How are you going to get by with no Sprint Cup racing this weekend? Do some laundry? Watch the Criami Heat lose another game? Maybe plant some flowers? Terrible, I know.
It’s okay though, because at least there will be a truck race going on. While it’s asinine that the Cup and Nationwide series are off just four weeks into the season, the Camping World Truck Series greatly benefits from this. Usually taking a back seat to the top two series, the trucks will be the only focus this weekend as they do battle Saturday night during the Too Tough To Tame 200 (Best race name ever? The alliteration and name are awesome, but 500 on the end would make it perfect). Once the checkered flag flies, it will give both the fans and media a few days to focus on nothing but the trucks. It should also give us an idea who the championship favorites are, even if it is only three races into the year.
Between the chaos at Daytona and a follow-up race at Phoenix which was dominated by two ineligible drivers, the CWTS standings can be summed up in one word – interesting. Even though point leader Matt Crafton is no stranger to being a championship contender, to say he was a preseason favorite in January would be a stretch.
Then in second place, you have a feel good story in Clay Rogers, a driver most fans have probably never heard of prior to this year. Rogers is one of those Cinderella stories who isn’t in top-notch equipment, yet is off to a fantastic start after running only one race last year and just half the schedule in 2009. Cole Whitt, a promising talent from the Red Bull camp, sits third in his rookie campaign. Then you have a couple of series veterans in Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters rounding out the top five in the standings.
Why do I bring all of this up? Well, in the past six seasons, the eventual CWTS champion has been in the top five in points after three races. That’s a good omen for these men, especially when preseason favorites Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine are further down the ladder. It would seem like the shakeup in points is due to it being early in the season, but Whitt has a different theory as to why the standings consist of different faces.
“You know, I really think a lot of it is because of the new point system,” he said. “Honestly, I really love the new point system the way that it’s come out. It gives guys like us a chance. You’ve got me running third in points. Clay Rogers is sitting second right now and he was the point leader out of Daytona. Guys like that, really we wouldn’t have a chance if it was dominated the way it was before by the bigger teams. So the new points system kind of gives us a chance. Guys that are more on a budget deal and trying to make our way through racing and trying to get up to where Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer and all those guys are. We get to run with them day-to-day, so we don’t want to lose them to run against them because we want to run against the best. But it’s really kind of shaking things up. But I really think the new point system has been a real big improvement and giving guys like us a chance.”
There has been much talk about whether the new points system punishes a driver more for a poor finish. Frankly, it’s a different matter for a different day. While the system is simpler and bunches everything together, it isn’t the only reason for different names at the top. Two completely opposite tracks that were dominated by Cup veterans have hurt usual front runners such as Bodine and Hornaday. Not only will the off week for Cup and Nationwide allow for the Truck Series to be closely examined, it also means there will be mostly truck guys in the race.
Daytona was all about Cup veteran and two-time Daytona 500 champion Michael Waltrip picking up an emotional win while Phoenix was dominated by Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer, both of whom are only eligible for the Sprint Cup. This week, Kasey Kahne will be the lone Cup driver running which will significantly increase the television time for the regulars. Now as the CWTS heads to the Lady in Black on a (mostly) level playing field, the truck boys will have their time to shine.
Darlington will be very indicative of what lies ahead for another reason. The one-and-a-third mile egg-shaped oval, while unique, resembles many of the upcoming tracks on the schedule. How well a team runs this weekend will be more indicative for the remainder of the season than the previous two races. Daytona is a crapshoot, with only Talladega being similar, while Phoenix is part of the flat track club that make up only four more races on the schedule.
Don’t take it the wrong way; Darlington is no cookie cutter, but it has characteristics of almost every track. That’s what makes it the second best track on the circuit. (Note: If you know where I reside, you can figure out what number one on my list is pretty easily.) Back to the point – there couldn’t have been a better track for the trucks to be at this weekend, and we will have a few drivers that will establish themselves as title contenders come Saturday night. Austin Dillon looking to bring the No. 3 back to championship contention and Jeffrey Earnhardt, son of Kerry, vying for his first truck win, are just a couple of the headlines going into Saturday.
So while Sunday will still suck, at least there will have been a race during the weekend that will satisfy your racing fix.
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