So the Cup guys were off last weekend, which means significantly fewer Sprint Cup Series regulars appeared in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races in Nashville, right?
WRONG! Please. You didn’t really think the Cup guys would skip out on a weekend of racing and leave NASCAR fans and writers alike without something to bitch about, did you? Come on!
The Sprint Cup regulars did dominate the weekend, with Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards winning the Truck and Nationwide Series races, respectively. Admittedly, it was sort of disappointing since I (incorrectly) assumed at least a few of them would take the weekend off. Actually, it seemed like there were more than ever!
So, since you’ve already been flooded by news about Cup Series drivers winning both races this weekend (and even more so by opinionated bloggers and journalists saying how bad it is), here’s a completely Cup Series FREE Hot/Not:
*Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.* – I’ve probably mentioned Stenhouse more often than I should in the column this season, but in my defense, it’s more out of shock than anything.
Stenhouse’s 2010 Nationwide Series campaign was nothing short of catastrophic at times, even failing to qualify for the 13th race of the season at Nashville Superspeedway. Heading into 2011, it looked like Stenhouse may have been on the hot seat and teammate Trevor Bayne’s win in the Daytona 500 didn’t help matters, either.
Now, Stenhouse is tied with Justin Allgaier for the Nationwide Series points lead (with Allgaier awarded the tiebreaker) and has more top 10s than any other driver in the series. It’s an impressive statistic for a guy who had wrecked out more often than he finished races at this point last year.
(And yes, that top-10 statistic is for Nationwide Series drivers only. Duh!)
*Matt Crafton* – I’m going to get this out of the way right now. That cake-to-the-face stunt Crafton pulled on Krista Voda during SPEED’s pre-race show for Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race was nothing short of hysterical, staged or not.
Crafton’s performance during the race wasn’t too shabby, either. Though he was unable to keep up with the likes of Kyle… oh wait, sorry! No Cup drivers!
So as I was saying, although Crafton was unable to keep up with the likes of “the Shrub that shall not be named,” he was able to grab his fourth top-10 in five races this year with a sixth-place finish. ThorSport Racing continues to be the top dog this year, with at least one of their drivers (either Crafton or Johnny Sauter) leading the Truck points standings since the second race of the year in Phoenix.
NASCAR’s new points rule — where drivers are only allowed to earn points in one of the three national touring series — may not be generating a lot of attention for Truck Series teams on the track, but it definitely adds a different feel to the standings. ThorSport Racing has been a force to be reckoned with in the Truck Series for years, but weren’t always the dominant force. Now, the team boasts the only Truck Series-eligible winner (Sauter won at Martinsville earlier this year) and has their drivers first and third in the points.
The question is, how soon before we see Crafton in Victory Lane as well?
*Honorable Mention:* Trevor Bayne (finished sixth in the Nationwide race at Nashville, which will be his only series of note for the next few weeks – the Wood Brothers are skipping the next few events)
*Austin Dillon* – Dillon made his debut with Kevin Harvick, Inc. in the Nationwide Series this weekend, pulling double duty in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck divisions. It’s hard to call Dillon anything but the real deal, and the about-to-turn 21-year old phenom – his birthday is Wednesday – backed that up again with solid performances in Music City.
Dillon finished seventh in the Nationwide Series race and 11th in the Camping World Truck Series event, both quiet yet consistent finishes. The driver is scheduled to run two more Nationwide Series races this season with KHI, and his grandfather Richard Childress has said he wants to move the developing talent full-time into the Nationwide Series next season.
Dillon has a lot of pressure on him while he’s driving the No. 3 truck in the Camping World Truck Series, as if living up to expectations of being Childress’s grandson isn’t pressure enough! However, Dillon has handled that added stress and attention with charisma both on and off the track, and it seems as though he’ll be around for quite awhile.
*Cole Whitt* – Speaking of the real deal, Whitt has been nothing short of impressive as well. After grabbing his first career pole in only his fourth career start — at Darlington, no less — people began to take notice.
Well, actually, people began to take notice at Daytona when Whitt failed to qualify for the Camping World Truck Series race but still got to compete when he replaced Shane Sieg in the No. 93 car prior to the start. He finished 14th, which remains his poorest result of the season to date.
If you didn’t catch that, I’ll say it again: Whitt has yet to finish outside of the top 15 through five races in what happens to be his rookie campaign. That’s not very easy to do in the competitive Truck Series.
Whitt is currently fifth in points, 12 out of the lead… and he’s currently beating the likes of the aforementioned Austin Dillon and last year’s Truck Series champion Todd Bodine. Seriously, keep an eye on this guy.
*Honorable Mention* – Kenny Wallace (finished 12th in the Nationwide Series race at Nashville, sits ninth in points with an underdog operation still searching for additional sponsorship)
*Brian Scott* – Scott hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations this year, running a full season in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment; he’s only led two laps and finished in the top 10 twice. In fairness, he is running significantly stronger than he did last season … but will that be enough for JGR?
In Nashville, Scott suffered his worst finish of the season when he slid up in front of Austin Dillon, got loose, and smacked the outside wall. Scott wound up two laps down in 22nd, remaining eighth in the standings and 36 points out of the lead through eight events.
I figured Scott would start running consistently in the top 10 once he moved over to an organization like JGR, but I remain disappointed. It’s very possible he’s been overshadowed by his teammates, but these results to date just don’t exactly scream “superstar.”
*Travis Kvapil* – Nashville was Randy Moss Motorsports’ 300th consecutive start in the Camping World Truck Series, and Kvapil brought the truck home clean and in one piece in the 20th position.
For some, that would be plenty good enough but for Kvapil? He won the 2003 Camping World Truck Series championship and is currently running in the Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports; unfortunately, this accomplished driver isn’t off to a very good start on the road to win his second title. He’s scored a best finish of 17th this season at Darlington, but is struggling with only 20th or worse in the other four races of 2011.
After stumbling in the Cup Series the past few seasons, maybe Kvapil thought heading back to the division that treated him so well might be a better option. Perhaps he should have gone with a different team?
*Honorable Mention*- Brendan Gaughan (finished 17th in the Nashville Truck Series race, just 14th in points in his return year to the series)
*Steve Wallace* – A 17th-place finish at Nashville has Wallace sitting firmly in the Cold section, and I can’t imagine anyone would disagree. Wallace hasn’t finished any better than 11th this year and has an average finish of 21st.
2011 marks Wallace’s sixth season racing at least a part-time schedule in the Nationwide Series, and he has yet to finish any higher than fifth in his career. In fact, he has only a total of four top-5 finishes during that span and only 51 laps led.
The competition in the Nationwide Series is tough, but it’s not as if he’s in inferior equipment, with sponsor 5-Hour Energy and his father’s well-funded team Rusty Wallace Racing underneath him.
I’m not upset with Wallace since he’s using the resources he has to his advantage, but it’s definitely discouraging when there are some promising drivers (Colin Braun, anyone?) sitting on the sidelines.
*Joey Coulter* – The Richard Childress Racing development driver has struggled so far this season in the Camping World Truck Series. Aside from a ninth-place finish at Phoenix, Coulter has disappointing results of 34th at Daytona, 28th at Darlington, 17th at Martinsville, and 24th this past weekend in Nashville.
Coulter made a lot of noise in last year’s ARCA Racing Series season, winning one event while snagging seven top-5s, 10 top-10s, and an average finish of 11th that left him eighth in points at the end of the season. With sponsor Rip-It Energy behind him, not to mention RCR equipment, eventually he may start impressing NASCAR Nation.
*Honorable Mention:* Mike Bliss (finished 31st in Nashville Nationwide Series race, remains without a top-10 finish this season and has to start-and-park occasionally for TriStar Motorsports)