Beth Lunkenheimer · Friday June 13, 2008
This weekend, the drivers of the Craftsman Truck Series head to Michigan International Speedway for the Cool City Customs 200. Of course Kyle Busch will be running all three races, but I want to ponder a hypothetical question—what if there were no more Truck Series?
Before you panic, let me explain where the idea came from. Earlier this week, fellow writer Matt McLaughlin wrote in his Thinking Out Loud column, “With no title sponsor for the series, will the trucks even be back next year?” Now there has been no indication from NASCAR that they will be doing away with the series, but they’ve also been extremely quiet in the hunt for a new series sponsor.
It’s no secret that the Craftsman Truck Series has always been the “least popular” in NASCAR, but the attendance numbers really show it. Take the Sam’s Town 400 last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway—estimated attendance was 51,000 compared to a regular estimated attendance of more than 180,000 for the Sprint Cup Series races.
Add to the low attendance numbers the teams that have had to close in the last few years, and it’s clear the series could be in trouble. With teams like Ultra Motorsports, South Point Racing and JTG Racing closing, it seems that only teams with a larger amount of financial backing can continue to travel each week with the series. With the smaller teams closing, the fields have dwindled and start short more often than they start full.
Despite the problems seen in the series, it would be a shame to lose truck racing for good. Right now, it’s some of the best racing in NASCAR, and it has been for some time. To take that competitiveness away from the track is unfair to drivers and fans alike.
Perhaps the biggest loss felt by dissolving the Truck Series would be the lack of a training ground for up and coming drivers. With the Nationwide Series serving the purpose as a “Cup Lite” series, inexperienced drivers aren’t able to steal the spotlight and make themselves known when they’re constantly overshadowed by Sprint Cup Series drivers week in and week out.
The truck series has often made the transition from the lower ranks of racing to the Sprint Cup Series easier by giving new drivers a training ground to learn the tracks and expand their knowledge and skills. Take Greg Biffle as an example; he started in the Truck Series full-time for Roush Racing in 1998. Though he didn’t score his first win until his second full season in the series, he did score four poles and 12 Top 10 finishes; Biffle also was awarded Rookie of the Year honors that year. Over the course of five years in the series, Biffle scored 16 wins—nine of them came in 1999 alone—and 54 Top 10 finishes.
In 2000, Kurt Busch joined Greg Biffle at Roush Racing in the Craftsman Truck Series and ran just one full season before moving up to the Sprint Cup Series. In that season, the older Busch brother scored four poles, four wins and 16 Top 10 finishes. On top of that, Busch also took home the Rookie of the Year award.
After the success Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch found, it was time for Carl Edwards to show the NASCAR world what he had to offer. He started with Roush Racing in his rookie season in the Truck Series and quickly made his name known. In 2003, his first full season in the No. 99, Edwards scored one pole, three wins, 15 Top 10 finishes and an average finish of 10.5 despite also failing to finish six races; Edwards also outran seven other drivers to finish atop the rookie standings.
Aside from these drivers who have already made their move and have landed a coveted Sprint Cup Series job, the Truck Series has seen a couple of rookies win this season that may otherwise not have had a chance to show the talent they have.
Donny Lia scored a surprise win in the Ohio 250 at Mansfield after just eight starts when he made a last lap pass on David Starr and held off a charging Todd Bodine a few weeks ago. The very next week, Scott Speed showed rookies can gain valuable experience when he won the AAA Insurance 200 at Dover in just his sixth start.
Alongside Speed and Lia, Colin Braun, Justin Marks and the rest of the rookie class this year have certainly made their improvements. Colin Braun, current Raybestos Rookie of the Year leader, has started outside the Top 10 in just one race this season and holds an average finish of 16.2 in the nine races run so far this season.
Justin Marks scored his first career pole last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and become the first rookie to start a Truck Series race on the pole since Erik Darnell did it in 2006. Marks has had a less than stellar season but still holds four Top 15 finishes in the nine races run so far this season. He’s growing behind the wheel of the No. 9 Germain Racing Toyota Tundra.
A close second to losing a perfect rookie training ground is the loss of jobs felt by drivers and crews alike. While there are undoubtedly some places current crew members could go, there are only so many open rides for the drivers. Guys like Todd Bodine, Ron Hornaday, Jr, Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson, to name a few, have made themselves career Truck Series drivers. I’m not saying they wouldn’t jump at the chance to race in a higher series, but they’ve gained their own popularity by racing in the Truck Series. It sure would be a shame to see these names that have been around for so long just drop off of the NASCAR radar.
As someone who truly enjoys watching truck racing and gets excited to see side-by-side racing, it would be very difficult to let go of the Craftsman Truck Series. Of course this is only a hypothetical situation, but if NASCAR can’t or won’t find a sponsor, it could become all too true.
Did You Know…
- Jack Roush will be performing the pre-race flyover for the Cool City Customs 200 Saturday afternoon? Roush will be piloting his P-51 plane with the help of some of his friends in T-6 aircrafts.
- The ratings for the Craftsman Truck Series on SPEED continue to climb? The Sam’s Town 400 at Texas Motor Speedway scored a Nielsen Household Rating of 0.94 (677,000 households) compared to last year’s household rating of 0.67 (477,000 households).
- Scott Lagasse, Jr. and JTG Racing are on the entry list for the Cool City Customs 200? Despite making an announcement that the team was shutting down last week, Lagasse is on the entry list to drive the No. 20 Ford.
- Bryant Frazier, Stacy Compton’s crew chief was fined for violations at Texas Motor Speedway? Frazier was fined $2,000 and put on probation until December 31st for an infraction found during pre-race inspection violating Section 12-4-A (actions detrimental to stock car racing), 12-4-Q (determination that truck, truck parts, components and/or equipment used in the event do not conform to NASCAR rules), and 20B-12A (rear axle housing offset from vehicle centerline).
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