Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday October 24, 2013
As the 2013 season continues to wind to a close, last weekend’s Truck Series event at Talladega Superspeedway ending on a sour note reminded everyone why it’s so important for SAFER barriers to exist on any wall that could possibly be hit by a driver. The old saying that “it hasn’t happened before” doesn’t work in NASCAR, since we’ve seen a couple of competitors across the top three series find parts of the wall they never should have hit. But despite that terrifying ending, there was plenty of good — and bad — to come out of the race.
For Matt Crafton, Talladega was nearly the best-case scenario the No. 88 team could have hoped for. While he was involved in the last-lap crash, the point leader still managed to score another top 10 and increase his margin in the standings. Heading into Martinsville, with four races remaining Crafton holds a solid 57-point lead over Ty Dillon. That means it won’t take all that much for him to maintain the top spot and take home his first championship after 13 years of competition in the Truck Series. In fact, if Dillon were to score maximum points for the remaining four events (win the race and lead the most laps), Crafton would simply need to finish tenth or better in each race to take the championship by one marker. In a nutshell, it’s still possible for Dillon to mount a challenge sneaking in to grab the trophy, but in all likelihood, it will be Crafton’s name they’re engraving come Homestead.
Crafton’s ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter has had a couple of good things happen to him lately, too. After starting off the season with back-to-back victories, the No. 98 team struggled and dropped in the standings to the point where they’re pretty well out of the championship battle. First, there was a 25-point penalty; then, a surprise crew chief change, midseason from Joe Shear, Jr. to Dennis Connor which led to some additional growing pains. But following a trip to Victory Lane, at Talladega while the rest of the field wrecked behind him, Sauter and ThorSport announced earlier this week that they had signed on Nextant Aerospace as their primary sponsor for 12 events in each of the next two seasons. Additionally, the Ohio-based company will also serve as an associate backer for the remaining events. That keeps Sauter, who may have been under consideration for higher-tier rides based on recent success sticking with Thorsport over the long-term. It’ll also allow the No. 98 to keep gelling and work their way back into title contention come 2014.
On the other hand, James Buescher saw his bid for back-to-back championships go up in smoke Saturday afternoon at Talladega. Having gained more than 20 points on leader Matt Crafton in the last few races, the driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet hoped to capitalize on the uncertainty at the 2.66-mile oval situated in Alabama. Instead, he got caught up by Ron Hornaday, Jr., who took the field four-wide in a spot where there wasn’t room for a fourth truck. The end result? Buescher’s truck and championship hopes were wrecked on the spot. While a margin of 58 isn’t impossible to mount a comeback from, Crafton’s performance throughout the season, which includes just a single finish outside the top 10 (11th at Las Vegas), makes beating that margin a longshot at best. Now, the reigning champ will focus on finishing this season strong while speculation on where he’ll land for 2014 (the Nationwide Series?) will continue to mount.
Along with Buescher, Kyle Busch Motorsports as a whole took a major hit. While owner Kyle Busch still seems to be the only driver that can find Victory Lane in his Truck Series equipment, both Joey Coulter and Darrell Wallace, Jr. have led laps this season. The problem is that all three of the trucks left Talladega with severe damage, costing the team a boatload of money, and that’s certainly not something the organization needs right now as it prepares for the 2014 season. As I mentioned in Pace Laps on Monday, the future of KBM is up in the air as they try to figure out what the sponsorship climate will look like next season. Perhaps the only bit of good news to come out of it all is that each of the three trucks did spend a little time out front at Talladega. That TV time is something that can be used to court potential financial backing, crucial right now in planning the future for an organization that gives future stars of NASCAR a jumping off point.
Obviously, several drivers had their races marred by the “Big One” that ended the Truck Series race at Talladega. But the good news is that, in a series that’s normally plagued by several off weeks in a row, this time of year allows for five straight back-to-back race weekends, giving everyone a chance to move forward without dwelling on what happened in the latest event. There’s still plenty to watch as the season winds to a close, with a first-time champion likely on the horizon. Who will succeed? Who will fail? It’s just a matter of who will take their performance at Talladega and let it plague the final four events, compared to who will just forget it ever happened and make the most of the rest of the year. One thing is for certain: it should be exciting all along the way.
News ‘N’ Notes
- Joe Nemechek’s 16-year-old son, John Hunter, will look to make his Truck Series debut in Martinsville. With support from SWM, PelletGrillUSA and D.A.B. Constructors the effort hopes to build towards a limited schedule of races next season. Ultimately, some have speculated the goal is for John Hunter to take the seat of his father’s No. 87 in the Cup Series a few seasons down the road.
- Kevin Harvick is running a third truck at Martinsville, a No. 14 sponsored by Anderson’s Maple Syrup for the Newberry/Denette Motorsports group that employs drivers Ron Hornaday, Jr. and Brennan Newberry. Don’t be surprised if that association, which partnered for just two races in 2013 expands next season.
- Spencer Gallagher, making his second Truck Series start of the season will continue NASCAR’s tradition of honoring Breast Cancer Awareness in October. Gallagher will run a special pink paint scheme on his No. 21, with additional support from Allegiant Travel.
- Could we see another back-to-back Victory Lane run by Johnny Sauter? After winning the season-opening race at Daytona, he came through with a second straight victory at Martinsville, the next stop on the circuit. That’s exactly where the series lands this weekend…
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