a deal with team owner Richie Wauters to race for the Rookie of the Year in the truck series this season. The 21-year-old New Jersey Native made quite a reputation in four seasons of racing out west. Harraka three victories and 17 Top-10 finishes in his 29 career starts in this racing series. That was good enough to finish in the Top 5 of the driver standings for two of those seasons. So, clearly Harraka has the talent. He was a world champion in karts and a series champion in the legends, so the only thing that could limit Harraka in his ROTY bid would be the equipment. Wauters will be challenged to keep his young prodigy fast in order to compete with the best in this racing series.
29. Ross Chastain - No. 08 SS-Green Light Racing Toyota - The 18-year-old Florida native made just five truck series starts last season, but that was good enough to land him a full-time gig with the No. 08 Toyota team. Chastain likely impressed with his Top-10 finish at Indianapolis last summer. That was his only Top 10 in his brief schedule for truck owner Stacy Compton. Chastain will make a bid for Rookie of the Year, but will face many challenges racing for this "second tier" truck series team.
30. Norm Benning - No. 57 Norm Benning Racing Chevrolet - Benning is fast becoming the truck series' elder statesman. He enters the 2012 season a ripe 59-years of age and still going strong. With a NASCAR career that spans all the way back to the late 80's, Benning has seen his share of action. This will be his fourth full-time season of competition in the Camping World Truck Series with his self-owned No. 57 Chevy Silverado team. This is one of the truly shoe-string operations in this racing series and it shows in the results. Benning hasn't managed a single Top 10 in his 77 career starts, and his lowly 27.0 average finish in 2011 indicates just how thin this driver and team have been.
31. Unknown Driver - No. 07 SS Green Light Racing Chevrolet - This team has had its share of success over the years, but they've also had a lot of different drivers as well. Johnny Chapman and a few other drivers made most of the starts for this team last season. They were mostly a start-and-park operation, and that is the kiss of death in fantasy racing speak. To their credit, SS Green Light Racing appears to have the sponsorship and money to field this team in 2012, so hope springs eternal. Depending on the driver they land and the funding they secure, the No. 07 Chevrolet team has the potential to climb the rankings.
32. Chris Cockrum - No. 93 Sieg Racing Chevrolet - The 24-year-old from Conyers, Georgia signed a late off-season deal to race in the season-opener at Daytona with Sieg Racing. The team hopes to compete in the full season, but that has not been written in stone just yet. Cockrum made his truck series debut last season and finished a respectable 24th for truck owner Stacy Compton at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the late summer. That was his one and only start in 2011. Cockrum is short on experience, but high on enthusiasm and will learn a lot in the upcoming season.
33. Colin Braun - No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports Ford - This part-time team has not announced their plans yet for 2012, but they made a couple starts last season with Braun to good results. The 22-year-old posted ninth- and 19th-place finishes in his two starts in the No. 51 Ford truck. A handful of other drivers filled out the schedule for this team. If funding can be secured and the team can go back to full-time racing, Braun could climb the rankings significantly. He won a race and finished fifth in the final driver standings in 2009, so all this young driver needs is the opportunity to race, and this is a good enough team to put good trucks at Braun's disposal.
34. Chris Fontaine - No. 84 Chris Fontaine Inc. Chevrolet - This part-time race team makes about seven to 10 starts per season with Fontaine behind the wheel of the team's Chevy Silverado. Fontaine has made 31 career starts in shoestring type rides over five seasons in the Camping World Truck Series to little effect. He has no Top 10s during this span and a career average finish of 22.2. Fontaine is little more than a part-time field filler at this point, and that likely won't change until his team gets more funding or he moves elsewhere.
35. Todd Peck - No. 96 Peck Motorsports Chevrolet - This small, lightly funded race team will return in 2012 and hope to build on their three-race 2011 effort. Peck had DNFs in two of those three events, so money and equipment would seem to be at a premium. The good news is that the team has gathered more funding in the off-season and hope to expand Peck's efforts to 10-12 starts this season. The 25-year-old Pennsylvania native has 38 USAR Pro Cup and 16 K&N Pro Series East starts to his credit, so Peck isn't short on experience. However, he lacks the seat time in the truck series to make a real impact this season.