Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: What Exactly Is ThorSport’s Driver Development Plan?

During the last NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas, there was one glaring absence from the entry list: ThorSport Racing’s part-time fifth truck, driven by Conner Jones.

Jones is running for Rookie of the Year this season, driving the No. 66 for ThorSport. He was behind the wheel of the same seat in 2023 for nine races of the No. 66’s 11-race schedule — the only other races for the entry were driven by Jake Drew, who finished 12th in his Truck Series debut at Nashville Superspeedway, and Joey Logano, who drove it to victory lane on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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However, Jones’ campaign for Rookie of the Year will be difficult, as he is only slated to run 14 of the 23-race schedule for 2024 — originally it was 13, but Jones and ThorSport added the spring Bristol race to his calendar. Unlike his competition, who will run the entire schedule, Jones will miss nine races in his official rookie season.

He has already missed Daytona International Speedway and COTA, and will miss the next race at Martinsville Speedway before returning at Texas Motor Speedway.

But why?

Is he full-time in another series? Nope. A look at Jones’ 2024 racing schedule will show he will spend a lot of time competing in late models and super late models, specifically racing in the CARS Tour and the ASA Stars National Tour, but he is not full-time in either series.

Well then surely he’s under 18 years of age and is ineligible to run certain tracks, right?

Wrong again. Jones turned 18 on Feb. 22. The only race he wouldn’t have been eligible to run this season was the season opener at Daytona, which took place a mere six days before his 18th birthday. And even if he was still under the age of 18, minors are allowed to compete on road courses like COTA.

So why isn’t Jones in the truck full-time to make a proper run at the ROTY title?

Surely, sponsorship is part of the problem. NASCAR is as sponsorship-driven as ever, and nowadays its more about the money you bring instead of the talent you bring. While Jones does bring sponsorship dollars (his father’s construction company, Jones Utilities Construction, funds most of his racing efforts), he likely doesn’t bring enough to justify a full season of racing without pulling in outside dollars.

Even still, if Jones declared for Rookie of the Year, nine races shouldn’t be that hard to find sponsorship for, even if one or two races have to be run out of pocket or Jones’ father’s company has to shell out another race’s worth of money.

On that note, the bigger question that ought to be considered is, what exactly does ThorSport have planned in regards to driver development?

ThorSport generally hasn’t been a team that deals with driver development, as drivers who join the team are usually either A) with the team for many years, or B) in the Truck Series itself for many years. Ben Rhodes has been with the team for around a decade, winning two Truck titles, while Matt Crafton has been with the team since 2000 (except 2004) and has won three titles. Safe to say they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The team has seen full-timers in Johnny Sauter, Grant Enfinger, and now Ty Majeski, who have by and large been in the Truck Series for most of their careers.

Last season, the team fielded its No. 13 for Hailie Deegan, who graduated to the Xfinity Series this season. It’s seemingly the first time in ThorSport’s history that it had to find a new driver for the following season due to series promotion. For that, it signed Jake Garcia away from McAnally-Hilgemann Racing for 2024.

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ThorSport’s full-time lineup consists of Garcia, Crafton, Majeski and Rhodes for 2024. Jones could have been the fifth, as there are no restrictions surrounding his schedule, but chose not to. So Jones will be splitting his time between Trucks, ASA and CARS Tour racing.

Not to mention, ThorSport quietly signed another young prospect who will be making his debut later this season.

Luke Fenhaus will make his Truck Series debut later this season with ThorSport with sponsorship from Soda Sense. ThorSport had quietly slipped it in a press release about Soda Sense returning to the team for 2024 and the news has gone largely unnoticed (Fenhaus will be sponsored by Soda Sense, which is why ThorSport included him in the announcement).

Fenhaus currently competes full-time in the ARCA Menards Series East for Pinnacle Racing Group, the same team Fenhaus won with in the ARCA race at Iowa Speedway last season. Fenhaus’ number has not been announced, but with Jones missing seven more races in 2024, it’s presumed Fenhaus will make his debut in a race that Jones isn’t scheduled to compete in so he can drive the No. 66. Otherwise, we’re looking at a sixth ThorSport truck, which seems highly unlikely.

Fenhaus also mentioned running ‘a few’ races in the Truck Series this season, though his races haven’t been released yet. The remaining races that Jones will miss include both Martinsville races, the spring race at Kansas Speedway, World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Pocono Raceway, Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, and Talladega Superspeedway (but this could also change, as evidenced by Jones competing in the spring Bristol race despite not previously having it on his schedule).

As Fenhaus is 19 years old (he’ll be 20 on April 8), it’s not out of the question for him to just fill out the schedule in the races Jones will not compete in. Which is somewhat ironic considering there was some bad blood between the two of them last season at The Milwaukee Mile.

Now ThorSport has two drivers in its stable that are running part-time, both of which are likely to be a part of the team’s sudden interest in driver development. But again the question arises: what exactly is the plan here?

Well, if Jones’ racing schedule increased this year, one has to imagine he’s on a path to full-time competition for 2025 with ThorSport. It feels like that makes the most sense. Theoretically, he could drive his usual No. 66, or he might be in line to take a spot on the current roster.

It’s no secret that Crafton is nearing retirement age. He will be 48 years old in June, and while there has been no indication that he wants to stop racing, it certainly has to be on the back of his mind with every passing season.

For ThorSport, bringing both Jones and Fenhaus on board could be a sign of a changing of the guard within the team. It certainly has to have thought about its future as much as Crafton has.

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If Crafton indeed decides to retire after 2024, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones get the seat, as he has much more Truck Series experience than Fenhaus. That would leave the No. 66 open to get Fenhaus more seat time for 2025 with a potential to go full-time in 2026.

The Truck Series has no cap on how many entries a team can field, so a fifth full-time truck could be possible if sponsorship is available. Not to mention if Jones doesn’t live up to ThorSport’s expectations in 2025, he could easily get the boot for Fenhaus.

Another scenario could play out where Garcia or Majeski don’t return to the team in 2025 and Jones slots into one of those open seats as well. Or maybe a combination of all of the above happens and both Jones and Fenhaus find themselves full-time for 2025.

Obviously these are real specific scenarios, and it would be shocking if that all happened in one of those ways. Hell, ThorSport’s lineup could look exactly the same in 2025 and those scenarios fall apart before they could even take off.

But ThorSport is obviously thinking about its future, and its turning to driver development for the first time likely in 10 or 15 years. With Jones and Fenhaus waiting in the wings, the ThorSport lineup you see this season could look very different as soon as next season.

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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