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Truckin’ Thursdays: Dean Thompson Making Strides in 2nd Full-Time Season

In 2021, Dean Thompson made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut, driving the No. 44 for Niece Motorsports in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

He then joined the team full-time for 2022, moving to the No. 40 to replace Ryan Truex.

He also ran for Rookie of the Year, but Corey Heim ended up running away with the title despite competing in just 16 of the 23 races. Aside from Heim, the rookie field was pretty light, with Thompson’s teammate Lawless Alan being one of the contenders, along with Blaine Perkins and Jack Wood. Heim’s ROTY victory was imminent, especially driving for a powerhouse team like Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Hovever, Thompson struggled in his rookie season. He posted no top 10s, and aside from one 11th-place finish, he never finished higher than 14th. He ended up finishing 23rd in the final standings and was tied with Wood for the third best rookie out of five.

Over the offseason, it was announced that Thompson would join David Gilliland Racing, which had just rebranded to TRICON Garage, much to the surprise of everybody. TRICON had some success in the series, winning two races in 2022 with Ryan Preece and Todd Gilliland, respectively.

While it wasn’t the best team in the garage, it was a step up from Niece, whose team runs around mid-pack – that is, except for the No. 42 of Carson Hocevar or anytime Ross Chastain stepped behind the wheel of the fifth part-time truck, the No. 41.

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Everyone expected Thompson’s performance to stagnate or even worsen. While the growing pains of getting adjusted to a new team originally led people to believe their opinion to be right, Thompson and crew got the ship righted heading into the fifth race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway.

Thompson competed inside the top five and 10 all day long and looked to be a dark horse threat for the win if the leaders found themselves in trouble. However, a scary crash late in the race involving Matt Mills and Armani Williams caused Thompson to leave the track on a stretcher inside an ambulance.

He was cleared to race the next week on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway where he would finish 12th, his second-best career finish and best finish of 2023. While the races at Martinsville Speedway and Kansas Speedway left a lot to be desired on the truck side, Thompson made his first ARCA Menards Series start of the season at Kansas with Venturini Motorsports and finished a very impressive second behind race winner (and teammate) Jesse Love.

By this point, Thompson seemed to have found outward confidence in himself that he seemingly didn’t have with Niece. At Darlington, Thompson earned his first career top 10, finishing ninth.

But after a late-race crash at North Wilkesboro Speedway following contact with Hailie Deegan, Thompson was outwardly irate in his post-race interview after emerging from the infield care center, criticizing the overall aggressive mindset of the Truck Series.

The following week at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a banner weekend for Thompson. He finished runner-up again to Love in the ARCA race, then that night in the Truck race, he backed it up with a stellar third-place run.

Unfortunately for Thompson, a mechanical issue at World Wide Technology Raceway forced him to retire from the race early. But it’s clear that Thompson is on pace to have a better year than last. He seems to find a lot of his success on mile-and-a-half tracks, so he might be threats for good finishes, and perhaps wins, on the intermediates.

So the question that some people are asking is, where did Thompson’s performance come from? In an interview with Frontstretch‘s Stephen Stumpf, Thompson hinted at a big difference between TRICON and Niece that might be helping his performance.

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“TRICON’s worked together more than any other team I’ve had in the past,” Thompson said. “We have post-practice meetings, post-practice debriefs. Always feel well, I know there’s a lot of good communications with the drivers and all the crew chiefs and so everyone’s trying to help each other rather than be separate teams on one team.”

It seems that TRICON has more teamwork to improve all of its teams, whereas Niece just allows each team to work on its own things without leaning on other teams for support. This isn’t exactly a good or bad thing, but for drivers like Thompson, it seems that the cross-team information is helping him grow into a better driver as the season progresses.

He’s currently 22nd in the standings this season, but that’s mainly because, for every good finish he secures, he follows it up with one or two bad ones. Most of it is not of his own doing; some is due to part failures, such as World Wide Technology Raceway and Circuit of the Americas.

But look for the driver of the No. 5 to be a dark horse to steal a win and, in turn, a playoff spot from under people’s noses. And on the ARCA side, if he keeps running like he is, his first win there is coming soon too – he might just need Love to not show up to the race he’s contending in. And maybe that first ARCA win gives him even more confidence that he needs to be a weekly front-runner in the Truck Series.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

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. 

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

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