NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Meet the Six Drivers Making Their (Sorta) NASCAR Debuts This Weekend

It’s a jam-packed two days of racing for NASCAR’s top three series this weekend, with the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series heading to Pocono Raceway while the Nationwide Series travels to Iowa Speedway.

As if the influx of racing (which will also be flanked with a K&N Pro Series event at Iowa and an ARCA race at Pocono) wasn’t enough, all three series will see new drivers join their ranks as first-time competitors — six in all. Of these six, four will be making their first NASCAR starts in the top three series, period, with a fifth possessing only one previous start.

A large amount of debuting drivers isn’t exactly unheard of — this year’s Nationwide event at Road America featured five, for instance. However, it is uncommon for all three series to have at least one first-timer (as well as uncommon for all three to race on a given weekend, but that’s another story entirely).

So, for you casual fans out there (or at least those who aren’t interested in Googling for the information yourself), here’s a quick rundown on these six racers. We’ll dive into where they came from, where they’ve been before now and what you can expect from them come this weekend.

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Sean Corr takes the next step in his racing career Saturday, one of six drivers making their debut in one of NASCAR’s top three series this weekend.

Sean Corr

Series: Camping World Truck Series
Age: 28
Hometown: Goshen, N.Y.
Where He’s Been: Corr has been an occasional competitor in the ARCA Racing Series since 2009, running the full season last year with a ninth-place finish in the final points standings. Amid three top-10 finishes in the series, Corr also scored his first pole position at Daytona this February. He also has a wealth of experience on local dirt tracks and as a Speed Tech Driving School instructor.
The Verdict: Of the two drivers making their Truck Series debut, I expect Corr to come out on top. He’ll be driving for his family-owned No. 82 at Pocono, a team that helped him to dual 11th-place finishes in ARCA competition at the track last year. Corr’s team is known for having its fair share of horsepower, which is a must at a larger track such as Pocono. Oh, and did I mention he’ll have Roush-Yates power under the hood? Yeah, that’s a good start.

Kyle Martel

Series: Camping World Truck Series
Age: 25
Hometown: Lebanon, Pa.
Where He’s Been: As with Corr, Martel is probably best known as a part-time driver in the ARCA Racing Series. Since 2009, the Pennsylvanian has made 12 starts in the series with a best finish of 10th. Prior to ARCA, Martel raced Late Models.
The Verdict: Martel, like Corr, will make his Truck debut with a family-owned team — in his case, the No. 59 Chevrolet. He’ll be racing with support from the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and will be fairly easy to spot from the stands or on TV with a pink truck. The rookie’s best ARCA finish came at Pocono, and his only starts in the series in 2011 came at the track. So he has plenty of experience at the raceway, something that should play into his favor come Saturday.

Justin Jennings

Series: Nationwide Series
Age: 19
Hometown: LaGrange, Mo.
Where He’s Been: Jennings is one of two debuting drivers this weekend that actually has experience in one of the top-tier series prior to now — though in his case, it’s a mere one race. He made his NASCAR debut at Iowa earlier this month, bringing Mike Mittler’s No. 65 home 23rd in the Camping World Truck Series race held there. He also possesses one ARCA start, a 19th at Iowa in 2011, and has Late Model racing experience.
The Verdict: See a pattern with Jennings’s previous starts in bigger series? That’s right, he’ll be making yet another debut at Iowa this weekend in yet another type of racing vehicle. Jennings doesn’t exactly have spectacular results just yet, but he’s also young, relatively unproven, and hasn’t exactly done anything to make observers question his ability. However, we may not figure out his true potential right away– even if Jennings qualifies, it’s with Jimmy Means Racing, which has start-and-parked many times in 2012 and has limited resources and horsepower to work with.

John Blankenship

Series: Nationwide Series
Age: 31
Hometown: Williamson, W.V.
Where He’s Been: The 31-year-old Blankenship may be best known for five races with ARCA powerhouse Venturini Motorsports over the last year. He’s scored two top-10 finishes in the series to date, a reasonable resume considering the high quality of equipment. Blankenship’s been a frequent competitor in Late Model competition, winning the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year award in 2009. Oh, and his father’s the former chairman/CEO of Massey Energy Co., one of the country’s largest coal magnates. No wonder his longtime sponsor is Coal America’s Energy.
The Verdict: Blankenship was originally slated to run this race in a Tommy Baldwin Racing-prepared car (as announced earlier this month) but the entry list shows him in TriStar Motorsports’ No. 44 usually piloted by Mike Bliss. (Bliss fans, fear not: he’ll be in the No. 10 and probably racing, while Jeff Green moves to the No. 91, a likely park). Nevertheless, Blankenship has shown some promise in stock car competition, and with TriStar equipment, which is generally noted as one of the better mid-tier teams, he may end up OK. Still somewhat unproven, this race will go a long way towards figuring out whether it was the car or the driver at Venturini.

Brett Moffitt

Series: Nationwide Series
Age: 20
Hometown: Grimes, Iowa
Where He’s Been: A Michael Waltrip Racing development driver, Moffitt has excelled in K&N Pro Series East competition since 2009 when, at 16, he became the series’ youngest pole and race winner, the former coming in his first start. He’s finished in the top three in points every year since, currently leading the 2012 standings for Shigeaki Hattori’s team. All this success goes along with nine wins — so far.
The Verdict: Of the six featured drivers, Moffitt’s undoubtedly in the best equipment and has been the one most buzzed about. He’ll take the green flag for RAB Racing’s No. 99, and has tasted success at Iowa in the past, garnering a win in 2011. I’m not sure I can necessarily put Moffitt on the same level as fellow prospect Darrell Wallace, Jr., who will race Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Saturday, but expect a top-15 finish from the rookie at the very least.

John Wes Townley

Series: Sprint Cup Series
Age: 22
Hometown: Watkinsville, Ga.
Where He’s Been: Townley is the only listed driver with more than one race of prior NASCAR experience in one of the top three series. That’s 41 races in the Nationwide Series (best finish: 15th) and 16 Truck events (best finish: 14th), a series in which he’s currently a full-time competitor. He’s found better luck in ARCA, where he’s scored three top 5s and 10 top 10s in 24 races. How’s the youngster been able to move up? Um, it’s been well-documented, but in case you’re unaware, his father is Tony Townley, founder of Zaxby’s.
The Verdict: OH MY GOD, BURN HIM AT THE STAKE! Nah, not really, although that’s been the general outcry so far since it was announced that JWT would be making his Cup debut at Pocono for FAS Lane Racing. Of all ride buyers, Townley’s considered king, and has been much maligned for his involvement in numerous wrecks, most of his own doing. But hey, we all knew it had to be coming eventually, and given Townley’s affinity for the bigger tracks, his debut at Pocono makes sense. He’ll probably be a non-issue all day given FAS Lane’s horsepower this season, unless he walls it — which many are expecting him to do. His result will likely be somewhere in the neighborhood of two possible outcomes: messy or underwhelming.

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