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Early last month, my husband and I made the trek to Kansas Speedway for what turned out to be an incredible race weekend, capped off by a first-time winner in the Truck Series (William Byron) after a wild race, followed by a victory by his boss in the Cup Series the following night (Kyle Busch) at a track that had plagued him for so many years.
But the following day, my world was rocked by a single phone call. Returning a call that I had made to wish my mom a Happy Mother’s Day, my dad’s voice was on the other end of the phone when it rang from her cell phone. At that point, my mom was intubated, sedated and in the Neuro ICU at a hospital back home in Texas. Nearly 500 miles away, I felt helpless and unable to do anything, leading to us driving back home a day earlier than was originally planned, and all the while I thought I was going home to see my mom one last time to “say” goodbye.
Fast forward to today, and mom has been home for about two and a half weeks, and we’re still adjusting to the new normal while she works to regain her strength before jumping into yet another battle that still awaits her: the pancreatic cancer diagnosis that hit us like a ton of bricks in January. But in this last month that I have been away from writing, editing and delving deeply into NASCAR, I’m reminded of the love that surrounds me with my Frontstretch family and the passion I have for a sport that, at times, can be absolutely exhausting.
But enough about me. The one thing I have been able to do as I haven’t been writing or working on multiple projects behind the scene is to take a step back and look at the Truck Series in a whole different light. And as the drivers and teams work today to perfect their trucks for tomorrow night’s showdown under the lights, there are plenty of trends that are emerging as the series really hits its stride.
Points Really DO Matter
All of the talk surrounding the Chase in the Cup Series has surrounded the thought process that points don’t really matter, and that discussion expanded to the Truck Series when the Chase was implemented this year. But the problem with that discussion is that points do matter, and I’ll tell you why.
There are only eight open slots for Chasers this season, and four of those have already been filled with 10 races remaining on the schedule. And with drivers who have won races in seasons past still sitting in the winless column at this point in the year, it’s absolutely possible that we’ll see more than eight drivers visiting Victory Lane before the Chase begins.
Consider for a moment that you have Tyler Reddick, Timothy Peters, Cole Custer and John Wes Townley, who could all feasibly grab a win at some point during this summer stretch, and suddenly you’re already at eight winners. But if you add in the potential victors for this year, like Christopher Bell, who won Eldora previously, Daniel Hemric and Cameron Hayley, who both have performed well but haven’t broken through to win yet, that brings the number to 11.
Then you’ve got Ben Kennedy and Spencer Gallagher, both driving for a GMS Racing team that has been running far better than anyone would have imagined this season, and you’re up to 13 potential victors on the season. Also, remember that Ryan Truex nearly won at Daytona to open the season and Parker Kligerman’s small team continues to defy the odds every single week.
The bottom line is that it’s easy to see the series reaching double digit victors this year, and that’s when points still matter. It does no good to win a single race and expect to make the Chase, especially in a field of only eight drivers and a series as diverse as the Truck Series currently is. It’s pretty safe to say that Matt Crafton has locked himself into the Chase on the strength of back-to-back wins at Dover and Charlotte, but John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter and William Byron can’t really afford multiple bad races, or they might find themselves sitting on the hot seat.
Perseverance pays off…
John Hunter Nemechek‘s story in the Truck Series isn’t unlike many of those around him. In his family-owned truck, there have been doubts about sponsorship and whether the team would be able to continue after this deadline or that deadline. But one thing that hasn’t been in question is the amount of talent he brings to the track.
At the ripe young age of 18, Nemechek scored his first truck win last season, just a few months removed from taking over the No. 8 Chevrolet full time. But the interesting thing about the almost 19-year-old (he’ll turn 19 Saturday) is that his on-track performance doesn’t match what the record books show. Oftentimes the victim of of aerodynamics, bad luck or even someone else’s mess, Nemechek could easily have substantially better numbers in the record books.
But despite the numbers in the books, the NEMCO Motorsports driver’s performance and hard work have been noticed. According to a report from Motorsport.com, Richard Childress Racing, which NEMCO has an engine alliance with, has expressed some interest in putting Nemechek in on of the team’s cars in the future.
“We’ve talked about it,” Childress told Motorsport.com. “We’ve talked about putting him in cars in different places. He’s got a tremendous amount of potential. We’ve got seven cars now, so you’re always looking at drivers and he comes from a great family — a great racing family.”
RCR president Torrey Galida echoed Childress’ sentiments.
“I think he’s a real talented young guy and he’s done a great job with a limited budget,” Galida said. “He’d be somebody…it would be great to create an opportunity for him.
“We’ve done their motors for the last couple of years and have great respect for Joe. If there was ever an opportunity, he’s someone we’d look seriously at. Ultimately, that’s Richard’s decision, but he’s a real good kid.”
Whether that interest actually comes to fruition in the form of a ride remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that if RCR has noticed NEMCO’s hard work and success, you can bet other top teams have too. And that only bodes well for the future of the budding talent
Sponsorship battles are not isolated to the Truck Series.
We’ve seen the storyline time and time again.
<INSERT DRIVER NAME HERE> Sidelined by Lack of Sponsorship
And though this time didn’t happen in the Truck Series, it did happen to one of the series’ former drivers. Jeb Burton, who spent the 2015 season in the Sprint Cup Series, dropped back to the XFINITY Series to race for Richard Petty Motorsports this year. But that all came crashing to a halt when RPM was forced to halt its XFINITY program due to a lack of sponsorship payment.
Hmm… where have we heard that story before?
Oh yeah, the same thing happened to Burton in the Truck Series when Arrowhead defaulted on its payments to the now-defunct Turner Scott Motorsports and he was left sitting on the sidelines. Though he did find a home with ThorSport Racing for the 2014 season, the momentum lost by switching teams in January – when he thought his season was already secured – no doubt affected his performance that year.
Sure, it seems like the sponsorship avenues drying up is a problem that comes along more frequently in the Truck Series, which can be expected given the lower purse amounts and lack of consistency in the schedule. But the bottom line is that it’s not an isolated issue and something that NASCAR needs to deal with very soon.
- For the first time since 2014, German Quiroga will return to Red Horse Racing to pilot the No. 11 Toyota this weekend at Texas. Driving for the team behind the wheel of the No. 77 Toyota in 2013 and 2014, Quiroga scored five top 5s and 16 top-10 finishes. His best finish of third at Texas came in this race in 2013.
- Cole Custer, who will miss his graduation from Tesoro High School (Calif.) for Friday night’s race, will be presented with his diploma by Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage during driver introductions.
- According to a report from Catchfence.com, GMS Racing has announced additional races for Ben Kennedy’s schedule, adding Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park to the schedule, bringing his total races guarantee to 12. The other confirmed races for Kennedy include Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug. 17), Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 16), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 1), Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 22), Phoenix International Raceway (Nov. 11) and the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18)
- There are 34 trucks entered for Friday night’s (almost) standalone race at Texas Motor Speedway, meaning two drivers will be sent home after qualifying. This race will mark the first since the Nov. 2012 that TMS has boasted a full field. Additionally, it marks the first June event since 2010 with a full field.
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