NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team owner Billy Ballew has always had a knack for spotting and attracting top-level talent, and this year is no exception.
For his No. 51 Toyota Tundra, Ballew snatched up Aric Almirola to run the full 2010 Truck Series season, and the Tampa, Fla., native has responded with two victories and consistent performance. Almirola is now second in the points, trailing only Todd Bodine heading into today’s CampingWorld.com 200 at Gateway International Raceway.
And Ballew has put together quite a deal for the upcoming July 31 Pocono Mountains 125 NCWTS race at Pocono Raceway: NASCAR Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin, who has four career Cup victories at the 2.5-mile track, will drive Ballew’s No. 15 Toyota in the race.
Hamlin joins an impressive list of drivers who have piloted the No. 15 this season: Former NCWTS champs Ted Musgrave and Johnny Benson have driven the No. 15 already, and so have NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Steve Wallace and former Formula One driver Nelson Piquet Jr.
The dominance Hamlin has shown at Pocono instantly makes him a favorite in the Truck Series race there. In 10 Truck Series starts, the Virginia native has posted one top-five and four top-10 finishes.
But in the Sprint Cup Series at Pocono, Hamlin has been nothing short of incredible. In nine career starts at the triangle-shaped track, Hamlin has two poles, four race victories and a pair of third-place finishes. In his rookie season of 2006, he qualified for the pole and won both Pocono Cup races.
Hamlin also won the June Pocono race. But even then, he was at something of a loss to explain his success there.
“It’s tough to say,” Hamlin said when queried about how well he runs at Pocono. “We won here in several different cars, different types of race tracks. ... So, it’s really tough to pinpoint what exactly it is. ... I really don’t know the answer. If I did I would tell my teammates.”
Hamlin isn’t the only Cup regular entered in the Pocono Truck Series race: Kasey Kahne, who has won the only two Truck races he’s ever been in, will drive the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra, while Elliott Sadler will pilot the No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet Silverado.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.