Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday April 19, 2012
It’s hard to believe after a little over sixth months of waiting, NASCAR’s return to Rockingham Speedway has come and gone. Though the facility’s grandstand capacity pales in comparison to most tracks on the Camping World Truck Series schedule, I have to admit it was nice to see the majority of seats filled each time the camera panned out.
And I wasn’t the only one to notice.
“That was definitely very, very cool and the fans—that’s what was so awesome was to look up and see how full the grandstands were,” Matt Crafton said. “How the whole community and the whole place—it was awesome to see all the fans.”
And who could blame him when the number of empty seats on the frontstretch alone usually outweighs those that are occupied. While the finish was lackluster at best with Cup regular Kasey Kahne stomping runner-up James Buescher by nearly a second-and-a-half, a couple of young drivers really stood out over the weekend.
In fact, it is Buescher and Kahne’s teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr. that first comes to mind. Following Turner Motorsports’ domination early in the season-opener at Daytona, it’s hard to believe all three of their full-time entries won’t make a visit to victory lane sometime this season, especially with the added boost of a win by Kahne. Starting on the pole and quickly pulling away from the field, the driver of the No. 30 Qualcomm Autotrac Chevrolet led the first 60 laps unchallenged all while putting all but about the top 15 of the field at least one lap down.
After losing the lead on a lap 68 restart, Piquet spent just 15 laps tracking down then-leader Matt Crafton and once again taking the top spot before pulling out to a near ten second lead. However, a slow pit stop dropped him fourth for the third restart. Despite this setback, Piquet easily worked his way to second before the final caution flew for debris with 26 laps remaining.
That’s when disaster struck for the No. 30 team. Following his final pit stop, NASCAR pegged Piquet for speeding while exiting pit road—he was busted going just 0.08 mph beyond the posted 40 mph pit road speed. As a result, he was forced to restart 12th at the tail end of the longest line, but even with the setback, he made quick work of the slower trucks ahead of him. The problem then came as Kahne had pulled well out front, and without a caution, Piquet was left to settle for a solid seventh-place finish. Clearly disappointed, the Brazilian was professional following the checkered flag.
“That race was ours to win. We had the fastest laps almost all day. Even at the end of the race, we were putting up times faster than the leader,” Piquet said. “I’m just happy that we had the quickest truck out there, and my Turner Motorsports team is amazing. We showed everyone what we can do this year. We were the truck to beat.”
And clearly Piquet did have the truck to beat. We’ll never know whether he would have had anything for teammate Kahne on the final restart, but the pair almost certainly would have put on one heck of a show at the finish line.
Perhaps even more impressive Sunday was Jeb Burton’s run in his second career start. After struggling mightily in practice, posting speeds outside the top 20 in all but one session (he ran 18th quickest in the third session), the rookie driver didn’t fare much better in qualifying. He started 27th in the 36 truck field, but something clicked when the green flag flew.
By the time the first caution came out less than ten laps in, Burton had worked himself almost all the way up inside the top 20, and that didn’t change when the field went green again. Within the first 50 laps, Burton has worked himself up to 11th, where he remained for much of the of the day. Despite going a lap down thanks to the blistering pace set by Piquet, the 19-year-old kept his cool and continued to run a smart race. Under the second caution, Burton had himself in place to take advantage of the “lucky dog” and moved back onto the lead lap. From there, he ran a solid second half of the race, working past the lap down trucks and peeking inside the top 10 before settling in his final finishing spot of 11th, a solid run for such an inexperienced driver.
“I really wanted a top 10 but I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m always trying to be my best, and this was definitely a challenging track for me during practice and qualifying,” Burton said after the race. “I’m the hardest on myself. I’m really proud of all my guys who worked hard on this truck, and Trip (Bruce, Crew Chief) and my dad (Ward) for being great guides here. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is only my second time out here. It’s still a learning process.”
Regardless of where he finished and whether he would have been happier with a top-10 finish, Burton and his team should be impressed with a solid lead lap finish at a track where veterans struggled more than the young drivers.
With all of that said, I have no intention of taking away from Kahne’s run to the win after starting at the back of the pack, however it would have been much more impressive if the feat had been accomplished by a Truck Series regular rather than a Cup driver.
Previewing the SFP 250
Author’s Note: New this season is a feature very similar to the Frontstretch Folio found in Friday’s edition of The Frontstretch Newsletter where I’ll preview the upcoming race weekend. Love it? Hate it? Wish something more were in it? Let me know in the comments below.
Track: Kansas Speedway
Date: Saturday, April 21st
Length: 167 laps / 250.5 miles
Broadcast Information: 2:00 PM EDT on SPEED
Weather Forecast: Sunny; High 67, Low 43
Last season, the series visited Kansas in June. Clint Bowyer dominated behind the wheel of Kevin Harvick, Inc.‘s No. 2 Chevrolet, leading a race high 124 of 167 laps en route to his third career victory in 12 starts. The biggest story of that weekend last year, though, was Richard Childress’ attack on Kyle Busch after he felt Busch, who was on probation at the time, had wronged rookie driver Joey Coulter.
Did You Know…
- There has never been a repeat winner at Kansas in 11 races? And this weekend is likely to feature a 12th different winner as only three previous winners (Ron Hornaday, Jr., Todd Bodine and Johnny Sauter) are on the entry list. Interestingly enough, none of those 11 winners started outside the top 10.
- The fewest drivers to finish on the lead lap (six) came during the inaugural event in July, 2001? The late Ricky Hendrick scored his lone Truck Series victory by a convincing 2.841 seconds over Ted Musgrave after leading three times for 32 laps.
- The only team owners with multiple wins at Kansas are no longer involved in the series? KHI had two wins—one with Hornaday and one with Bowyer—and Roush put Jon Wood, Carl Edwards and Erik Darnell in victory lane.
Drivers and Crew Members on Racing at Martinsville
“Kansas has a lot of character because the track doesn’t have a lot of grip and the trucks slide around; there are multiple grooves and it’s fast. It’s a track that I’ve had some success at and it would be nice to get Joe’s (Denette) first win as an owner there before they repave it.” 2008 Winner Ron Hornaday, Jr.
“Kansas is one of my favorite race tracks. I had my first NASCAR start there in a Nationwide car and won the pole, which was a pretty significant accomplishment for me in my racing career. Aside from that, it’s the track that I look at as the quintessential mile-and-a-half. It’s smooth, it’s got a lot of lanes and it’s kind of the perfect shape for a mile-and-a-half. All those things add up to being a track that is very much dependent on equipment.” Parker Kligerman
“It’s my first time at each one of these tracks wherever I go. My experience up until this points has been in late models. So the approach is to learn first, fast laps second. We’ll be taking as many turns of the racetrack as possible on Friday’s practice runs, just to get the lay of the land. It’s such a tricky place for tires and pit strategy, not to mention all the other components like speed and corners. The weather might be a factor too with all the wind they’ve had lately. I just have to go into it looking for knowledge and to come out with a great finish. If we can get a top 10, we’d be over the moon.” Jeb Burton
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