Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Gearing Up for the Inaugural Chase for the Championship

When the Camping World Truck Series heads to Pocono Raceway Saturday afternoon, it will knock off one of the five remaining races to set the inaugural Chase field. Only five drivers have punched their tickets with a victory, so there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty in exactly who will make up the eight drivers that will compete for the championship beginning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in late September.

Obviously William Byron’s four wins guarantee him a slot, more than likely as the top seed, and Matt Crafton’s two victories lock him in as well. It’s the rest of the field where it gets a little harder to say for sure. Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek and Johnny Sauter each have a win apiece and will most likely make the Chase.

Leading the trio of drivers with three wins is Sauter, who currently sits fourth in the standings and probably a lock, regardless of what happens between now and September. Bell and Nemechek sit sixth and eighth in points, respectively, and have enough consistency and momentum on their side to ensure they’ll stay in a position to make the playoffs, even if there are five different winners leading up to the regular season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.

2016 Atlanta CWTS DAniel Hemric Matthew T Thacker NKP
Could Daniel Hemric win to cement his spot in the Chase? (credit: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)

Currently, winless drivers Daniel Hemric, Timothy Peters and Tyler Reddick would make their way into the Chase based on points alone. Peters is the only one of that group to have a win at the remaining tracks (Bristol), though Reddick did notch two victories last season en route to a runner-up championship finish.

Of course, you’ve got a handful of drivers who have yet to score their first career victory that can close the deal in the coming weeks. Hemric is one that has been on the list of those expected to win sooner rather than later, and Ben Kennedy, Ben Rhodes and even Cameron Hayley have that potential. In fact, Hayley battled Kyle Busch last season for the win at Pocono before settling for a fourth-place finish.

With all of that said, based on how this season has gone so far, it’s not all that likely we’ll see five different winner to close out the regular season. After all, one of the events left is a mile-and-a-half track where Kyle Busch Motorsports and Byron have excelled more than anyone else, so it wouldn’t be that far off to think the No. 9 team has at least one more victory in the tank. And by comparison, Crafton hasn’t even gotten hot yet this season and could string together wins at Pocono this weekend and again at Bristol in a few weeks.

The biggest question mark remaining on the schedule is the road course in Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. The series has visited the track just three times, and none of the winners remain in the series at the moment. In fact, two of the three (Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney) now find themselves racing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, while last year’s victor, Erik Jones, is in the XFINITY Series.

The bottom line is that despite the dwindling number of races leading up to the Chase, so much is still wide open when it comes to setting the eight drivers who will compete for this year’s championship. While a couple of drivers can breathe easy, most of the field needs every single position, just in case, and that should lead to some exciting racing down this stretch to the beginning of the inaugural Chase for the championship.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • After missing two races due to concussion symptoms following a pair of wrecks at Gateway Motorsports Park, John Wes Townley has been cleared to return to competition. Though NASCAR hasn’t officially announced it, he will likely receive a medical waiver if he manages to qualify for the Chase, but that feat will take a win since he sits nearly 100 markers behind the cutoff to make the field on points.
  • Brett Moffitt will get another shot at Truck Series glory behind the wheel of the No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota. Just a few races ago at Kentucky Speedway, he was tapped to fill the ride in place of Matt Tifft, who was unexpectedly sidelined by a non-cancerous brain tumor that required immediate surgery. After qualifying second, Moffitt was allowed to run just 26 laps before retiring due to engine problems and never got the shot to show what he truly was capable of in a truck; he finished a disappointing 31st, ahead of only Caleb Roark, who never even started the race.
  • NASCAR has finalized the start times for the 2017 schedule in the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series. As a part of that announcement, the sanctioning body also revealed a date shift for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to Sunday, Sept. 3. The race will air ahead of the Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway.
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