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There is nothing quite like that Cinderella story in sports. Think of the NCAA Tournament and all of the upsets that have happened over it’s 78-year span, with 15-seeds beating 2-seeds, 14-seeds over 3-seeds and the always anticipated 12 vs. 5 match-up.
This season, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series could face a similar situation.
The highly anticipated Chase format debuting in the Truck Series this season has brought out the best competition. But there is nothing quite like an underdog story. There are currently three extremely underfunded teams in the top-17 in the point standings hoping to secure some sponsorship to race the full season. Let’s give them a nod.
Hattori Racing Enterprises
Through six events, Ryan Truex and Hattori Racing Enterprises sits sixth in the championship standings, 32 points off the top spot. It was just a few weeks prior to the season-opening race at Daytona that the New Jersey native even scored a ride for that race, let alone the full season.
Making the best out of that opportunity is exactly what Truex has done.
The No. 81 truck has three top 10 finishes, with a best result of second at Daytona, while leading on the green-white-checkered restart. Since that race, Truex has top 10s at Kansas (sixth) and Dover (eighth).
Just imagine where this team would be if team owner Shigeaki Hattori hadn’t made that phone call to Truex in early February.
When Truex was a teenage development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, everyone saw the raw talent he had. One way or another, something always seemed to deem him, much like his brother Martin Truex, Jr. in the Sprint Cup Series. But this year seems different. This year almost seems like the year of the Truex’s, as both are having career years.
Moving forward in the season, the No. 81 team is likely going to struggle to remain in the top-eight in the standings prior to New Hampshire in September, as the series heads to a variety of different racetracks including a dirt track and a road course.
This could cause problems within the small organization, but haven’t they already exceeded expectations? Nobody saw this coming. Nobody. Not because Truex can’t perform, but because of the lack of resources that the team has.
As the Truck Series heads into the summer months, Hattori Racing Enterprises could be this year’s George Mason from a decade ago in the NCAA Tournament.
Ricky Benton Racing
If someone told you that they expected Ricky Benton Racing to be leading the point standings through the first month of the season, they are lying. But that’s exactly what Parker Kligerman and the team’s two full-time employees did.
Like Truex, Kligerman didn’t have a deal for Daytona until two weeks prior to the 250-mile event. Once team owner Ricky Benton made the offer, it was for just the first two races — Daytona and Atlanta — though the team wanted to compete in the first six events.
After finishing third in Daytona and then a pair of eighth-place results in the next two races, the team was leading the points, but in the following weeks lost all of it’s momentum.
Through six races, the No. 92 truck now sits 14th in the standings, 58 points off the lead and 26 points off the Chase bubble. The one thing the team has going for them is that Kligerman is one of the most experienced drivers in the truck garage and has the reputation of getting all he can out of the truck.
In the last three races, Kligerman’s best result is 18th at Charlotte, with two finishes outside of the top 25. The setback included a vicious crash at Kansas, which hurt the team’s preparation going forward in the season as they have just a few trucks at the race shop in South Carolina.
Any crashed truck could knock the team out of the next event if there isn’t a lot of time to rebuild it. RBR is a team that is struggling to survive, let alone race for a potential Chase berth.
But that is exactly what they are doing, which gives the team confidence. The driver has shown what he can get out of their equipment and he has been to most of the tracks in the latter part of the schedule.
If the team can get a little faster, finish all of the races and outrun who they are supposed to outrun, the No. 92 truck may end up with a Chase berth. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened in the sport, but they are on pins and needles for the rest of the year.
The ultimate underdog through the first stint of the season has to be Brandon Brown. Though he has recently dropped to 17th in the standings, he has given the series something to talk about in 2016.
He kicked off the season with a fourth-place effort, and had top 20 finishes in each of the first four races, completing all but two laps and sitting ninth in the standings.
It was Dover and Charlotte that put this team behind, as they finished 31st and 26th, respectively.
Can this team rebound?
Through the first six races, the No. 86 truck sits 37 points behind Truex, the Chase cutoff. This is the first time in team history that Brandonbilt Motorsports is attempting to qualify every race. They had only competed in 11 races in the last two years combined.
With that said, it will be extremely difficult for the team to be the comeback kids and make their way into the Chase, being so young and severely underfunded.
And though every racer wants to be the best, this season could be a learning experience for the third-year team. The competition in the Truck Series is as stout as it’s ever been. It was a surprise to all to see how well the team started off, even past Daytona.
Brown currently sits ahead of ThorSport Racing driver Rico Abreu and John Wes Townley, who finished seventh in the standings in 2015. The chances are high that this team remains about where they are in the series, but this season has to be a success with no expectations coming into the year.
The team has built competitive trucks, which helps the Costal Carolina University student get the most out of it. Missing the Chase isn’t the worst thing that could happen to this team; it could even be a good thing leading into 2017.
Numerically, the team can make the Chase. Will they? You will have to tune in to find out.
Summing it all up:
Each of these three teams could be in the running for most improved. None of them were supposed to run the full schedule in 2016. However, with early season success, it led to more opportunities in a stout Truck Series field.
The difficult situations that any underfunded team has is unimaginable.They face severe odds with the world against them, just hoping for the chance to succeed. In the first six races of 2016, all three organizations have done a good job at making a run at Cinderella.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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Ricky Benton Racing is in Cerro Gordo, North Carolina….not South Carolina…….minutes from Lumberton, NC..
Great story on the little teams…
Always good stuff