AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Cook back with HT Motorsports, but 2009 still up in airTerry 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title chase takes to short track