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It’s finally here.
After sitting dormant for the last six weeks, the Camping World Truck Series returns to action, this time at Kansas Speedway for a Friday night event. But can you name the last race winner without looking it up? I’ll save you the time: Joey Logano led 150 of 258 laps at Martinsville Speedway on March 28, edging Matt Crafton, who led 100 circuits.
With just three races down, it’s hard to guess who might have the edge this season as far as the championship goes, but we can still take a look at the standings so far. Crafton currently leads Tyler Reddick by a mere two points, and Erik Jones isn’t far behind in third. Johnny Sauter and James Buescher round out the top five. John Wes Townley, in sixth, sits 38 points behind the leader and just one ahead of Ray Black Jr. Spencer Gallagher and Cameron Hayley find themselves tied for eighth, 44 markers back, and Ben Kennedy rounds out the top 10.
But what have the top 10 drivers done so far this season? And where do we go from here?
10. Ben Kennedy
Daytona: Start: 6th; Finish: 28th (DNF – crash)
Atlanta: Start: 1st; Finish: 3rd
Martinsville: Start: 22nd; Finish: 19th
Kansas Outlook: In his sophomore season, Kennedy is dealing with a team and manufacturer switch, which means he’s on a brand new learning curve. With that said, we shouldn’t even be looking at a DNF at Daytona since it’s so easy to get caught up in another driver’s mess, and really the same can be said about Martinsville to a point. But in his lone mile-and-a-half start this season, third is definitely a promising indication of what’s to come this season. As far as Kansas in concerned, he finished 20th last season, but that was after being involved in a lap 57 accident. While I’m not convinced he’ll be a major threat for the win, a solid top five is definitely not out of the question.
9. Spencer Gallagher
Daytona: Start: 10th; Finish: 21st
Atlanta: Start: 9th; Finish: 13th
Martinsville: Start: 18th; Finish: 14th
Kansas Outlook: The mile-and-a-half tracks haven’t always been kind to Gallagher, but it seems like Kansas Speedway stands out as an Achilles’ heel for the 25-year-old. In fact, he has just three finishes inside the top 15 at those tracks, including his 13th-place run in Atlanta in late February. But when it comes to Kansas, he has a DNF in both of his prior starts, including a crash that took him out before completing a lap in this race last season. While you want to see some of the lesser-funded teams move ahead and threaten for the win, a top-15 finish would continue the momentum of a 13th and 14th in the last two events for Gallagher this season, and that momentum, if consistent, will eventually turn into solid runs at Victory Lane on a regular basis.
8. Cameron Hayley
Daytona: Start: 14th; Finish: 23rd (DNF – crash)
Atlanta: Start: 3rd; Finish: 14th
Martinsville: Start: 3rd; Finish: 11th
Kansas Outlook: Oftentimes, a rookie is expected to only gain seat time and knowledge as he is left to learn each track at the same time he’s learning the truck and the aerodynamics that come along with it. But with that said, finished of 11th, sixth and 10th last season have left the expectations just a little higher for Hayley. Left without a place to race when Turner Scott Motorsports shuttered at the end of last season, the 18-year-old took his family sponsorship to ThorSport Racing for a third full-time team. And with just a pair of mile-and-a-half starts, it’s hard to guess what we can expect from him this weekend. While I’m sure he’s headed to Kansas with a win in mind, a top-15 finish would be a great way to walk away from the weekend with some experience and a few extra points to dig out of the hole that Daytona put him in.
7. Ray Black Jr.
Daytona: Start: 15th; Finish: 5th
Atlanta: Start: 22nd; Finish: 25th
Martinsville: Start: 26th; Finish: 13th
Kansas Outlook: After starting off the year with a fifth-place finish, Black Jr. followed up with a rough weekend in Atlanta. He hit the wall in practice, leaving the team to work hard to repair the truck and ended up with a 25th-place result in the race when he spun early and ultimately ended up 11 laps behind the leaders. He had just seven career starts last season and is embarking on a full-time run at the Rookie of the Year title. While SS Green Light Racing hasn’t been setting the Truck Series afire, it will be interesting to see how this driver develops. He’s never raced at Kansas Speedway, but a finish of 13th at Martinsville gives the hope that he can pull out a solid top-15 finish. If he can manage that for much of the season with the occasional top-10 result, he can, at the very least, remain within striking distance of the championship leaders.
6. John Wes Townley
Daytona: Start: 26th; Finish: 22nd (DNF – crash)
Atlanta: Start: 5th; Finish: 12th
Martinsville: Start: 5th; Finish: 8th
Kansas Outlook: Townley has been steadily improving since his DNF at Daytona, a result that really should be thrown out given the chances of getting caught up in a wreck while minding your own business. But with that said, the improvement actually reaches beyond the results in the record books. Once thought of as a rolling wrecking ball, Townley has been getting himself involved in starting fewer wrecks and continues to capitalize on the track position that tends to come along with keeping his nose clean. With that said, Kansas has been a decent track for the 25-year-old. In three starts, he has a DNF, a 16th and, most recently, an 11th-place finish last year. While I’m not expecting a trip to Victory Lane, a top 10 is definitely not out of the question if Townley and the No. 05 team play their cards right.
5. James Buescher
Daytona: Start: 5th; Finish: 17th
Atlanta: Start: 8th; Finish: 8th
Martinsville: Start: 15th; Finish: 7th
Kansas Outlook: Simply put, there is no Kansas outlook for the 2012 champion. Though he was initially entered for this race behind the wheel of the No. 31 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports, Buescher posted on Twitter Tuesday that he would not be racing this weekend. In his place, Scott Lagasse Jr. will pilot the No. 31 Chevrolet. From the beginning of this season, Buescher’s deal with NTS Motorsports was billed as a part-time schedule, though it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the organization gather sponsorship on a race-by-race basis to keep him behind the wheel. There is no word on when he will return to the track.
4. Johnny Sauter
Daytona: Start: 19th; Finish: 10th
Atlanta: Start: 13th; Finish: 6th
Martinsville: Start: 9th; Finish: 4th
Kansas Outlook: Sauter’s history at Kansas Speedway can best be described as up and down. He has a win, a runner up finish, a fifth and a ninth, but he also has a 24th and, most recently, a 21st in this race last year. Sauter has just five mile-and-a-half track wins, and his tendency is to either be very strong a solid contender for the win or be completely off on his setup. There’s little middle ground with the driver of the No. 98 Toyota, but if his team has a good plan and setup in place, look for him to be around to challenge at the end. Bonus: he’s started off the season with three top-10 finishes, giving him a decent foundation for the championship race.
3. Erik Jones
Daytona: Start: 7th; Finish: 2nd
Atlanta: Start: 2nd; Finish: 7th
Martinsville: Start: 4th; Finish: 3rd
Kansas Outlook: Pretty much any time Jones gets behind the wheel of a racecar, you can expect that he’ll run well. After all, the driver of the No. 4 Toyota has finished inside the top 10 in all but four of his 20 series starts, and you would have to look all the way back to Eldora last summer to find a sub top-10 finish. With that said, Jones has yet to make a start at Kansas Speedway, though he did grab at win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway late last year. Don’t expect 18-year-old to fade from the front any time soon.
2. Tyler Reddick
Daytona: Start: 3rd; Finish: 1st
Atlanta: Start: 11th; Finish: 5th
Martinsville: Start: 7th; Finish: 5th
Kansas Outlook: Reddick remains as the only driver to have finished inside the top five in all three races, with a win at Daytona and a pair of fifth-place results at Atlanta and Martinsville, and there’s no reason to believe he’s ready to slow down just yet. While he has never made a start at the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas City, there’s no reason to believe he will struggle this weekend. After all, a look back at his last mile-and-a-half starts shows definite promise. Finishes of fifth, sixth, fourth, 15th and fourth are clear indicators of a driver that’s becoming more and more comfortable with the trucks and the aerodynamics that go along with them. Reddick may very well turn out to be a driver to watch throughout the season if he can continue on this swing of better finishes.
1. Matt Crafton
Daytona: Start: 31st; Finish: 8th
Atlanta: Start: 15th; Finish: 1st
Martinsville: Start: 13th; Finish: 2nd
Kansas Outlook: The last two times Crafton raced at Kansas Speedway, he finished first and second, definitely a record worth paying attention to leading up to Friday night’s race. The back-to-back champion has seen a substantial amount of success on the intermediate tracks over the last year, scoring two wins and nine top-10 finishes in nine races. Though his earlier days racing at Kansas weren’t nearly as impressive, the ThorSport Racing and the No. 88 team have really turned a corner over the last couple of seasons, pulling out solid runs most weeks, even when adversity strikes. Crafton is definitely a driver to watch on Friday night as I expect he’ll lead some laps and make a strong run at Victory Lane.
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