Toni Montgomery · Thursday November 3, 2005
This week we will return once again to the Craftsman Truck Series. Many young drivers coming up seem to be in a hurry to skip the Craftsman Truck Series and jump right into the Busch Series these days. One of the reasons cited is that they really feel like they can show their talent and learn because they are often racing side by side with the stars of the Cup Series. That may be, but I tend to think the adversarial relationship that is being developed between the two series hurts more careers than it nurtures.
First of all these young drivers face an uphill battle to get in the race with all those invading Cup drivers. Some of them face an uphill battle to pry their Cup teammate out of the car if they’ve landed a deal to share a car. They can still race Cup drivers and not face these problems if they make a stop in the Craftsman Truck Series instead.
Sure, the truck series isn’t in quite the same press league as the Busch Series. Sure, there isn’t quite the same amount of money or sponsor support involved. What there is in the truck series is good solid seat time where a young driver can learn. What there is in the truck series is a number of Cup drivers for these newcomers to test their skills on. And this time the Cup drivers are part of the series, not invaders. You can learn everything you need to know to go Cup racing in the Craftsman Truck Series and I can prove it by just a few examples.
I can think of at least two drivers who have been wonderfully successful in Cup so far by the truck series route. Kurt Busch has never put in any time in the Busch Series, moving directly from his rookie year in a Craftsman Truck to his rookie year in a Nextel Cup car for team owner Jack Roush. Roush was so successful with Busch, he tried it again with Carl Edwards. Sure, Edwards is racing Busch now, but it doesn’t count because he actually started in Cup while still running in the truck series. He started in the Busch car after he started in Cup.
Roger Penske must believe the truck series is adequate preparation because he picked up both Brendan Gaughan and current driver Travis Kvapil directly from the truck series. Incidentally, Rick Ren, a former crew chief of Kvapil’s in the truck series, would have been glad to see it happened that way. I interviewed Ren at the end of Kvapil’s rookie season and he told me he was trying to convince Kvapil to skip the Busch Series altogether. He felt driving a truck was better preparation for a Cup car than a Busch car would be. He told Travis that the Busch car would only teach him bad habits and the transition to a Cup car would be easier if he didn’t learn those bad habits. Whether Kvapil was remembering Ren’s advice or not when he made the jump, he did skip the Busch Series.
In spite of these prime examples of drivers who succeeded in the truck series, there still doesn’t seem to be as many clamoring to get in as there does on the Busch side. Not only that, Erin Crocker recently seemed disappointed when her planned Busch season was switched to a truck season. I know she’s anxious to move up and compete with the big boys, but since when are Ted Musgrave, Bobby Hamilton, or Johnny Benson not good representatives for the big boys. Incidentally, the Johnny Benson I saw last week who didn’t lift and was determined to win or crash should be sufficient to teach any upcoming driver a thing or two.
There are still some upcoming drivers who don’t mind displaying their talents in the truck series. Denny Hamlin cut his teeth there before moving up to the Busch Series. Joey Miller deserves some attention. In case you are unfamiliar with him, Miller was most recently found giving all time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel fits. Kimmel won the ARCA championship again, but Miller was certainly a thorn in his side.
And perhaps the biggest point in favor of the truck series is that young drivers can still get in there and mix it up with Cup veterans without having to compete with those veterans for spots in the field or seats in the trucks. I wonder if things would have turned out differently for Blake Feese or Boston Reed if they’d spent some time in a truck first. Right now, there’s still enough room for everyone and plenty of seat time for young drivers.
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