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Toni Montgomery · Thursday March 3, 2005
In our last visit to the Craftsman Truck Series I predicted that as more big name drivers from the Nextel Cup Series make the move to trucks, the series would be boosted in popularity. NASCAR fans are loyal to their drivers and will generally follow them to whichever series they may move. After two weeks of increased television ratings for the trucks, that prediction already appears headed for the correct column.
I’d be interested to see a breakdown of those ratings to see if there has been a spike in interest in the New England region. I feel pretty confident at laying at least part of the responsibility for the increased interest at Ricky Craven’s feet. Craven is the new factor in the series this year. After all, Musgrave and Hamilton have been there for awhile. Park and Skinner were there all of last season. Johnny Benson came aboard in the middle of last year. I wouldn’t doubt that all of these drivers brought fans and gave the popularity of the trucks a bump but maybe it’s Craven that put it over the top. The Florida Dodge Dealers 250 from Daytona attracted over a million viewers and set a new record rating for Speed Channel.
Craven is also doing something else that could help sustain that extra interest in the truck series. After two top five finishes, Craven sits second in the points behind defending champion Bobby Hamilton and looks poised to mount a challenge to the always consistent Hamilton. That should be enough to keep his fans interested.
Certainly it’s still early and perennial contender Ted Musgrave also posted two top fives to start the 2005 season well. It’s a deep field and it’s very early. Plenty of contenders who may not have had the greatest start could still regain form and challenge.
I’d like to see a few of what I think of as the regular truck guys get in the mix too. It’s nice to see the whole series benefit from the presence of Cup veterans, but I’d like to see that opportunity used to increase the respect the drivers who have been in the series for some time receive too. Too often I hear fans put the series and it’s drivers down, as if they aren’t as good as the drivers in some of NASCAR’s other series.
There are some in the Craftsman Truck Series who are as good as anyone out there but stay in the trucks because they want to. They like the racing or the schedule or don’t want to deal with the extra media and sponsor pressure of the Cup Series. Dennis Setzer and Rick Crawford come to mind. They can go wheel to wheel with anyone out there.
If a few of those guys can get in there and contend while the audience continues to grow, maybe the impression that they are racing trucks because they weren’t good enough to race in the Cup Series will fade away. Especially as these drivers get the opportunity to demonstrate that against drivers who everyone knows were good enough for the Cup level.
Some of the Busch Series regulars say they enjoy racing the Cup guys who make appearances in their series because they get a chance to go up against and beat the best but it’s not done under what I consider ideal circumstances. The Cup drivers come in and usually end up taking the lion’s share of the purse money and the points from the Busch regulars while only racing part time, picking and choosing where they will run.
While some like Ken Schrader do run only part time in the truck series, most of the Cup drivers racing trucks are in the series full time. Many are running for regular truck series teams. It doesn’t seem as much like stealing from the truck regulars when they truly are regulars too. The teams they are running for sometimes do rely on that purse money to fund their operations and the points are not going to waste because those drivers are contending for the championship.
It seems the Craftsman Truck Series has found a much more ideal way to cash in on the presence of Cup drivers for promotion and fan interest without compromising their regular teams and their shares of purses and points.
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I also am one of those Ricky Craven fans! I’m from Maine, but found my way to Daytona to watch Ricky drive in his first (fulltime) NCTS race! It was awesome!
It makes no difference what series Ricky is in, I’ll be watching!
Recent articles from Toni Montgomery:
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IF you want to know more about Toni Montgomery or to see all of her Frontstretch articles, check out her archive and bio page.