Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200

In a Nutshell: Kyle Larson was the class of the field from the drop of the green flag until the drop of the checkered. He held off Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano and CWTS veterans Brendan Gaughan and Johnny Sauter on a green-white-checkered finish to win his first career Truck event. Chase Elliott rounded out the top 5 in Rockingham.

Who Should Have Won: Larson. It’s only been a matter of time since he made his series debut last year. Still, given the skill and poise he showed, It was hard to believe that Larson was running just his fifth career CWTS race. Larson led 187 of 205 laps en route to complete dominance on Sunday.

Race Rundown

Welcome to the newest addition to Tracking the Trucks! In this section for each race, we’ll take a look at the most important things to know just in case you weren’t able to watch it. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below.

Kyle Larson has huge potential If Larson continues to show the talent behind the wheel in a Cup car a couple of years from now, he is going to have a heck of a career. He may be just 20 years old, but he drives like a veteran most of the time and is a threat to win in every CWTS or Nationwide Series race he enters. His race on Sunday was nearly flawless, and he got a perfect restart on the G-W-C, not phased in the least at having a charging Logano to his outside. All in all, Larson made the race look like a Sunday drive, while the rest of the field was wrestling it out behind him.

He had a scary moment in Friday night’s Nationwide race, blowing a tire and nearly slamming into a safety truck. In the split second he had to make an evasive move, Larson threw the car to the left, putting it in the wall rather than endangering the safety workers. And he showed up at Rockingham the next morning as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened¸ hopped in the truck, and engineered a winning weekend. That grace under fire could take him places. We won’t know what Larson can do in a Cup car until he has some experience, but if he’s as good in those cars as he is in Nationwide and Trucks, he’ll be a superstar. Jimmie who?

Joey Logano is taking some lumps Logano arrived from Texas at 3 AM, the only Cup driver to enter Sunday’s event (though his Cup teammate and truck owner Brad Keselowski was also at the Rock). Coleman Pressley practiced the truck for Logano on Saturday, and judjing by the crowd’s reaction to Logano during driver introductions, they’d have rather Pressley had stayed in the truck.

Logano was introduced to around of booing from fans in the stands, and though it wasn’t as loud as it was in Martinsville for last week’s Cup race, the boos seemed to outdo the cheers. It seems as though the reaction is stemming from Denny Hamlin’s injury at Fontana and/or the block he threw on Tony Stewart in that same race. It’s clear that it could be a tough ride for Logano in the coming weeks, no matter where he races.

ThorSport is on it in 2013 ThorSport entered 2013 needing a turnaround after a lackluster 2012, and they’ve done a 180 so far. Johnny Sauter was one of only a couple of drivers who looked as though he might be able to challenge Larson on Sunday, and he did best him for one lap just after a restart. He got nipped for a podium finish by Brendan Gaughan on the green-white-checkered, but his fourth-place run was good enough for him to stretch his point lead over Jeb Burton and it’s beginning to look like the road to this series’ title will lead through Sauter.

Meanwhile, Matt Crafton quietly passed a career milestone this week: 300 consecutive starts. Crafton, who finished sixth on Sunday, is third in points . The veteran Crafton is similar to another guy named Matt—Sprint Cup Champion Kenseth. Crafton might not be flashy and he might not win every week, but like Kenseth, he is certainly capable of reminding everyone he’s there and racking up top 5 and top 10 finishes.

But James Buescher isn’t Meanwhile, the defending champion struggled at Rockingham after getting spun by Mike Harmon on lap 144. He’d recover to finish in the lead lap in 14th, but after three races in 2013, the reigning champ has yet to score a top 10 finish, and he’s getting outrun by his rookie teammate Jeb Burton, who has two poles, to top 5’s and has finished in the top ten in every race this year. If Buescher is going to repeat, he needs to bounce back.

Rockingham’s old pavement is tough on drivers A weathered track makes for great racing (track owners, take note), but the surface at Rockingham really makes drivers work for it. A couple of laps in the pace car illustrated just how bumpy and slick the racing surface is (and that the pit road entrance is nearly a blind corner-yikes). A special shoutout needs to go to James Buescher, who chauffeured me and the other media members around.

But, a weathered, slippery track with bumps and tricks doesn’t put the drivers off—all weekend long most of the competitors sang the praises of the tough old track that refused to go quietly into the NASCAR history books…perhaps NASCAR should think about that.

*The veterans had their say*While much of the talk at Rockingham was about the young guns, with Larson dominating and Jeb Burton setting a track record while taking the pole, the veterans were a big factor on Saturday. Sauter had his worst finish on 2013…fourth. He’s experienced, and he’s tough, and he drove like it on Sunday. With top 6 runs of their own, Brendan Gaughan and Crafton also delivered a memo to the young guns on Sunday: they will have to beat old age and treachery if they want to take home this year’s top prize.

Questions You Should Be Asking Yourself After This One

1. Why wasn’t Ron Hornaday, Jr. parked for wrecking Darrell Wallace, Jr. ?

NASCAR is reviewing an incident that occurred between Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Darrell Wallace, Jr. under caution late in the race. Hornaday, upset with Wallace for earlier contact, said he only meant to “brush up” Wallace, but he ended up putting Wallace’s No.54 truck in the wall. Because the incident took place under caution, NASCAR may punish Hornaday; they parked Kyle Busch for the remainder of the weekend after he intentionally wrecked Hornaday under caution at Texas in the fall of 2011.

However, Busch was also immediately parked for the rest of the truck race. NASCAR’s immediate reaction here? They sent Hornaday to the end of the longest line. What gives? Perhaps a couple of things were at play with Busch’s penalty (and a similar penalty given to Kevin Harvick): One, Busch had a record with NASCAR. While NASCAR denied that had anything to do with Busch’s parking, it had to be on thier minds as they discussed penalties. Also, Busch was not a CWTS regular and the move had immediate championship implications. NASCAR may have considered one or both of those things at that time.

The sanctioning body may still decide to further penalize Hornaday, and given their past punishments, that would be entirely appropriate. The bottom line is that no matter what Hornaday’s place is in the history of the series, he still broke a cardinal rule of racing and the lack of consistency of the reaction was puzzling.

2. Is it just a matter of time until Jeb Burton or Chase Elliott is in victory lane?

Well, yes. Both of these youngsters—remember that Elliott is still a teenager and Burton is not yet 21—have shown that they aren’t riding anyone’s coattails in this game, even if their fathers are both Daytona 500 champions and Elliott’s has a sprint Cup title and a zillion Most Popular Driver awards. They’re here because they earned their way to NASCAR’s elite ranks by racing late models whenever and wherever they could, and that experience is serving them well now.

Burton, who has made winning the last two CWTS poles look easy, has yet to finish outside the top 10, and given Turner Scott Motorsports’ excellent power, he could easily continue that streak next week. Elliott, not to be outdone, has finished no worse than sixth in his first two career CWTS races. Both of these youngsters will win races in this series; it’s just a matter of when.

And after his second top-10 run in his first two races, you might want to keep an eye on Erik Jones, too.

3. Is the Rock ready for a Truck/Nationwide double?

Well, yes. And no. The crowd on Sunday, while not as big as it was last year, was still darn impressive for a stand-alone Truck Series race. It’s clear that the fans support the track that they had once thought was gone from NASCAR forever. They’ve been vocal about wishing that the Sprint Cup Series would return to the high-banked, abrasive mile. A Nationwide race would be well-received.

The problem is that hosting a Nationwide race is also expensive. Sanctioning fees and guaranteed purses are higher, and if the stands aren’t full, the track won’t break even. That might not be as hard to take for International Speedway Corp. (though it’s why Martinsville does not host a NNS race) or Speedway Motorsports, Inc., but it could break the bank for Andy Hillenburg. And if that happens, Rockingham’s savior might risk losing everything he has gained. It’s a gamble that fans could lose on, too.

And a Cup race? As great as that would be, the track doesn’t have the infrastructure to support that series any more. The backstretch grandstands are gone (fans now occupy them at Z-Max Dragway), and the bathroom facilities and other amenities are antiquated by today’s standards. In the meantime, the Rock is the perfect track for the Truck Series—tough, gritty, and still a sentimental favorite like an old pickup. It may have seen better days, but it has earned every scratch, dent, and ding, and ding.

Truck Rookie Report
2013 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Ryan Blaney (No. 29)
Jeb Burton (No. 4)
Brennan Newberry (No. 14)
German Quiroga, Jr. (No. 77)
Ryan Truex (No. 30)
Darrell Wallace, Jr. (No. 54)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 12 (Ryan Truex did not race; add Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Tyler Young based on just four previous starts, Caleb Holman based on just 9 CWTS starts, and a debuting Tyler Reddick)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 5:Larson (1st), Elliott, (5th), Burton (7th), Ryan Blaney (9th), and Erik Jones (10th). *Rookie of the Race: * Jeb Burton (though Elliott and Larson finished higher, they aren’t Rookie of the Year candidates)
Rookie Quotes:

“Long day—wow, long day! We started dead last, shotgun on the field. The truck hit the track in qualifying. We went a lap down early, got the lucky dog, and then went around and got another caution. Our Toyota Tundra was fast all day—it really was. Track position was our factor that killed us all day. We were a little better than the finish again, but going to Iowa here next for me—got a little bit of off time, which is disappointing. I would like to stay in the truck and keep this momentum going.” -Erik Jones, finished 10th

“If (Ron Hornaday, Jr.) wanted to brush me up then I brushed him up earlier in the race so he should have took note of that. He just flat out wrecked us. It’s unfortunate. It was fun; we just couldn’t hit it all weekend. Put it up to the top on that last restart and we were making up some ground. Got to him and he wasn’t going to give me the top, so I knew what to do—I had to take his line away. I didn’t put him in the fence or anything and he just pulls that bonehead move. I will go have a word with him—I’m all happy; I’m not going to throw a punch or anything.” -Darrell Wallace, Jr. on his tangle with Hornaday

Championship Checkup:

Sauter extends his point lead to 16 over Jeb Burton. Matt Crafton is four pints behing Burton in third, and Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Ryan Blaney round out the top five. The next five on the charts are Ty Dillon, Miguel Paludo, James Buescher, Ryan Sieg, and Darrell Wallace, Jr.

We’re still just three races into the 22-race schedule, so it’s hard to paint a championship picture just yet, but Sauter is certainly making a case for himself as title favorite, and because ThorSport is so strong, Crafton’s also a contender for his own first championship. Burton will be tough, and Hornaday, though he may not have the equipment of the top contenders, is still the best in series history. Buesched and Dillon showed last year that they can make a run at it was well, and Gaughan is hungry for redemption. I’ll be surprised if the championship doesn’t come from within this group.


“It means a lot to me—finally, a national victory. We got a second at Phoenix and another second at Bristol, so it feels good to finally get the monkey off our back and pull us out a win. I was pretty nervous that last restart because I knew Joey was on a lot newer tires than me and I’m not normally that good on restarts, so I’ve been trying to work had on that and it paid off. I was able to be number one and hold on for the win. It was a great day. We didn’t make any changes. It was perfect from the start and I just had a lot of fun today.” -Kyle Larson, race winner

“I was passing a ton of cars on the newer tires. That’s Rockingham for you. That’s what makes this race track so cool, because you can play a strategy like that. When we got the last caution, I thought it was playing out perfect for us. I just got beat (on the restart). I spun my tires, so it was all my fault. I was so mad at myself. I felt like we should have won this race. We might not have had the truck to win, but we had the strategy to win.” Joey Logano, finished second

“It was fun, as always; probably one of the best race tracks we go to all year. I can’t thank Andy (Hillenburg) enough and everybody…All in all, great day for us. Top-5 are what we need to do if we’re serious about this championship…Two wins and a fourth, I don’t know anybody that would shake their head at that. I’m proud of everybody and we just need to keep digging. We’re having fun and that’s half the battle.” -point leader Johnny Sauter, finished fourth

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series joins the Sprint Cup teams at Kansas Speedway for a Saturday afternoon race on April 20th. The race, scheduled for 2:00 PM ET, will be televised on SPEED; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM Channel 90.

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