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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.– Ryan Truex and Paulie Harraka made a big splash on opposite coasts in the NASCAR Camping World Series – winning races and even a championship in NASCAR’s top developmental series. NASCAR announced today that Truex and Harraka are the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honorees for the 2009 seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Series East and West, respectively.
Truex and Harraka – both from New Jersey – will be officially recognized at the NASCAR Touring Series Gala in Concord, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 14.
Seventeen-year-old Truex garnered headlines in the NASCAR Camping World Series East – becoming just the second driver in the history of the series to win the championship and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the same season. Harraka, meanwhile, also came on strong late in the season to gain the upper hand in a fierce two-way battle for the prestigious Sunoco award in the NASCAR Camping World Series West.
Driving the No. 00 NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex reeled off seven straight top-three finishes to lock up the rookie title among a talented freshman class and clinched the overall championship.
Making Truex’s story even more remarkable is that it was MWR’s first foray into the series and their deal came together only a few weeks before the start of the season. When the season did begin, it did not appear that the Mayetta, N.J., driver would mount a serious challenge for the rookie title – let alone contend for the championship. He was 12th in the overall point standings after three races; with finishes of 14th and 16th, followed by 33rd overall in the NASCAR Camping World Series East-West combination race at Iowa.
Truex and his team turned their season around, however, putting together a string of seven consecutive top-three finishes that included three wins – Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, Thompson (Conn.) Speedway and Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn. He headed into the 11th and final race of the season with a 30-point lead in the championship standings. Truex clinched the overall title with an eighth-place finish in that race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway and also edged runner-up Brett Moffitt by just one point for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.
Truex finished his season with three wins, two poles, seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
“I just can’t say how much I appreciate everyone at Michael Waltrip Racing, everybody on my team, my brother and my parents,” Truex said. “I’m really fortunate. I can’t explain how much it means.”
The Truex name is well known in the NASCAR Camping World Series East. Ryan’s father, Martin Truex Sr., raced the circuit when it was known as the NASCAR Busch North Series – as did his brother, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Jr.
Harraka, a sophomore at Duke University who turned 20 in September, won two of the three final races behind the wheel of the No. 12 NAPA AutoCare/Adaptive One Brakes Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing to secure the rookie title and finish fourth in the overall championship standings in the West’s oldest stock car racing circuit.
Harraka – who hails from Fairlawn, N.J., but raced late model stock cars on the West Coast in 2007 and 2008 – experienced more of an up and down season. After mechanical problems in the first race relegated him to a 17th-place finish, he rebounded with a third-place finish at his home track, All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. His battle for the rookie title developed into a two-way struggle with fellow talented youngster Blake Koch that went back and forth through much of the year.
The turning point for Harraka came at Colorado National Speedway, north of Denver, in August – when he scored his first career series win. His victory was also significant in terms of delivering NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program with its first win in the NASCAR Camping World Series and giving his registered car owner, Mike Curb, his first win in the series. Harraka added to that with a victory in the season finale at Roseville, giving him two wins in three races.
In addition to clinching the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, Harraka finished fourth in the championship standings – with two wins, one pole, seven top-five and eight top-10 finishes.
“Winning the rookie of the year title was one of our really big goals at the beginning of the year,” Harraka said. “We certainly had to fight hard for it. We had some pretty strong competition for the title. It means a lot to me to win it. I won the rookie of the year in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (at Roseville) in 2007 and followed that up with a championship in 2008. Hopefully, winning rookie of the year in the NASCAR Camping World Series in 2009 will be followed up by a championship in 2010.”
Although a rookie in the touring series this year, Harraka was already a veteran frequent flyer. He began traveling back and forth across the country in 2007, attending high school on East Coast and racing on the West Coast for BMR in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model division at Roseville as a participant in the Drive for Diversity program. He won the track championship at the historic fairgrounds facility in 2008, delivering the D4D program its first championship. As a student at Duke, Harraka continues his cross country trek to race in the NASCAR Camping World Series West.
By virtue of their wins in NASCAR Camping World Series races, the two drivers have also secured a spot in the prestigious post-season NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown on Jan. 29-30, 2010 in Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).