When the Camping World Truck Series takes on Pocono Raceway Saturday afternoon, it will mark the fifth race at the facility but the first to run 150 miles instead of the standard 125 from the past four years. It’s a change designed for long-term impact, the series expected to race at the Tricky Triangle for years to come.
The Trucks are now firmly entrenched as a welcome addition to the facility, compared to when the track was added to the 2010 schedule. Having seen the Cup Series race on the 2.5-mile course for many years, anticipation of what the trucks might do left people wondering what to expect, causing mixed reviews as to whether it was the right venue for the series. Well, fast forward to today, and there have been four different winners in four different races, the type of diversity in Victory Lane that has defined NASCAR’s “most competitive” series throughout its existence.
Elliott Sadler scored his first career Truck Series victory in the inaugural event at Pocono in 2010, and he became the 21st driver in NASCAR history to win races in all three series. He led a race-high 31 of 55 laps (extended by five for a green-white-checkered finish) and beat out Kasey Kahne by nearly half a second. Then, the following year, it was another Kevin Harvick, Inc. truck celebrating in Victory Lane, this time driven by the owner himself. His victory was a bit more dominant, boasting a 1.140-second margin over fellow Cup driver Kyle Busch after leading 44 of 50 laps.
Come 2012, the full-time Truck Series drivers took center stage, putting on a race that left fans on their feet and rubber-stamped NASCAR’s decision to run here. Nelson Piquet, Jr. started on the pole, led 33 laps and looked well on his way to his first career win, but an on-track incident with Todd Bodine dashed those hopes in a dramatic side-by-side battle after a restart. He was left with the blame (though it wasn’t his fault) and a third-place finish, never able to work back up through the field. Joey Coulter then grabbed the top spot on the final restart, following a five-truck incident with just seven laps remaining, to score his first and only Truck Series victory. This weekend, he’s on the entry list, this time behind the wheel of the No. 21 Chevrolet for Gallagher Motorsports, hoping to become the first multi-time winner of this event.
Like Coulter, defending race winner Ryan Blaney has his sights set on making it 2-for-Pocono, having led just 20 laps (a race high) last season en route to victory. Blaney’s triumph in a Ford was the one to break Chevrolet’s win streak at the Tricky Triangle when he beat out Chevy driver Miguel Paludo by a mere 0.270 seconds in a green-white-checkered finish. Blaney comes into this race holding onto the momentum of three straight top-3 results, including a third-place race last Wednesday at Eldora that gave him a slim two-point margin over defending champion Matt Crafton.
While Chevrolet and Ford would love to add another race to the win column this weekend, they’re going to have to go through the Toyota drivers to do so. The manufacturer has visited Victory Lane in all ten events this season, with eight of those wins going to Kyle Busch Motorsports, easily one of the strongest teams in the series right now. KBM has Erik Jones and Darrell Wallace, Jr. on the entry list this weekend, and the pair have a combined three wins in the last four races, including Wallace’s victory at Eldora last weekend.
But the KBM drivers aren’t the only ones to watch. ThorSport teammates Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Jeb Burton would love nothing more than to once again break up the KBM party. The defending series champion has finished in the top 10 in all four of his starts at Pocono, so it’s definitely hard to count him out this weekend, and he’s looking to grab that championship lead back from Blaney at the halfway point of the season. Sauter’s luck at Pocono hasn’t been nearly as great as Crafton’s — he’s only finished in the top 10 once, a fourth in 2011 — but would love nothing more than to post another solid finish in a season where he’s flashed consistency. Sauter, whose roller coaster results have often kept him from a championship has posted a top-10 finish in eight out of the first ten events.
Despite running alongside the Cup Series this weekend, Austin Dillon is the only Cup driver on the 32-truck entry list as of press time, so the likelihood that a Truck driver won’t win is pretty slim, based on the law of averages alone. In fact, the best races the series sees are the ones that aren’t dominated by those Cup regulars, and this weekend should bring us more of the same.
An extra 25 miles? Based on the first four Truck races, expect another ten laps of strong competition, with no one driver or team a heavy favorite heading into the weekend – just the way NASCAR fans like it.