The Frontstretch: Truckin' Thursdays: Grading The Schedule And Wallace's Impact by Beth Lunkenheimer -- Thursday October 31, 2013

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Truckin' Thursdays: Grading The Schedule And Wallace's Impact

Beth Lunkenheimer · Thursday October 31, 2013


This weekend, the Camping World Truck Series heads off to Texas Motor Speedway for its second visit this season. Back in June, rookie Jeb Burton edged Ty Dillon, who led a race-high 76 laps, to score his first career win. In what could only be described as an emotional Victory Lane, Burton got the opportunity to celebrate with his mother, father Ward, and his brother. Could there be another first-time winner in the works this weekend? It’s certainly possible, given the number of talented yet winless drivers entered. Could this race be the breakthrough for a guy like Miguel Paludo?

In the meantime, let’s catch up on some of the latest happenings in the series ahead of upcoming events.

NASCAR Releases 2014 Schedule

Last Friday afternoon, NASCAR released the 2014 Camping World Truck Series schedule. As expected, the season will open at Daytona International Speedway in February and end at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. There are plenty of things to be happy with when it comes to next year’s schedule. At the same time, there are some things that just make you shake your head and wonder.

First and foremost, the return of Eldora Speedway and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park were two of the must-haves on my ideal schedule. Both tracks made their debut this season and passed the test with flying colors, exciting fans and drivers alike. While Eldora was more of a “wild card,” and there are likely some drivers that would rather see it as an exhibition event instead of something worth points, the excitement could be “felt” even just watching on television. Add in the sold-out crowd and the racing that made Norm Benning a household name (at least for one race) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an event that should be on the schedule for many years to come.

For Mosport, it was much the same type of thing. The facility brought about the return of road course racing in the Truck Series, providing an exciting race from beginning to end – and afterwards. The action was highlighted by Chase Elliott’s last turn move on Ty Dillon, plus the action between Mike Skeen, Max Papis and Skeen’s girlfriend, which resulted in Papis taking a slap across the face. With that said, the addition of Mosport was a good one for the schedule and is another place that should remain there for years to come.

In addition to Eldora and Mosport returning, Gateway Motorsports Park (formerly Gateway International Raceway) and New Hampshire Motor Speedway have returned to the schedule. I’m not even sure exactly why NHMS was ever removed, but it’s certainly good news to have the facility back in the lineup.

The Truck Series has surprisingly captured the lion’s share of positive news during the 2013 season. Can a return to Eldora in 2014 keep things rolling?

Meanwhile, Gateway was shuttered by former owner Dover Motorsports, Inc. back in 2010 but reopened with the help of St. Louis real estate developer and former professional racer (IndyCar’s Indy Lights) Curtis Francois. Fast forward to late 2013, and the facility is once again on the Truck Series schedule. It’s certainly a step in the right direction in bringing back tracks that have been lost.

And speaking of tracks that have been lost, the series was dealt a huge blow when Rockingham Speedway was once again removed from the schedule. Citing, “a number of issues that have to be resolved before we can host races again,” owner Andy Hillenburg told the Charlotte Observer “I’m not giving up on this. My plan is to keep doing it. I want it, NASCAR wants it and I’m determined to have it continue.”

It’s really a shame to see the facility dropped after two seasons. However, it’s not like it was a surprise, given the cancellation of a few events late this season. In the end, it’s going to be Hillenburg’s dedication that will make or break the facility in the coming years. I just hope it’s not too little, too late.

Of course, NASCAR still hasn’t fixed the glaring problem with the schedule, both in the number of events and how they’re spread out throughout the season. With just 22 races again next year, there are still ways to kill off the long, extended break that also kills momentum for teams, drivers and fans alike. But NASCAR didn’t do it. In fact, this season the series will race just twice before heading off to Kansas Speedway for a May 9th night race. Yes, I said May 9th. That means for the first three full months of the year, the series will race just four times: Daytona, Feb. 21st; Martinsville, Mar. 29th; Kansas; and Charlotte, May 16th. Compare that to five straight weeks, a full schedule to close out the year, and you can see my objection to how this calendar got prepared.

I’ve long been someone who has championed and enjoyed opening and closing the season with all three series. But if the only option to remove the ridiculously long breaks is to shorten the actual time frame in which the season is held, perhaps that’s the better choice, after all. It remains to be seen if the sanctioning body will manage to fix the schedule, beginning with 2015 when they’ve talked about more sweeping changes to coincide with a new television deal. That’s good, because it certainly can’t get a whole lot worse than it is right now.

What Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s Win Means

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you’re aware that Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s victory at Martinsville Speedway marked the first NASCAR win by an African-American driver since Wendell Scott in 1963. And for Wallace, it was no doubt an important victory, especially since it was his first in the series.

“It means everything. This is an emotional one for me, especially to do it in Wendell Scott’s backyard. I love to come in here to Martinsville. It’s always good to me, and it finally paid off. My third trip here and I’m not even going to talk about the late model races,” Wallace said after the event. “But I love coming here. The fans are always great and they always put on a great race here. Had to do some muscling there at the end and get around Ty and keep it away from Harvick. Dodged a few bullets during the race, and this is awesome. This is good for not only myself and my team, Kyle and Samantha, Jerry, Toyota, everybody involved, this is big.

Darrell Wallace, Jr.‘s milestone win at Martinsville Saturday was the first by an African-American driver since Wendell Scott won almost 50 years ago. At just 20 years of age, you can bet it there will be many more wins to come following his first triumph.

But I’m not here to talk about the significance of the win based on Wallace’s skin color. As far as I’m concerned, a driver is a driver is a driver, and if they’ve got the talent to race, that’s what they should be doing.

BOWLES: Did You Notice? … A ‘Race’ Driver’s Impact, NASCAR Silly Season Updates And Punching Back

Instead, I’m more interested in the overall impact such a strong victory will have on Kyle Busch Motorsports as a whole. A couple weeks ago in Pace Laps, I documented the organization’s struggles to finalize their sponsorship backing for 2014, and the win could certainly help in that situation.

“I would have to say this certainly has to help some things. We’ve been trying for a month or so to try to continue to put things together for Darrell. I mean, I want to see him back in our trucks. I think a second season does a world of wonders. Darrell has been great,” KBM owner Kyle Busch said. “He’s been awesome to have on the team with the help of Joe and the whole Joe Gibbs Racing organization, the help of NASCAR, Camping World, the help of Toyota Care of course, all those partners, and Liberty Tire. If we can put all that same stuff back together again for next year and get the people to say yes, we’ll be right back here doing the same stuff again. We just need to be able to put the pen to the paper and call it a 2014 season.”

And it’s not just Wallace’s future that can be helped by his performance last weekend. As he said in his post-race press conference, “there’s nothing better than winning,” and that’s certainly true, especially when courting sponsors. But at the same time, being out front for a single lap doesn’t come without strong racing prior to that point. In a side-by-side battle with then-leader Ty Dillon on a restart, Dillon ran Wallace up the track and could have easily caused both drivers to wreck. Instead, Wallace kept his cool and battled right back as if he were a veteran, eventually grabbing the lead and the victory. It’s that kind of on-track racing that, aside from the actual trip to Victory Lane, will open up a potential sponsor’s eyes and give them a reason to invest in the sport. Here’s hoping that the hard work here on track translates into financial backing to keep the organization that has invested in young, talented drivers viable for many years to come.

News ‘N’ Notes:

- Despite being caught up in the incident between Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon, causing the resulting 17th-place finish, Matt Crafton still holds a 51-point lead over James Buescher. With just three races remaining, Crafton now must just finish 12th or better (without leading any laps) to claim the championship even if Buescher manages to score max points the rest of the season. Crafton’s average finishes at the upcoming facilities? Texas: 10.8 (14 top 10s in 25 starts); Phoenix: 9.6 (eight top 10s in 12 starts); Homestead-Miami: 12.1 (five top 10s in 12 starts).

- Did you know that if Crafton maintains the top spot and takes home the championship, ThorSport will become the first team in Truck Series history to lead the standings for an entire season? Teammate Johnny Sauter led through the first three races, and Crafton has held onto the top spot since taking the lead with a victory at Kansas Speedway in April.

- As of press time, no penalties have been released in regards to the dust-up between Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon at Martinsville Speedway. Both drivers retaliated against each other on track, and while Harvick did stop in Dillon’s pit and had a sledgehammer flung at him, it’s not likely either driver will suffer any penalties. In fact, the biggest thing to come out of the whole incident is probably the comments Harvick made about the Dillon brothers that he has since apologized for.

BREAKING: Penalties Released Thursday Following Sledgehammer Throw

RELATED: Side By Side: Should Childress Have Released Kevin Harvick?

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10/31/2013 12:00 PM

Glad to see both those tracks back on the schedule, as well as Eldora and my home track of Mosport. The Trucks are again the best schedule and the best series in North America.

10/31/2013 12:43 PM

Glad Eldora and Mosport are coming back along with New Hampshire and Gateway. Unfortunate, that they still have that huge gap between Daytona and Martinsville.

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