Cook lands on his feet a week after Wyler Racing gives him the boot

Updated: October 16, 2008, 2:47 PM ET

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Terry Cook, right, and Ron Hornaday Jr. battle for position at Michigan in June 2006.

Cook back with HT Motorsports, but 2009 still up in air

Terry Cook owns the Craftsman Truck Series consecutive-starts record at 267 and counting. It goes without saying that it's a record one can only own by having skills behind the wheel.

But in this era of the Trucks, it also apparently isn't a record one can have without maintaining relationships.

Cook, a six-time race winner in the Trucks, was released last week by Wyler Racing after 20 races in which he recorded seven top-10s and sat 10th in driver points in the No. 60 Toyota. When Kevin Harvick Inc. parted ways with Jack Sprague after the three-time champion's disappointing season in the No. 2 Chevrolet, Wyler moved quickly to reunite with Sprague, its driver for 55 races from 2005-07.

That left Cook seeking a ride, and by the end of the week he had one with HT Motorsports -- the same team that employed him, and let him go, last season.

Apparently what goes around can come back around.

"One thing I've learned in this business is don't burn bridges; treat others the way you want to be treated, with respect," Cook said. "Doesn't matter who I've ever driven for in the past, we've always remained good friends and kept close relationships."

It paid off in a return to HT Motorsports, which had an ugly breakup last month with Ted Musgrave. The 2005 series champion had been at odds with the team for weeks over performance issues and it came to a crescendo at Las Vegas, when Musgrave crashed early in the first practice, exchanged words with his team and promptly quit.

HT Motorsports put Stacy Compton in the No. 59 Toyota on short notice at Vegas, then two weeks later at Talladega fielded the truck with Joey Logano. The team probably could have finished the season with a continuing revolving door of drivers but opted for continuity in Cook, who drove the No. 59 to a 14th-place points finish in 2007.

Cook parted ways with HT at the end of that season when the team had an opportunity to pick up Musgrave and his Team ASE sponsorship after running without an outside sponsor for much of Cook's season.

There's no guarantee for Cook that a similar situation won't play out two months from now when the season is over.

One of the major offseason storylines in the Trucks could be the fate of its 40-and-over veterans, drivers like Cook, Musgrave, Sprague and Dennis Setzer. All but one (Musgrave) are set to race for the rest of this season, and all have solid résumés from multiple wins to even multiple titles, but none are shoo-ins to drive next year if sponsorships for cash-strapped teams don't materialize.

"I've went through this for the past two seasons, now I'm in my third season of 'What are you going to do come Christmastime?'" said Cook, 40, a veteran of five teams and five top-10 points finishes over 12 years. "It's very, very frustrating. You think at Homestead, 'Is this truly going to be my last race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, or racing in general?' You don't know, and that's the unfortunate part of my sport.

"Sometimes you do live race-to-race and season-to-season."

Owners have been quick to fire late in this season, trying to get a jump-start on 2009 by handing the wheel to new drivers who, in their minds, can coax higher finishes out of the same trucks to catch sponsors' eyes. Sprague said that was a factor in his dismissal from KHI, and Cook said he wouldn't have been immune from that either in his departure from the Wyler Racing No. 60.

The only way Cook can ensure his future is to bring sponsorship to the table, a path increasingly taken by younger drivers but not as easily pulled off by veterans.

"I always state that I've got a helmet, I've got a fire suit and all the things I need to go racing with, and I can bring you 10-plus years of Truck Series experience, but one thing I can't bring with me is a large check," Cook said. "I'm not tied to a particular sponsor or a rich daddy or anything like that -- all I can bring is my talent. But it takes a lot more to make these things go.

"It's frustrating for some of the drivers out there right now trying to put programs together and move forward. I've talked to several teams; they all tell me the same thing: 'We'll run a second truck, third truck, fourth truck, whatever; bring us a program and we've got a seat right here for you. You're name's going on the door top, but we've got to have the funding to do it.' I don't expect an owner to shell out $3.5, $4 million out of his own pocket to run a program, but it's tough to go out and try to find these deals to put them together."

The series is stronger with drivers such as Cook, but the economy may have the final say. In the meantime, he'll at least make it through this season thanks to a solid reputation in the garage.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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Title chase takes to short track

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Hornaday

Ron Hornaday Jr. and Johnny Benson escaped Talladega Superspeedway two weeks ago without damage to their title hopes. They'll hope for the same Saturday at Martinsville.

The half-mile paper clip isn't as dangerous as Dega, obviously, but there can be trouble in the tight turns and door-to-door racing.

"Martinsville Speedway is tough on the race car, race truck, anything that races there," said Rick Ren, crew chief for Hornaday's No. 33 Chevrolet. "That is one place that you have to take really good care of your brakes if you want to have a chance of winning. Being up front is also where you want to be, because it can be hard to pass at times because there is not that much room."

Hornaday, of Kevin Harvick Inc., leads Benson by 39 points with five consecutive weeks of racing remaining starting this weekend. Hornaday has seven top-10 finishes in 12 starts at Martinsville with a high finish of third. Benson has three top-10s in 10 starts and was a hard-luck 25th in the spring race after Kyle Busch spun him out on the last lap, thwarting a certain top-three run.

Lia finishing season with Moss

The No. 81 Chevrolet of Randy Moss Motorsports has been a revolving door all season, including when it was the No. 46 of Morgan-Dollar Motorsports. Nine different drivers have been in the seat over 20 races, but the most recent one will stay the rest of the season.

Rookie Donny Lia, a winner earlier this year at Mansfield, Ohio, for TRG Motorsports, will run the final five races in the No. 81 after finishing 10th for the team last month at Las Vegas.

"We know as a team we have the resources to be competitive," said David Dollar, RMM co-owner along with the New England Patriots wide receiver. "The one thing we have lacked this year is the consistency of a single driver. With Donny coming on board to finish out the year for us, we feel like we can get in that rhythm as we prepare for the 2009 season."

Spare Parts

There's a plethora of trucks ready for Martinsville, a nice change in the series. Forty were on the entry list as of Wednesday, meaning a full 36-truck field will race for just the second time in the last eight events. … There could be two Skinners in the field -- Bill Davis Racing regular Mike and his 23-year-old son Dustin, who will attempt to qualify the No. 03 Germain Racing Toyota. Jamie Skinner, Mike's oldest son, raced at Martinsville in 1997. … Kevin Harvick will drive his team's No. 2 Chevrolet after firing Jack Sprague two weeks ago. Harvick made six Truck starts last year and finished eighth or better in all but one, including a fourth in the Martinsville spring race.

Standings