With the rain finally gone, the Camping World Truck Series took center stage at Martinsville Speedway for the Kroger 200, one of the toughest races in the series synonymous with the word tough. It’s a reputation well-earned by both track and trucks; NASCAR’s oldest racetrack and its youngest series seem made for each other.
Really, nobody should be surprised that the trucks put on a great show. There are several reasons why the series offers some of the best (and most overlooked) racing in NASCAR, often producing excitement that even the more prestigious Sprint Cup Series often can’t. The only real mystery is why more people don’t watch.
Want pure, side-by-side competition? This series produces the closest thing NASCAR has to offer today. The win is still the most important thing; you rarely see drivers points race here. The end goal is to win the event, to put trophies on the shelf and not consistency towards the championship. With every driver having the same end goal, the points generally take care of themselves. It’s not that the Truck Series drivers don’t care about winning a championship or that the Cup drivers don’t care about winning – but they live in different worlds. It takes many millions of dollars to run for wins and championships in the Cup Series, and that means that Cup teams have excellent technology, the best pit crews, the top drivers. That’s not wrong, but it creates a different atmosphere, an elitist atmosphere. The old days are long gone from the Cup garage.
The trucks still cost millions (though many millions less than the top Cup operations), but the series retains a certain feel to it that the Cup Series has long since lost. Yes, there are sponsors to woo, but walking through the garage, the feeling is more relaxed, more welcoming. Especially at a track like Martinsville, where the teams work on their trucks under EZ-up tents in the makeshift garage area, there’s a sense that most of these people, not unlike the thousands that race on America’s short tracks in anonymity, really enjoy being here. Not that they’re slacking off or joking around, because they are as serious as can be about their jobs… it’s just that you can tell how much they like the jobs they toil at.
The style of racing that the trucks embrace is old school. The boxier, less-aerodynamic trucks can take a bit of beating and banging much better than the Cup or Nationwide cars can, and that leads to hard, aggressive racing. Fenders can be – and often are – used to make a point. The trucks are more stable in the air, meaning that a little rubbing (and rubbing, son, is racing) won’t send them skittering toward the wall or the infield grass. It might tick off a driver enough that _he_ sends the offender skittering toward those things, but the stability of the trucks, while it makes them slower than the Cup and Nationwide cars, also makes them able to withstand harder racing without ending their day early. That’s something that can appeal to stock car purists. Saturday’s race included plenty of “Boys, Have At It,” but on tracks like Martinsville, that can still be part of the game without destroying someone’s day as a result.
The mix of drivers in the series also adds to its appeal. Even more so than in other series, there’s a combination of wily veterans and inexperienced drivers, and along with that, a healthy level of respect on the track by most. These guys race hard, they race well, and they put on a show all the way. It’s a pure race… no frills. Drivers whose Cup careers never took off thrive here, young drivers have their mettle tested, and while some move on, others stay and make the series a career. Some, like Ron Hornaday, a future Hall of Famer with four championships and 51 wins over 14 years, move on only to return to the series they love at the end. The drivers in the series want to race there.
The trucks often put on the best show of a race weekend, even when they run in conjunction with the Sprint Cup Series. Why the races don’t draw more fans, or the broadcasts higher ratings is a mystery. This is the closest thing to Saturday night short track racing that NASCAR has to offer a national audience. It’s the old school battles that so many fans pine for, with heroes and villains, veterans and kids and badass race machines. In many ways, it’s the way NASCAR used to be before the 2000s came along and everything changed.
In short, the series is everything that Sprint Cup often lacks. But the series and its teams are struggling to draw fans and sponsors. So if old school racing is really what fans want, this is the best there is in NASCAR. If a variety of available drivers with great talent and personality is what sponsors want, it’s all right there in front of them. This is the purest racing in NASCAR. It’s worth watching.
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