Truckin’ Thursdays: Introducing the 2023 Rookie Class

With the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series underway, it’s time to meet the drivers who will be competing for Rookie of the Year honors in 2023.

Last season, Corey Heim took home Rookie of the Year honors, despite not competing in all the races. Heim competed in 16 of the 23 races in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51. Kyle Busch ran his typical five-race schedule, and Buddy Kofoid drove the truck at the two dirt races at Bristol Motor Speedway and Knoxville Raceway, leaving Heim with the other 16.

However, last year’s class was not very deep. Of the five rookies, Heim finished 14th in the final point standings, which is impressive considering the other four rookies were full-time drivers who finished way behind Heim. Lawless Alan, Dean Thompson and Jack Wood finished 22nd-24th, respectively, while Blaine Perkins finished a distant 29th. Heim only won Rookie of the Year because KBM’s equipment was far more improved than any of the other rookies’ teams.

This year, the Rookie of the Year class seems to be more competitive and have shown promise in lower series. Let’s take a look at each of the six rookies more in-depth, in numerical order.

Nick Sanchez

Nick Sanchez, as well as his team, Rev Racing, move up from the ARCA Menards Series, where Sanchez was the 2022 champion. Sanchez made some NASCAR Xfinity Series starts last season with BJ McLeod Motorsports and Big Machine Racing, with his best finish coming with Big Machine at Martinsville Speedway, where he finished an impressive seventh.

Sanchez has qualified his No. 2 on the front row in both of his first two starts, including winning the pole at Daytona International Speedway. Rev Racing has a technical alliance with Kyle Busch Motorsports; combine that with Sanchez’s talent and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he can keep pace with the veterans.

However, Sanchez has not been able to put together a full race in the short season. Both races saw him finish outside the top 25. At Daytona, Sanchez pitted after a red flag when it looked like the race would go back green, but then the rain came back and the race was called, leaving him in 26th. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he was one of the few drivers that seemed to be able to keep pace with Busch, but contact with the wall on lap 25 damaged the truck enough to where he had to keep pitting to fix it, and he eventually finished 30th, 31 laps behind Busch.

It’s a very real possibility that Sanchez will compete for a win or two (or more) this season. But he and his team just needed to get acclimated to the Truck Series first. Because it certainly isn’t ARCA anymore.

Taylor Gray

Taylor Gray is the sole rookie driver who has not raced yet this season, as he is currently 17 years old and unable to race on tracks bigger than 1.25 miles long. This means he will not race until the Trucks go to Circuit of the Americas on March 25. Coincidentally, March 25 is Gray’s 18th birthday, at which point he will run the rest of the season in TRICON Garage’s No. 17.

Gray finished second in the East standings last season and has made 13 Truck Series starts in 2021 and 2022. He almost won at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2022, but was spun out by John Hunter Nemechek with two laps to go, relegating him to 22nd. His best finish would come at the next race at Richmond, where he finished sixth.

Gray joins his brother Tanner as a full-time driver at TRICON, where he will compete for a championship and Rookie of the Year honors. He has received a waiver from NASCAR to remain eligible for the championship, but could pull a Heim (who, ironically, is now Gray’s teammate at TRICON) and become the second consecutive driver to win Rookie of the Year as, essentially, a part-time driver.

See also
Layne Riggs to Drive for TRICON Garage at Atlanta

Rajah Caruth

Rajah Caruth joined GMS Racing as Wood’s replacement in the No. 24, moving up to the Truck Series just like Sanchez, who was Caruth’s teammate in ARCA. This will be the first time Caruth has run a full-time racing season with a team that isn’t Rev Racing, with whom he finished third in the ARCA championship last season.

Caruth is also a part-time Xfinity Series driver for Alpha Prime Racing, a role he has maintained since last season. His best finish came at Martinsville Speedway (12th) in 2022, and he has yet to crack the top 20 in 2023. Unfortunately, the same can be said about his Truck season so far. A late-race crash at Daytona and a poor final pit stop at Las Vegas while battling for a top 10 has left him with a pair of 29th-place finishes so far this season.

Caruth has shown that he is worthy of a Truck Series ride, as he turned some heads in his four starts with Spire Motorsports last season. However, much like Sanchez, growing pains have prevented him from standing out at the beginning of the season. Caruth will likely turn it around as the season goes on. He may not be contending for wins like Sanchez, but will definitely compete for top 10s soon.

Bret Holmes

After spending the last few seasons as a part-time driver, 2020 ARCA champion Bret Holmes announced he would be running the full season for his own team, Bret Holmes Racing. The Munford, Alabama native almost pulled off a great upset in 2022 at Talladega Superspeedway, which gained him some more fans, despite not winning the race.

Holmes ran 15 combined races in 2021 and 2022 and spent his non-race weekends working on his family farm to provide funding for the team. His 2023 campaign has not gotten off to a great start (can you spot the theme?) as he hasn’t finished inside the top 30 yet due to crashes. Holmes will probably be a threat at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which might be the kick he needs to turn the momentum around.

One thing is for sure: Holmes probably has Talladega circled on his calendar, not only to try to win at his home track, but to avenge last year’s disappointing third-place finish.

Jake Garcia

Much like Gray, Jake Garcia was not able to begin the season due to being underage. However, he only missed Daytona, as he turned 18 on March 3; Chase Elliott filled in and finished 10th in the truck.

Garcia made five starts for MHR in 2022, with his best finish coming at the season finale at Phoenix Raceway (16th). He returns to the No. 35 this season and has already gotten off to a great start, finishing 10th at Las Vegas. As it stands, this is the highest finish by a rookie this season, and it came in his first start of the year. Garcia’s first “plate” race at Atlanta Motor Speedway comes this weekend, so it will be interesting to see if he can build off of the momentum that the team has built thus far in the season.

See also
Entry List: 2023 Fr8 208

Daniel Dye

Daniel Dye was the third driver to move up from the ARCA Menards Series, along with Sanchez and Caruth. Dye is fresh off of a second-place finish in the ARCA standings (splitting Sanchez and Caruth) and is the second rookie driver that GMS Racing is fielding in the series, along with Caruth.

While the beginning of his season has been turbulent, it hasn’t been without some excitement. After crashing twice at Daytona and finishing 30th, Dye and his team attempted to play some pit strategy at Vegas, staying out on the last cycle of green-flag pit stops and hoping for a caution to trap several people a lap down and pit from the lead under yellow. However, the caution never came and Dye pitted with 25 laps to go. He still managed to salvage a 19th-place finish, but was really hoping it could have been better had a caution come out.

It seems to be the case that Dye and his No. 43 might pull out all the strings to win Rookie of the Year and compete for the championship, if Vegas was any indicator, but only time will tell.

Now the question remains: Who will win Rookie of the Year? Before that question gets answered, let’s take a way-too-early look at the rookie point standings after two races:

  1. Nick Sanchez – 31 (16th overall)
  2. Jake Garcia – 27 (17th overall)
  3. Rajah Caruth – 26 (18th overall)
  4. Daniel Dye – 25 (19th overall)
  5. Bret Holmes – 9 (35th overall)
  6. Taylor Gray – N/A

It’s hard to go against Sanchez, as he’s qualified well, and runs really well when he isn’t mired in bad luck. But Gray hasn’t hit the track yet; if he runs like he did last year, he could be a legitimate threat as well.

However, if you’re looking for a dark horse, I’d watch out for Garcia. He’s second in the standings and has the best finish of any rookie after competing in just one race. Sure, he hasn’t found trouble like all the other rookies have, but with the addition of Christian Eckes, MHR as a whole seems like it will improve, which means Garcia could make a splash.

This season, it will be exciting to see how the rookie battle plays out. It seems that the battle this year will be much tighter than last year, which will give the series another storyline to watch. Not to mention, all these guys have a legitimate shot at winning this season and competing for the overall championship.

The rookies will hit the track Saturday, March 18 at Atlanta, when the Truck Series competes in the Fr8 Auctions 208 at 2 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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