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After running just six races through the first 11 weeks of the season, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series kicks off a stretch of 10 events over the next 12 weeks to set this year’s playoff field.
Beginning at Darlington Raceway this weekend, three drivers are already essentially locked in, barring eight more winners (unlikely but not impossible), and that also means there are still seven more playoff spots up for grabs.
Regardless of what happens, Zane Smith‘s two victories ensure his spot, while Chandler Smith and Ben Rhodes with one win apiece have them semi-safe and able to take more chances in the coming weeks to grab more playoff points.
Meanwhile, there are several drivers who have the opportunity to turn their seasons around over the stretch of the next 10 races.
Grant Enfinger currently holds the first spot outside the top 10 in the championship standings and sits just nine points out of the last playoff position. But what’s interesting to note is that, despite missing the second race of the season last year and piecing his schedule together with two teams, Enfinger remained inside the top 10 in the standings.
Coming into this year, I thought for sure that Enfinger would be in a better position with consistency in his race team from week to week. And that may still end up being the case since he’s only six races into the ride with GMS Racing. But finishes of 29th and 23rd to open the year put the No. 23 team in a hole it’s been trying to dig out of ever since.
The last three races have been a trio of top 10s for Enfinger, however, consistency inside the top 10 isn’t going to cut it with the level of competition in the series this season. He’s going to have to find a way to lead laps and run up front more frequently to be taken seriously as a championship contender, something he should have been last season.
After taking a gamble on himself following a rather lackluster 2020 campaign in the NASCAR Cup Series, John Hunter Nemechek dropped back to the Truck Series to compete for wins. And win is exactly what he did.
With five wins, 12 top fives and 16 top 10s in 22 races, Nemechek made it to the Championship 4 but faced multiple issues throughout the season finale at Phoenix Raceway that ultimately ended up costing him the title. Though he ended the season with a seventh-place finish, hardly a bad result after the adversity he’d faced throughout the race, it was still a disappointment for him.
He returned to the series again this year but has been relatively disappointing in comparison to 2021. Six races into last season, he already had two wins and just a single finish outside the top seven. Instead, he opened this season with finishes of 25th, 24th and 25th, hardly the caliber of results expected from any Kyle Busch Motorsports team.
With that said, Nemechek brings momentum in the form of three top-five finishes in his last three starts into this long stretch of racing. The thing about the No. 4 team’s season, though, is that it hasn’t been all bad. Nemechek has three stage wins, second only to Rhodes’ five, and he’s led laps in four of six races. It’s just a matter of getting the finishes to match the way he’s been running. And let’s be real here: Nemechek isn’t going to miss the playoffs, but he’s going to want the playoff points he can get by winning races in the coming weeks.
Another driver who dropped back to the Truck Series from Cup is Matt DiBenedetto, and frankly I expected a bit more from him to this point in the season. Back-to-back top 10s to open the year turned into a stretch of three finishes of 30th or worse with a 15th thrown in there (Martinsville). In fact, over the last four races, DiBenedetto has dropped from sixth in the standings to 15th, and while he’s still mathematically in the hunt to make the playoffs, he needs to string together some strong finishes in the coming weeks to make it happen.
With that said, there’s still some concern, at least on my part, that Rackley WAR signed Timothy Peters to run the full schedule last season but dropped him after just 10 races. Peters’ average finish during that timeframe? 25.8.
DiBenedetto’s right now? Only marginally better at 21.2. I’m not saying he’ll be released from the team any time soon, but it’s definitely something to pay attention to as the season rolls forward.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, a driver just plain looking to turn their season around is Hailie Deegan. I’m not talking about making the playoffs or even making a run at joining the championship conversation. Instead, it’s about staying out of trouble and keeping the trucks intact, something that’s been a struggle for Deegan all season.
The good news for the No. 1 team is that stretch of three straight DNFs from Las Vegas Motor Speedway to Circuit of the Americas was followed by a pair of top-20 finishes, so Deegan is headed the right direction. Either way, it’s unlikely the sophomore driver is removed from her ride, especially since she’s got financial backing from Monster. But there’s going to come a point where teams aren’t willing to risk their equipment just to keep Deegan behind the wheel. Perhaps the consistency of on-track action in the coming weeks will serve as a way for her season to finally turn around.
These next 12 weeks will fly by quickly, and there’s a lot of racing to run. But that also means there are a lot of chances to have a season go south in a hurry. By the time we get to the end of May, we’ll have a better understanding of who can make a serious run at the playoffs and who will be left out this season.
Buckle up. It’s about to get exciting.
- With 36 trucks on this week’s entry list, all of those entered will make the race. Todd Bodine returns for another start toward his 800th in NASCAR, while Ryan Preece is back for his third race this season (fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway; seventh at Atlanta Motor Speedway). Meanwhile, Ross Chastain will pilot the No. 41 Chevrolet in the first of four scheduled starts this season announced earlier this week.
- Several drivers will run throwback schemes this weekend at Darlington. For a full list of them, click here.
- Last weekend, Zane Smith proposed to girlfriend McCall Gaulding, and former Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland got to be a part of it by hiding the ring.
— Zane Smith (@zanesmith77) April 30, 2022
— Peter Stratta (@peterstratta) April 30, 2022
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