The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Midseason Checkup by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday August 1, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: Midseason Checkup

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday August 1, 2013

 

This weekend’s Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono marks the halfway point of the 2013 season. It’s amusing — or maybe the better word is frustrating — that it takes more than five months to get to the midway point in the year and less than four to finish the second half of the schedule, but that’s another story for a different day. This week, the focus is on where the series stands at the midway point of the year.

Championship Battle

Matt Crafton has pretty well solidified his spot as the championship favorite to beat for this season. After teammate Johnny Sauter swept the first two events of the season and appeared to have a stronghold on the top spot in the standings, it was Crafton who took the top spot thanks in part to a penalty for his teammate and a race-winning run at Kansas in April. Since that victory, Crafton has continued to expand his lead, one that now sits at nearly 50 points.

After years of struggling just to get a win, Matt Crafton suddenly finds himself in prime position to clinch a Camping World Truck Series championship.

Of course, since we’re just now hitting the halfway point in the year, there are so many things that can wrong — or right — for Crafton and those chasing him. It’s not often that a driver manages to mount such a lead with so many races left in the year, however when it has happened, that driver has gone on to win the championship. With another unfamiliar track on the schedule in Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (i.e., the track formerly known as Mosport) and the crapshoot that is Talladega, there are still plenty of things that can derail Crafton’s championship hopes, but at this point, he’s making a case that it’s his championship to lose.

Checking on the Rookies

This year’s rookie class has once again impressed. While some have run better than others based on equipment, financial backing and other things out of their control, each and every rookie has their own story of success so far.

Ryan Blaney:
10 starts; 1 pole
Top 5s: 3
Top 10s: 6
Best Finish: 3rd (twice—Kansas and Dover)
Average Finish: 11.7

After scoring his first victory in just his third career start at Iowa Speedway last season, many had high hopes for Ryan Blaney coming into his full-time rookie season. Piloting the No. 29 Cooper Standard Performance Products Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, Blaney has not been much of a threat for victory lane this season, save for a pair of third-place runs at Kansas and Dover. But that’s not to say he hasn’t had a successful rookie year so far. The 19-year-old hasn’t posted a single DNF this season and has managed to make the most out of his situation, even when it didn’t look like he’d even complete the race. I still expect him to snag a victory at some point this season, and that could come as early as this weekend at Pocono.

Jeb Burton:
10 starts; 3 poles
Top 5s: 3
Top 10s: 6
Best Finish: 1st (Texas)
Average Finish: 10.2

Jeb Burton impressed early on in his initial planned rookie season in 2012, but a lack of sponsorship sidelined him just five races into the year. But good news came to the young driver in the form of signing with the team that’s shown so much growth in the last two years, Turner Scott Motorsports. Since joining the team, Burton has finished outside the top 15 just twice—22nd at Iowa and 18th at Eldora—and even snagged an emotional first career victory at Texas in June with his proud father Ward watching from the spotters’ stand. I can’t imagine that win will be his last this season, and you can bet Burton has his eyes on Matt Crafton in hopes of becoming the first rookie to win the championship.

Jeb Burton is proving that age is just a number. His first full season in the Truck Series has seen him capture a win, becoming a consistent threat each and every week.

Brennan Newberry:
10 starts; 1 pole
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 0
Best Finish: 18th (Charlotte)
Average Finish: 24.5

Brennan Newberry finds himself in a unique situation. Having made a handful of starts last season with his family owned team, Newberry and NTS Motorsports combined resources, equipment and staff with Joe Denette Motorsports just before this season began. The merger meant little more than just having a larger group of people to work and share information with. And while there aren’t any spectacular finishes to show for it, Newberry has learned plenty in his first full-time season. While I’m not convinced he’s quite ready for a victory yet, a place like Talladega is where he could potentially steal one. Otherwise, count this year as a great learning season for the 23-year-old and look for him to use those lessons as he visits tracks he’s already raced at before.

German Quiroga:
10 starts; 1 pole
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 2
Best Finish: 3rd (Texas)
Average Finish: 17.7

After making a handful of starts for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2011 and 2012, German Quiroga joined Red Horse Racing to fill the seat left vacant by Parker Kligerman, who moved to the Nationwide Series. Quiroga has made history this season as the first Mexican-born driver to sit on the pole in the Truck Series. He’s shown some flashes of brilliance and ruffled some feathers along the way, but this team lacks consistency in their runs. Quiroga is clearly a driver with potential — otherwise he wouldn’t be racing where he is today — but it remains to be seen whether he can break through to victory lane this season or if he’ll have to wait another year.

Darrell Wallace, Jr.:
10 starts; 1 pole
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 6
Best Finish: 5th (Martinsville)
Average Finish: 13.7

The first thing I think about when I hear the name Darrell Wallace, Jr. is how his results don’t even come close to showing the kinds of runs he’s mounted each week with Kyle Busch Motorsports. It’s hard to count the number of times the 19-year-old has been running well into the top 10 — and even the top 5 — before over-driving and costing himself a stronger finish. One such time came at Charlotte when he was holding his own against Sprint Cup drivers Brad Keselowski and KBM team owner Kyle Busch. It’s not that Wallace, Jr. doesn’t have the talent to race; he just needs to learn to drive to the capacity that his equipment allows in any given week and take the result that he can get from it. A trip to victory lane will come in time for the talented driver—it’s just going to take patience for him to get to that point.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. is learning patience and persistence, carrying himself with the maturity of a driver twice his 19 years of age.

Eldora Experiment a Success

No midway check on this season would be complete without a look at Eldora. Though we’re just a week removed from the historic event, many are calling for more dirt races or even expanding the Nationwide or Sprint Cup Series to run at a place like Eldora. Though NASCAR hasn’t specifically come out and said they do plan to return to Eldora or a different dirt track on future schedules, it’s a pretty safe bet that we will see them race there again, however, even if it doesn’t happen again, you can bet the effort was well worth it in track owner, Tony Stewart’s mind.

“We wouldn’t have done this for one race if we didn’t think that this was something that could potentially go further down the road,” Stewart said hours before the race got underway. “If it only goes one year and we only get one opportunity to do it, is all the time, effort and worrying worth it? Absolutely.”

While there were some people that expressed their displeasure with the Mudsummer Classic, I still look at it as an overall success. Some of the complaints that I’ve seen in the week since the race have ranged from the lack of mud flying to hating the heat races and even just hating the slipping and sliding that went on all night long. While I do understand the complaints, I can’t help but wonder if some were simply from fans who simply don’t like change. Plenty has changed in recent years all across the sport, but sometimes change is for the better. It’s not like this one race is going to make NASCAR replace the entire schedule with dirt races next season.

With that said, one of my favorite things about the format for Eldora was the heat races to set the field. Sure, plenty of teams put the effort into making two fast laps to get into the race, however the added uncertainty in the heat races expanded the excitement. Look no further than the battle between Clay Greenfield and Norm Benning in the final laps of the last chance qualifier. Benning, who typically struggles with speed on any given day, fought tooth and nail for his transfer spot, and the kindness of the Truck Series garage shone when multiple teams swarmed Benning’s truck to help repair the damage done in that race so he could make the feature. While he was never a factor in the race, it’s that kind of fight that makes heat races to set the field worthwhile, and I can’t help but wonder if the overall excitement for the season would be taken up a notch if heat races were more common.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned from Eldora isn’t racing on a dirt track itself, but rather the appeal of short track racing. Remember, the series was built on small tracks where beating and banging for the victory were the norm. If NASCAR would consider expanding to other smaller short tracks around the country or returning to some of the greats from years past, it’s a safe bet that the series would grow even more.

News & Notes

- Earlier this week, Turner Scott Motorsports announced that two-time Truck Series champion Todd Bodine will pilot a fourth entry for the organization at Pocono this weekend. He’ll pilot the No. 30 Whelen Engineering / Team Fox Chevrolet in the one-time deal. TSM has fielded the No. 30 multiple times this season—twice for Kyle Larson and once apiece for Ryan Truex, Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Cale Gale.

- Kyle Busch Motorsports announced earlier this week that they have signed a two-race deal with FOX Sports 1 to help promote the network that will go live on August 17th. Joey Coulter will pilot his No. 18 truck with a countdown to the network’s debut at Michigan International Speedway in a couple weeks. The network will become the home of the Truck Series broadcasts for the remainder of the season.

- James Buescher and wife Kris welcomed their first son to their family last Friday. Stetson Rees Buescher was 7 lbs. 15 oz. and 19.5 inches long. Congratulations to the Buescher family.

Miguel’s Corner

Update: “Coming from Eldora, I don’t think I have ever had such an appreciation for asphalt. Last week’s race was fun, but I’m happy to get back to a paved track where our team has had good results in the past. We’re bringing the same truck we brought to Kentucky [Speedway] and Texas [Motor Speedway], and we had top 10s at both. We qualified and ran well at Pocono last year, so based on the direction our team has been going so far this season, I know we’ll be even better this time.” Miguel Paludo

Tweet of the Week

@miguelpaludo: Oli, go push push!!!!! Ouch!!!! http://instagram.com/p/cc7qFuKkuQ/

@PatiSouzaPaludo: Good job @miguelpaludo just won the bus race!! http://instagram.com/p/cXwGECvcAv/

Photo of the Week:

Introducing Chef Oli! Photo courtesy Patricia Paludo.

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john
08/01/2013 02:52 PM
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Go Crafton! I got my tickets and my camping spot reserved for Mosport!

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