The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Young Guns Showing Up the Veterans ... So Far by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday April 5, 2012

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Truckin' Thursdays: Young Guns Showing Up the Veterans ... So Far

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday April 5, 2012

 

As all of NASCAR heads into the Easter weekend off, the Camping World Truck Series standings might surprise you. The top 8 drivers, all under the age of 30 with the exception of 31-year-old Timothy Peters and 32-year-old Jason White, are separated by just 21 points leaving Martinsville. King holds the points lead by just one marker over Timothy Peters and Justin Lofton who are tied for second. Close behind, you will find rookie Ty Dillon just four points out of the lead after an impressive second-place run at Martinsville, and Jason White rounds out the top 5, just eight points back.

There’s a new Marshall Dillon in town driving the familiar No. 3 Chevrolet for Pop Pop. Only four points out of first in his rookie season, might Ty be the better of the Brothers Dillon? Time will tell.

For the first time since 1996 when Ron Barfield, Jr. and eventual Rookie of the Year Bryan Reffner sat third and fourth after the second race, two rookies occupy the top 5. First is points leader John King, who scored a surprising victory at Daytona and followed it up with a very quiet ninth at Martinsville. The pre-season unknown suddenly has shown he may put up some strong competition for Rookie of the Year favorite Ty Dillon.

That being said, let’s not count out Ty Dillon. After all, he showed some incredible racing instinct and ability to listen to his spotter at Daytona when he dodged multiple wrecks and pulled out a ninth-place finish. Add in Martinsville’s run inside the top three all afternoon, and there’s clearly some family talent at work. Granted he got some help with teammate Kevin Harvick taking the outside line on every restart the two were on the front row, but isn’t that what teammates are for?

It’s not just the rookies that have stolen the spotlight this season though. Third-year driver Justin Lofton came into this season, having spent plenty of time late last year preparing for 2012, and it shows. He’s got back-to-back top-5 finishes (third at Daytona and fourth at Martinsville) and is one of only two drivers to score two top 5s to open the year. In fact, the only other time he’s scored back-to-back top 5s was in his rookie campaign when he snagged a pair of fifth-place finishes at Bristol and Chicagoland in his rookie campaign. If the No. 6 team can continue their forward progress, it’s easy to see Lofton scoring his first career victory sometime this season, and it could happen as early as Rockingham.

The only other driver with back-to-back top 5s to open the season is Timothy Peters (second at Daytona and fifth at Martinsville). But unlike Lofton, Peters already has three victories and is running his fourth full season (eighth overall). With teammate John King running well and all three of their trucks currently in the top 10 in points, Red Horse Racing may be a team to keep a close eye on. After all, Peters spent 20 of 25 weeks last season inside the top 5 and closed the year fifth in points.

With a pair of top 10s to start the season, Jason White appears to be adding a new weapon to his GunBroker.com-backed arsenal: consistency.

Then there’s Jason White, sitting pretty in fifth just eight points out. The driver of the No. 23 GunBroker.com Ford has back-to-back top 10 finishes to open the year for the first time in his career. Having started running full time in 2008, White had just 16 top 10s in 100 races and now is two for two this year. But while there have been flashes of brilliance for the 32-year-old, he’s pulled out just one top 10 points finish in his young career (2010). With that being said, if White and the No. 23 team can keep up the momentum they’ve started the year with all season long, he’ll be right there running for the championship in the final few races later this year.

Although we’re talking about the top 10 in points, it’s hard to forget rookie Ross Chastain. Driving for SS Green Light Racing, the 19-year-old recovered from a crash that left him 28th at Daytona with an impressive 7th-place finish, enough to propel him 14 spots up in the standings to 11th. Sadly, that success could all come crashing down if the team is unable to secure enough sponsorship to keep running, a concern Chastain shared in his post-race interview from Martinsville.

“We got a great seventh-place finish and [I] can’t tank everyone that helped out enough,” Chastain said. “[We are] just looking for more businesses to come on board so we can keep racing.”

It’s a shame, really but is something that has plagued both Truck Series veterans and young guns alike for several years.

Two races down, two DNFs. Johnny Sauter needs to right the ship quickly if he plans to have anything to cheer about in 2012.

Meanwhile, pre-season favorite Johnny Sauter is nowhere to be seen. Daytona saw him wrecked at the hands of eventual winner King—who was incredibly apologetic after the incident—and Martinsville didn’t treat the No. 13 team any better. After starting off with poor handling and maintaining his spot inside the top 10 for much of the day, it looked like Sauter might be able to pull out a solid finish to combat the 24th-place finish at Daytona. But instead, suspension problems sent him to the garage for 19 laps. He returned to the track after repairs but was left to settle for 29th. As a result, the No. 13 team sits a disappointing 27th, 46 markers behind the leader. Ironically, he’s scored the same amount of points in two starts as Ward Burton did at Daytona—not exactly the start anyone had expected from last year’s runner-up.

Sure, two races in is hardly a gauge on how the final championship points will play out, but with just 22 races on the schedule, so many drivers have used up their mulligans and desperately need a solid finish next weekend at Rockingham.

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