NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Exciting Reasons To Keep Watching At Halfway

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 125 marked the halfway point of the Camping World Truck Series schedule. That’s right … it took nearly six months to get the first half completed, a bit unbalanced as the series will run its final 11 events in right around three months. But despite the lack of momentum, thanks to a poorly designed schedule there have been plenty of exciting moments to keep viewers interested.

In just 11 events, the Truck Series has seen four different drivers grab their first career victories, a potpourri of new personalities gracing the top spot. Most recently, it was Joey Coulter, who headed to Victory Lane in his second season of Truck Series competition much to the delight of his mother who declared, “I love Pocono!” when the checkers flew. It was only a matter of time for the 22-year-old to finally break through behind the wheel of his No. 22 Richard Childress Racing-fielded Chevrolet, steadily growing consistent and confident during his time behind the wheel. Aside from a DNF at Daytona (18th) when he got caught in a late-race wreck and a cut tire at Martinsville (30th), Coulter has finished inside the top 15 each week, including six top-10 finishes in throwing the words “sophomore slump” by the wayside.

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Joey Coulter’s first career win at Pocono moved him to within 49 points of the lead. Might this victory propel him into serious championship consideration with 11 races remaining?

For the next first-time winner, you have to turn back to mid-May when Justin Lofton grabbed an emotional win at Charlotte. Having spoken with him last Fall, Lofton assured me that he and his Eddie Sharp Racing team were ready to take on the 2012 season and mount a serious run at the championship — which is just what they have done with the first half of this year. While Lofton’s performance has dropped off ever so slightly since that win — two finishes outside the top 10, but no worse than 21st (Chicagoland–wreck damage), he’s remained in the thick of one of the tightest championship battles the series has seen. At one time, he led the points for three races, beginning with that victory at Charlotte, and now sits fourth, just 18 markers behind leader Timothy Peters.

He’s not the only title contender celebrating a maiden victory this season. Just one race earlier — though nearly a full calendar month — James Buescher finally snagged that first trip to Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway. Having run spectacularly in his sophomore season, Buescher came into 2012 as a newly married man and re-energized for a run at the championship. Following back-to-back top-3 runs at Martinsville and Rockingham, he quickly appeared to be on the cusp of a win. And, as it turns out, he dominated at the mile-and-a-half oval in Kansas City, leading 103 of 167 laps to take the checkers with ease. Buescher has since backed up that victory in April, earning two more at Kentucky and Chicagoland, while he’s remained in the mix for the win in several other races. That includes last week’s event at Pocono, where he finished in the runner-up spot to Coulter.

To round out our crop of first-timers, we must go back to the season opener at Daytona when virtual unknown John King shocked the NASCAR world by scoring his first career victory in just his eighth start. After spinning then-leader Johnny Sauter off of his front bumper to bring out the caution, interrupting the field’s first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year competitor found himself out front in what has proven to be arguably one of the best races each year. The crown jewel of the Truck Series at Daytona typically features intense side-by-side battles, along with last-lap passes and King’s charge to the front was no different. He held on for the first win of his career en route to a teary-eyed trip to Gatorade Victory Lane. It sits as one of the biggest upsets in Series history, especially considering it was his first race with Red Horse Racing — a team he signed on to run full-time for at the beginning of the 2012 season.

But alas, things weren’t meant to be for the then-driver of the No. 7 RHR Toyota. Just five races into the year, King was released with Red Horse Racing claiming a lack of sponsorship as the reason in a move eerily similar to what happened to Johnny Benson with the same organization in 2009. Granted, Benson was the defending champion at the time, but the problem remains the same — an organization stretching itself too thin and drivers suffering from it. With that said, King wasn’t exactly burning up the track following his victory; he had just one top 10 and a pair of 33rd-place results before being sent to the sidelines.

Though King was the first driver released, he certainly wasn’t the last. After joining Joe Denette Motorsports during the offseason, Max Gresham made just eight starts with the team before performance issues sidelined his planned full-time rookie season. With an average finish of 23.8, the 19-year-old had a best finish of 18th at Rockingham, failed to finish on the lead lap and sat 20th in points when he and the team mutually agreed to part ways.

“I know everyone expected to do better than that. The guys at JDM are some of the hardest working I have ever been around and they did their best to give me great equipment week in and out,” Gresham said in a release. “Joe (Denette) is a really, really nice guy an he’s dedicated to the sport and his team and committed to making both as good as possible. Honestly, everybody did their best this year. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have the results to show for it.”

Most recently, it’s Parker Kligerman that finds himself in the unemployment line. In his second full season behind the wheel of the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Dodge, the 21-year-old had just posted a solid seventh-place finish — his seventh top 10 of the year — at Pocono before being released by the team. A puzzling move, considering the consistency at the No. 29 Dodge as of late BKR didn’t offer any kind of reasoning behind the decision when they released a statement following the driver’s release.

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With Penske’s impending move away from Dodge, combined with giving Ryan Blaney a shot in their Nationwide car Parker Kligerman now finds himself the odd man out at BKR.

“Brad Keselowski Racing has elected to make a driver change for the Team’s No. 29 RAM in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” they claimed. “For the Series’ next race, scheduled for August 18, 2012 at Michigan International Speedway, Brad Keselowski will pilot the No. 29 BKR RAM. Driver information relating to BKR’s continued pursuit of the Series’ 2012 Owners Championship will be forthcoming.”

On the plus side, Kligerman maintains that he expects to return to a truck in time to make the Michigan race next weekend. While he’s been quiet about which team he might join, there are a couple of options that fellow writer “Kevin Rutherford detailed”:https://frontstretch.com/krutherford/40979/ on Wednesday.

With all of that said, what’s arguably the most exciting part of the year has been the identity the series is beginning to build once again.

Having been dominated by Sprint Cup drivers throughout the 2011 season, there have been just seven starts by those participants in 2012 (four for Brad Keselowski in his self-owned truck and one apiece for Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin). That has allowed the rest of the series regulars to assert themselves. Despite Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne winning at Martinsville and Rockingham, respectively more often than not, the spotlight is finally shining on the stars of the series rather than the interlopers that participate for the fun of it.

As we stare down the second half of a shortened Truck Series season, there’s so much to keep an eye on with 11 races still left to run. Timothy Peters holds a slim eight-point lead over Ty Dillon, who hopes to become the first Rookie of the Year to win the series championship, but don’t forget that the top-5 drivers are separated by a mere 33 points. And if that battle isn’t enough to keep your attention, remember there are still several drivers looking for their first trip to Victory Lane, including Dillon, Brazilian teammates Miguel Paludo and Nelson Piquet, Jr., and even Jason White, who has made some noise in a handful of events for the last couple years.

Regardless of what it is that keeps you coming back for more Truck Series racing, know that with the storylines we’ve seen thus far, the second half of the year is sure to impress.

Miguel’s Corner

*Update:* “This race (Pocono) may have been one of the biggest disappointments so far this season because we had such a good truck. Every single person on this team believed that we could win today. It’s so frustrating that we can’t catch a break, that we got caught up in someone else’s wreck, because we just keep getting better and better each week. We’ve hit a point where we’re really gelling so well as a unit. It’s only a matter of time before we start bringing home wins.”

*Basic Portuguese:*

*Você se lembra?* Do you remember?
*Eu não me lembro.* I don’t remember.
*Eu me lembro.* I remember.
*Tenha um bom fim de semana!* Have a nice weekend!

*Tweet of the Week:*

“*@miguelpaludo:*”:http://www.twitter.com/miguelpaludo Oliver makes me forget all the problems…and smile. Thanks god, me and @patisouzapaludo are so blessed. “pic.twitter.com/kUfotRhM”:http://pic.twitter.com/kUfotRhM

“*@PatiSouzaPaludo:*”:http://www.twitter.com/patisouzapaludo Essa e pra vc! Just 4 u! @miguelpaludo “http://instagr.am/p/N9IWy3PcPx/”:http://instagr.am/p/N9IWy3PcPx/

*Photo of the Week:*

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Oliver hanging out in the motorhome. Photo courtesy of Patricia Paludo.

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*Connect with Beth!*
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“Contact Beth Lunkenheimer”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/14353/

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