Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday August 2, 2012
Not that long ago, many though the Camping World Truck Series was in danger of dissolving thanks to sponsorship woes that resulted in teams scaling back at the least and shutting down at the worst. But the 2012 season has brought with it a breath of fresh air in what appeared to be a quickly dying series. Despite having the best racing on the track, the division suffered from a variety of maladies that could have easily seen NASCAR make the decision to quit supporting it. Now, the Truck Series stands on a much healthier ground and has even surpassed the Nationwide Series in lasting power.
First and foremost, fans finally have the opportunity to get to know the drivers that make up the fields week in and week out. Having endured a 2011 season that focused mostly on Kyle Busch and rest the of the Sprint Cup drivers overshadowing the series regulars, there has been a rebound in the popularity and coverage.
Sure we’ve had a couple of Cup drivers come in and steal the spotlight in the form of Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne who went to victory lane at Martinsville and Rockingham, respectively. But the reality is that 80 percent of the winners this season have been Truck Series regulars, even with Daytona winner John King sitting on the sidelines. It’s certainly quite different than last year when just two victories went to Truck Series regulars in Johnny Sauter at Martinsville and Ron Hornaday, Jr. at Texas. Kyle Busch won five races while Michael Waltrip, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer each grabbed one apiece.
The numbers aren’t quite as pretty when you look at the Nationwide Series where just over 35 percent of events have been won by series regulars. Cup Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with Cup drivers making an occasional start in either series. The wealth of experience someone like Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick brings is invaluable as a learning tool for those looking to make it to the next level in their career. But their presence can also stifle the budding careers if they’re constantly overshadowed week after week.
Speaking of those looking to make it to the next level, consider the age of the talent in the top 5 at this point. The quintet boasts an average age of just over 24 with the eldest of the bunch coming in the form of 32-year old Timothy Peters; rookie Ty Dillon is the youngest at age 20. While that top 5 is separated by 49 points, four-time champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. lurks just 12 markers behind and is quickly making a case to move the No. 9 Joe Denette Motorsports Chevrolet inside the top 5, while fellow veteran Todd Bodine sits just nine points outside the top 10.
Does the Nationwide Series boast such a healthy mix of drivers both young and old?
Despite a crop of younger competitors filling out the top 5 over there, only 15 drivers have run all of the scheduled races this season versus 20 in the Truck Series. That doesn’t exactly scream healthy to me, especially since the Nationwide fields seven more drivers in each event. In fact, almost 17 percent of the Nationwide Series starting positions have gone to start-and-park teams versus just under10 percent in the Truck Series. While any amount of drivers who enter with the intent of quitting before the race runs to completion is a huge negative, the numbers have substantially dropped in the Truck Series while they’ve skyrocketed in Nationwide.
If the veterans and rookies aren’t enough, how about a little international flare to shake things up? As I talked about earlier this season, the Truck Series has played host to many foreign drivers and has even managed to hang onto a couple on a full-time basis for their second seasons. Turner Motorsports teammates Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet, Jr. have both made a name for themselves this season despite having not yet visited victory lane. Paludo came out of the gate at Daytona, leading 56 of the first 66 laps before a scary wreck that ended his run to the checkers, while Piquet, Jr. dominated at Rockingham before a late race pit road speeding penalty cost him what many thought was a sure victory.
But the lack of a visit to victory lane isn’t the point. To have not just one, but two, different foreign drivers make their move to NASCAR and stick around through their sophomore seasons while improving their performance, speaks highly about the appeal the division has for those looking to give stock car racing a try.
Enough about this season, though — how about the future of each series? Richard Childress Racing has already confirmed Ty Dillon will remain in the Truck Series while his older brother Austin is set to run full-time Nationwide next year, a plan that was built for both years ago before they made their NASCAR debuts. On the Nationwide side of things, you’ve got Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who is still right in the thick of the championship battle, will move on to Sprint Cup next year, and at this point Sam Hornish, Jr., who sits less than 30 points behind the leader will likely do the same, following AJ Allmendinger’s release from Penske Racing and their No. 22 Fords for 2013.
Compare that to the Truck Series where we’ll likely see all of the drivers in the top 10 — with the exception of James Buescher, who will almost certainly end up running Nationwide full-time next year, pending sponsorship. And while the sponsorship climate has struggled in recent years, more and more companies have signed on, if only for a handful of events.
Sure the Truck Series isn’t without its flaws — the ridiculous gaps in the schedule readily come to mind — but in the end, it still sits on the most solid ground it has since I began covering the series seven years ago.
Update: “I’m really looking forward to heading to Pocono with the truck we ran at Chicagoland. We’ve run that truck a few times, but last weekend we tried a new rear-end housing and it gave me a much better feel for what I was looking for. We’ll continue using the rear-end housing that we put in last week and that should help us a lot. Pocono has a very long straightaway and it’s very easy to lose five to ten positions if you lose your momentum at all. When you come out of turn one, the tunnel turn is almost right there and you have to hit it just right so you don’t lose momentum leaving it and heading to the big straightaway.”
Author’s Note: Turner Motorsports and Miguel Paludo announced Wednesday morning that he’ll run the Nationwide Series event at Watkins Glen Speedway.
“I am really excited to be racing at Watkins Glen. I’ve never been to that track before, but I was so incredibly comfortable in the Nationwide car at Road America. We were running up front all day and we just had some bad luck at the end when the sway-bar arm broke, so we didn’t get the finish we deserved. I just want to turn that all around and have a good weekend at The Glen. I know that we will be extremely competitive, so I want to bring home a great finish for the team, for myself and for Duroline. I had so much fun road course racing earlier in the year, so I’m really pumped about this.”
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