Commentary

Allen finds status in limbo despite big rookie season

Craftsman Truck Series rookie of the year Willie Allen passed on some offers to switch rides this offseason. Now he wishes he hadn't, writes John Schwarb.

Updated: January 3, 2008, 5:29 PM ET
By John Schwarb | Special to ESPN.com

Willie Allen can happily reflect on his 2007 rookie of the year season. Unfortunately, that's more pleasant right now than thinking about what the future may hold.

[+] EnlargeWillie Allen
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesWillie Allen was the 2007 rookie of the year, but he won't be driving the No. 13 for ThorSport in 2008.

Preseason testing for the Craftsman Truck Series begins Jan. 11, but at the moment Allen isn't sure if he'll be there with a job. After driving the No. 13 ThorSport Chevrolet to a 15th-place finish in points last season, he received notice in early December that his seat would be heading to a different driver unless Allen could help in bringing a sponsorship package.

"It's definitely frustrating," said the 27-year-old Tennessee native. "We're going to find something [for this year], hopefully I can get a ride on talent and my résumé."

ThorSport owner Duke Thorson said he's not giving up on perhaps fielding three trucks in 2008, adding a third truck for Allen alongside the No. 88 of Matt Crafton and the No. 13, which will be driven by 22-year-old Shelby Howard, most recently a Hooters Pro Cup driver. But at the moment it appears Allen may be one-and-done as far as full-time years with a team he had courted for some time prior to 2007.

Allen's first truck start was a sixth-place finish in 2005 with David Dollar, surviving the Martinsville, Va., bullring. He earned that break while participating in a young driver development test for Chevy. After Martinsville he got one more truck start at the season's penultimate race in Phoenix, but finished 34th in a Bobby Dotter truck with rear-end problems.

Those two races stoked Allen's fire for a full-time truck seat, and he thought he could land one with ThorSport for 2006. At the time, he was driving late-model stocks in Nashville and working during the day reading gas meters, all while keeping in touch with Thorson to ask about whether any opportunities were available. But a ride instead went to Kerry Earnhardt. Still, Allen kept in touch throughout the season and got a chance to drive a third ThorSport entry at the Homestead-Miami finale, finishing two laps down in 25th but bringing the truck home safely.

Duke Thorson saw enough to hand Allen the No. 13 for all of 2007, though the early part of the season was sluggish with three top-20s in the first dozen races. One frustrating day was a 28th-place finish at Mansfield, Ohio, where Allen was running third with 30 laps to go before running out of gas. Other races never got that far.

"The first couple months we had lots of mechanical problems," Allen said. "At one time I think we'd blown more engines than we'd raced, having blown several in practice, too."

Allen fell to 20th in points midway through the season, but picked up momentum in the second half including a season-best sixth at Talladega, an impressive run given his background as a short-track racer.

"It felt great to run upfront all day, then to finally get it down in the books meant a lot," Allen said. "Restrictor-plate racing is something you can't get at a short track and I felt I didn't have a lot of experience, so to put that on my résumé along with the short track and intermediate stuff means a lot."

That résumé is all Allen has at the moment. He thought his 2008 position with ThorSport was secure in October when the team notified him that an option for the upcoming season would be picked up. So Allen finished the season, won rookie of the year and attended the CTS banquet as a member of ThorSport. Then came the news that his spot wasn't so secure after all.

"The worst thing about it was the timing and not letting me know. At the awards banquet, being around all the owners and teams, if I would have known earlier, it would have definitely helped," Allen said. "There were several teams that approached me that I could have went to, but I thought I was still under contract for next year, and happy where I was."

Now, Allen said, many of those opportunities he had heard about are full. Thorson says he has put in some calls to other teams as well ("We don't want to see him sitting out any more than he wants to," he said), but with the new year comes the reality that time is running short.

Allen can only wait and hope there's more to his trucks career than a rookie of the year award.

Cook connects with Wyler
Six-time series winner Terry Cook will stay with Toyota in 2008, signing to drive Wyler Racing's No. 06 Tundra.

Cook, owner of the series' consecutive-starts streak with 247 and counting, drove the No. 59 HT Motorsports Toyota last season, finishing 14th in points. His last win came at Kansas Speedway in 2006.

Donny Lia, the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, will get Cook's old seat in the No. 59.

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