The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Four Storylines To Watch Over The Final Five Races by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday October 17, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: Four Storylines To Watch Over The Final Five Races

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday October 17, 2013

 

This weekend’s Camping World Truck Series race from Talladega Superspeedway marks the first in a stretch of five straight events to close out the 2013 season and crown a champion. The series has definitely had some great moments so far, but what is there to keep an eye on as the year quickly winds to a close?

Here’s four storylines I’m looking at…

Championship Battle

Matt Crafton has taken charge in the championship, building a 41-point lead with five races left. Can he hold it?

Here’s your obvious, big picture story. Matt Crafton holds the largest points lead across all three of NASCAR’s top series right now, and with five races remaining to settle the championship, time is quickly running out for other drivers within striking distance to make up ground in the battle. The driver of the No. 88 Toyota holds a 41-marker advantage over James Buescher and 53 over Ty Dillon. Rookie Jeb Burton sits fourth, but finds himself 73 markers out. It’s not likely he’ll be able to make a charge at the championship unless the top 3 suffers a meltdown in the next couple of races.

It’s easy to look at Crafton’s previous experience at the upcoming five tracks and wonder whether he’ll be able to continue to hold his edge. After all, he has yet to find Victory Lane at any of those facilities. But then again, the same could have been said about Brad Keselowski’s run to the Sprint Cup championship last year. Assuming the No. 88 team can keep the pace they’ve set all season, no one can stop them. However, with the wild card of Talladega coming up this weekend and the beating and banging that Martinsville brings, the complexion of this championship battle could change entirely. That’s what makes it so easy to tune in each and every week to see how it all unfolds.

A little fun fact for you: No championship leader has won the race at Talladega since the Truck Series began racing there in 2006. Could that change this year?

Rookie Battle

While Matt Crafton continues to make the championship an uphill battle for his fellow competitors, another race is setting up as the season winds to a close. In just five weeks, the Truck Series will also crown the Rookie of the Year. Ryan Blaney, driving the No. 29 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, currently holds the lead in that competition by a mere 15 markers over Jeb Burton. Darrell Wallace, Jr. is holding his own, just 18 points behind, while the rest of this year’s contenders are well out of striking distance.

Wait a second. What? Blaney and Burton both have one win apiece, but Burton boasts a series-high five poles, has completed every race he’s run and sits higher in the points standings. So how in the world does Blaney hold the edge? It’s a question I had that sent me looking for answers, so if you’re wondering how NASCAR figures the Rookie of the Year standings, keep reading.

Ryan Blaney has had a successful rookie season, including a thrilling Pocono win. Will it be enough to make him the series’ top rookie?

In the Truck Series, drivers will use their best 14 finishes (it’s 16 in Nationwide and 17 in Cup, if you’re wondering) of the season for the scoring system, so the five remaining events are critical in each driver’s hopes to move forward in the standings. But how exactly are the points calculated?

First of all, simply attempting to qualify for a race earns a driver a single point. There is no limit on the number of points that can be earned in this category, so in a 22-race season, attempting to qualify for every event should automatically set someone up with 22 points. From there, a 10-9-8-7-6, etc. point system is used based on where each rookie finishes compared to his fellow competitors. For example, the highest-finishing rookie gets 10 points, the second-highest nine and so on.

In addition to the points based on where a driver finishes, a bonus is awarded for a top-10 result using a 10-9-8-7-6, etc. system. A victory is worth 10 markers, second, nine and so forth, all the way down to a single point for 10th. But it’s not that black and white when it comes down to finally crowning the best rookie. In addition to those points earned on the track, another bonus can be awarded based on good behavior. The Rookie of the Year panel meets following the final race of the season to reward things like good conduct with officials, awareness on track, personal appearances and even media relations. Each member of the panel rates the drivers on a 10 to 1 scale, with 10 being the maximum. The scores from the panel members are then averaged and added to the on-track performances, awarding the Rookie of the Year title to the driver that comes out with the most points.

Are you confused yet? Me too. Perhaps the rookie points scoring system is something that the sanctioning body needs to take a look at in the coming years. There’s got to be an easier way to determine the top newcomer each season.

2014 Schedule

Having released the Sprint Cup Series schedule earlier this week, NASCAR has left Nationwide and Truck Series fans wondering whether there could be some wholesale changes coming to their own lineups for 2014. The widespread speculation is that both schedules are due to come out next week. After seeing the minimal changes to the Cup schedule, I’m not holding out hope for any major adjustments in the Truck Series, so we can probably expect a lot of the same as we saw this season. A handful of tracks have confirmed their dates based on individual releases, and others can be assumed based on this year’s lineup and when the Cup weekends fall. The worst part, for Truck fans is that I’m not counting on Rockingham Speedway to return, based on the reasons I outlined a few weeks ago.

2014 Truck Dates: Confirmed By Track Releases

Dover International Speedway: Saturday, May 31st
Eldora Speedway: Wednesday, July 23rd (Woohoo! No brainer on this decision!)
Kansas Speedway: Friday, May 9th (note that the normal Saturday afternoon race has been moved to Friday night)
New Hampshire Motor Speedway: Saturday, September 20th (NHMS returns after sitting out 2012 and 2013)
Texas Motor Speedway: Friday, June 6th and Friday, October 31st

2014 Truck Date Speculation Based On Cup schedule

Bristol Motor Speedway: Wednesday, August 20th
Charlotte Motor Speedway: Friday, May 16th
Chicagoland Speedway: Friday, September 12th
Daytona International Speedway: Friday, February 21st
Homestead-Miami Speedway: Friday, November 14th
Kentucky Speedway: Thursday, June 26th
Martinsville Speedway: Saturday, March 29th and Saturday, October 25th
Michigan International Speedway: Saturday, August 16th
Phoenix International Raceway: Friday, November 7th
Pocono Raceway: Saturday, August 2nd (This race should run for closer to 200 to 250 miles)
Talladega Superspeedway: Saturday, October 18th

Those confirmed and speculated changes only account for 18 events, but it does leave out Iowa Speedway, Mosport and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, totaling the other four events that bring us to 22 for this year. While I’m not holding my breath for any major changes, it would be nice, at the very least, to see the number increase to 25 at a minimum. Anything less would be yet another year of disappointment in the sanctioning body’s ability to adjust and adapt.

2014 Plans

It’s not very often that the Truck Series field is set more than a month or two before the new season begins, and this year is no different. While there have been rumors and speculation about a handful of drivers, nothing is really set in stone as far as who will drive for which team next year. In fact, the only rumors so far have surrounded Turner Scott Motorsports. Fox Sports 1’s Ray Dunlap reported several weeks ago that Jeb Burton will be back with the organization full-time next year in the Truck Series, along with a handful of Nationwide Series starts. When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, Burton simply confirmed that he was in the process of securing sponsorship backing for that full-time run.

James Buescher and Chase Elliott are just two of the names floating out there in Truck Series Silly Season.

The only other real news that has come out has been pure speculation. Much like the end of last season, when James Buescher won the championship, rumors have begun circulating that he’ll make the move to the Nationwide Series full-time next year and that Chase Elliott, who has made a handful of starts in equipment provided by TSM, fielded and set up by Hendrick Motorsports, will end up with the TSM ride vacated by an advancing Buescher. While not confirmed, it would almost be an understatement to say Elliott’s addition to the full-time roster of drivers is a good thing.

While so many changes and moves have already begun in the Sprint Cup Series, it’s very clear that the Truck Series has lagged behind in making those announcements. It could be that the series is an afterthought, but I assume it has more to do with the shoestring budgets many of these organizations operate on. Remember that there are usually drivers who enter the season with plans to run full-time, only to have that effort sidelined because funding couldn’t be lined up. I fear that will continue to be the case until NASCAR really re-evaluates and fixes the schedule for good.

News ‘N’ Notes

  • Earlier this week, Red Horse Racing crew member Marshall Faust was indefinitely suspended for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy. Faust was found in violation of Sections 12-1 (actions detrimental to stock car racing) and 19 (violation of the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy) on October 10th. He will have the opportunity to go through the sanctioning body’s Road to Recovery Program if he wants to return to the sport.

“Red Horse Racing supports NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy as well as the Road to Recovery Program,” the team said in a statement. “In addition to NASCAR’s testing, Red Horse Racing also has our own quarterly drug testing policy. Red Horse Racing has a zero tolerance policy, and Marshal Faust is no longer employed by the team.”

According to the organization’s website, Faust was a fabricator, mechanic and tire changer for Timothy Peters’ No. 17 team.

  • Mike Harmon will run a special Breast Cancer Awareness scheme at Talladega in memory of BJ Parker, who owned the first car Harmon’s father, JP drove in the 1950s. Parker died of breast cancer in 2011, and Harmon’s goal is to raise awareness that men can also contract breast cancer.
  • David Starr will return to the track this weekend with SS Green Light Racing. Having been off the track since Bristol in August, Starr will run the No. 81 Toyota this weekend. In eight races this year, Starr boasts a best finish of 13th (Martinsville and Kansas) but has been sidelined by a lack of funding to put the truck on the track.
  • Veteran crew chief Richie Wauters, who formed Wauters Motorsports last season with driver Paulie Harraka behind the wheel, has joined Turn One Racing to assist Dakoda Armstrong’s No. 60 team. The announcement comes just a couple weeks after the organization welcomed crew chief Doug George to their efforts.

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john
10/17/2013 02:00 PM
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I really, really hope they come back here to Canada.

FSBeth
10/17/2013 03:24 PM
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Me too John. NASCAR would be silly not to return to Mosport. The action on track was great and the ending (plus the Papis slap) made it memorable for sure, regardless of how you feel about both incidents.

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