*In a Nutshell:* Ty Dillon took the checkered flag 3.227 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch to win the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 200 Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Dillon passed Busch for the lead with just six laps remaining and never looked back en route to his first career victory. James Buescher, Parker Kligerman and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 5.
*Who Should Have Won:* Ty Dillon. After running fifth and 12th in the practice sessions, the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops / NRA Museum Chevrolet posted a 177.357 mph lap, edging Tim George, Jr. by 0.058 seconds for his second career pole. He led four different times for 40 of 130 laps, and despite dropping as far back as seventh, he closed a nearly three-second gap Kyle Busch had put on the field to set up the final pass of the night.
*Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race:*
*1. How do Austin and Ty Dillon’s rookie seasons compare?*
All season long, everyone has compared Ty Dillon to older brother Austin, who just moved to the Nationwide Series after spending two years behind the wheel of the No. 3 Chevrolet in the Truck Series. Now, with Ty’s first career win in the rear-view, it’s worth comparing both drivers’ rookie seasons as the young Dillon brother has moved within nine points of the championship lead with eight races left.
Prior to joining the Truck Series full time, both brothers made a couple of starts, however Ty actually came out on top. Back in 2009, Austin finished 12th and 15th at Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively and failed to qualify at Talladega in October. On the other hand, Ty qualified for all three races he attempted in 2011, and despite finishing 18th, he followed that up with third- and sixth-place results at Texas and Homestead, respectively.
Austin began his rookie season with a disappointing 26th-place finish at Daytona but quickly backed it up with a tenth-place result in Atlanta in the second race of the year. It wasn’t until Texas when he began a streak of three consecutive poles (Michigan and Iowa) before scoring his first career victory at the 0.875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa, a race where the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet led a dominant 187 of 205 laps in the tenth race of the season. Compare that to Ty, and it took him 14 events before heading to victory lane on the same day where he scored his second career pole.
But the big difference comes when you look at the other finishes for both brothers 14 races into their rookie campaign. While Austin’s nine top-10 results in the first 14 events is impressive for a rookie, younger brother Ty has that overshadowed with 12 top 10s. In fact, there’s even more disparity when you look at the 12th- and 21st-place finishes that have seen the young Dillon brother outside the top 10. Compare that to four results outside the top 15 and one DNF for older brother Austin, and you see where Ty holds the edge at this point.
And if that’s not enough, 14 races into the 2010 season, Austin found himself fifth in points and nearly 300 markers behind eventual champion Todd Bodine, who truly dominated that year. Where does younger brother Ty sit now? Third … just nine points out of the lead.
Both Austin and Ty Dillon have already made their marks in NASCAR and will continue for years to come. While I’m not quite convinced the consistency is there for the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team to mount a serious run at the championship this year, I wouldn’t count them out either. After all, Dillon would have likely finish inside the top 5 at Bristol had he not run out of fuel while running fourth. That 18-point difference would have given the rookie a nine marker lead over Timothy Peters following his victory Friday night.
Regardless of whether Dillon manages to become the first Truck Series Rookie of the Year to also win the championship or not, he’s certainly proving that there’s a bright future in NASCAR for the 20-year-old.
*2. When will Kyle Larson be offered a full-time ride?*
When Kyle Larson made his Truck Series debut at Kentucky Speedway in June, I spent quite a bit of time reading about his racing background. What I found was that it’s filled with a plethora of auto racing experience dating back to when he finished seventh in points in the 1999 / 2000 Red Bluff Winter Indoor Series Beginner Box Stock Division season. The 20-year-old ran the entire 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season, scoring one victory (Gresham Motorsports Park in June) and eight top 10s in the ten-race season. He finished second in the standings, just 19 points behind Brett Moffitt.
Rewind to Kentucky where Larson made his debut. After starting 25th, he worked his way through the field and snagged a solid top-10 finish in his first outing behind the wheel of the No. 4 Turner Motorsports-fielded Chevrolet. And that brings us to Friday night where the young driver started 17th and battled forward on a slick track to a sixth-place result.
With numbers like those, when will Larson be offered a full-time Truck Series ride?
Tony Stewart was asked in late June who he expected to be the next SPEED Performer of the Year, and without hesitation, the owner / driver responded with Larson.
“It’s a guy that I’ve got to run with a little bit, and he’s not in a major series as far as IndyCar or Formula One or NASCAR right now,” Stewart told Dave Despain. “Kyle Larson is a kid that definitely stands out right now. Watching him in the USAC Midgets, Sprint Car and Silver Crown and watching him in the winged-sprint cars with the World of Outlaws and out on the West Coast, the kid is absolutely phenomenal.
“He’s been running those K&N races and doing a really good job. He’s a kid that really has a lot of potential.”
Thought he’s got just two races under his belt, Larson has truly impressed with his tenth- and sixth-place finishes at Kentucky and Atlanta, respectively. While doubt will always exist with a driver in their first career start as to whether their success can continue, Larson dispelled that doubt with a solid run Friday night. Atlanta is one of those tracks that can be rather difficult on a rookie, and Larson managed a solid night and nearly snagged a top-5 finish.
At this point, it’s very clear the 20-year-old deserves a full-time ride in the series for the 2013 season, but the question remains of where he might fit in and whether any team could pull together the financial backing he’d need. Of course, the obvious choice would be Turner Motorsports, who has fielded their No. 4 Chevrolet for Larson twice this season, and it may not be all that far off. I mentioned several weeks ago in Pace Laps that it might be time for James Buescher to make the move to the Nationwide Series full time next year following three years in the Truck Series, so Larson could easily slide right in behind the wheel of the No. 30 Chevrolet in Buescher’s place. While it’s nowhere near a done deal or even something that’s been rumbling behind the scenes, Turner Motorsports is definitely on of the front-runners that comes to mind when looking for a probable home.
The bottom line is that Kyle Larson is a prime candidate for someone to snag up during the offseason and will likely stand out as a strong Rookie of the Year contender next year if he finds a full-time seat. Assuming he does find that ride, Larson will be a driver to watch throughout the 2013 season.
*Truck Rookie Report*
*2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:*
*Dakoda Armstrong* (No. 98)
*Ty Dillon* (No. 3)
*Dusty Davis* (No. 15)
*T.J. Duke* (No. 07)
*Ross Chastain* (No. 08)
*Cale Gale* (No. 33)
*Max Gresham *(No. 24–released from ride)
*Paulie Harraka* (No. 5–team suspended)
*Caleb Holman* (No. 75)
*John King* (No. 7–team suspended)
*Bryan Silas* (No. 99)
*John Wes Townley* (No. 09)
*No. of Rookies in the Race:* 13 (add Tim George, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Stephen Leicht, Blake Koch and Kyle Larson)
*No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10:* 2; Ty Dillon, finished 1st; Kyle Larson, finished sixth
*Rookie of the Race:* Ty Dillon
“Wow, this is great! The No. 3 Bass Pro Shops / NRA Museum team has given me great trucks all season long. We battled back after the heartbreak last weekend at Bristol (Motor Speedway) when we ran out of fuel, and we came back this weekend and got our first NASCAR victory. I’ve been waiting for this moment all of my life. I always dreamed about winning a NASCAR race and maybe on day becoming a champion, and today I accomplished one of those goals.” _Ty Dillon_
“Finished sixth tonight in the truck race. Had a blast and learned a bunch. Can’t wait for the next one!” _Kyle Larson via “Twitter”:http://www.twitter.com/KyleLarsonRacin on his second career start_
“All day we were really loose with the Cooper Standard RAM. We never could really get it secure enough to run as hard as we needed. I started off the race really loose but by the end we got the truck decent. Right off the bat on new tires we could get our truck to run hard for about 15 laps and then it would get really loose. Overall, we just never could really get the truck secure to run hard like the other guys could. I couldn’t even move around and try different lines. Every time that I moved up a lane or two, I would almost wreck. I learned a lot on this big, fast mile-and-a-half. We’ll go to Iowa in a couple of weeks and see how we do.” _Ryan Blaney, finished 11th_
“The day started out pretty decent. We struggled a little bit, but we got our Zaxby’s Toyota decent for qualifying and the race. We just kind of hung out there, really. The track changed a lot, and I couldn’t get comfortable with the truck. The most important thing here is that we finished the race. We brought it back in one piece, and now we can go race at Iowa. I know a lot of other guys were complaining, as far as having the same issue we had with being really free. We’ll just go onto Iowa and see what we’ve got for them there.” _Jon Wes Townley, finished 19th_
“It’s really unfortunate for the Applebee’s / Potomac Family Dining Group Chevrolet team that we were in that on-track incident. I really believed that we were capable of a top-10 finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Congratulations to my teammate Ty Dillon on earning his career first NASCAR win.” _Tim George, Jr., finished 28th_
*Worth Noting / Points Shuffle:*
Friday night, Kyle Busch made his first appearance in the Truck Series since being parked at Texas Motor Speedway last November. Despite leading eight times for a race-high 75 laps and pulling out to a nearly five second lead during a late round of green flag pit stops, the owner / driver of the No. 18 Toyota couldn’t seal the deal after bouncing off of the wall three times inside ten laps to go. He was left to settle for a runner-up finish.
Phoenix Racing teamed up with Billy Ballew Motorsports to field the No. 51 Chevrolet for Kurt Busch. The older Busch brother started 15th and flirted with the top 5 before dropping back to a tenth-place finish. Friday night also marked the first time the Busch brothers raced against each other in the Truck Series, however the duo never really found each other on the track throughout the night.
Friday night marked Aric Almirola’s return to the Truck Series for the first time since the season-opener at Daytona last year where he failed to finish after completing 96 of 103 laps. Driving the No. 5 Ford for Wauters Motorsports, Almirola started 13th and spent much of the race inside the top 10 before settling in for a solid fifth-place finish. The team began the season with Paulie Harraka behind the wheel but sat out the last two races while evaluating their future; the rookie had scored a best finish of 17th twice at Dover and Kentucky but sat a dismal 20th in the championship standings after four DNFs in 11 starts.
Timothy Peters saw his championship lead shrink considerably Friday night to just six points over James Buescher. Race winner Ty Dillon remains third but has moved to within nine markers of the leader. Parker Kligerman and Justin Lofton, who swapped spots, round out the top 5 and sit 21 and 31 points behind, respectively.
Joey Could moved up one position to sixth while Matt Crafton dropped to seventh. Similarly, Nelson Piquet, Jr. jumped a spot while Ron Hornaday, Jr. dropped to ninth following his second DNF this year. Jason White rounds out the top 10, 112 points behind the leader.
“I really have to thank the Lord for tonight. We had a couple of situations go our way that definitely helped us get to victory lane. The pit crew was amazing. They never give up on me, and I never give up on them. We all believe in each other, and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by us. We had a rocket ship tonight. This win is for all the guys that put in all the hours every week and work so hard to get us to this point.” _Race Winner Ty Dillon_
“They were just a better truck; they had a lot better handle on the bottom of the race track than we did, especially throughout the longer runs. Then when it’s time to race, a guy catches you and you’ve got to go up to the top, and you try to push and you get sideways and get into the fence. There’s no room to catch it up there. It was all I could do to try to push as hard as I could; I didn’t have anything to hold onto. We’ve run the same thing for three years and got beat by the same truck for three years. It gets a little old. It’s like Groundhog Day today.” _Runner-up Kyle Busch_
“We had a really fast Central Wire Chevrolet from the get go, and when we got into the lead early, I thought it was going to stay that way. We were a little loose in the beginning, tightened it up a bit too much, then corrected back to loose. With good tires we could really make the top and bottom of the track work for us, but Atlanta’s a place where once tires get worn, you’re ice skating out there. I probably felt like I was going to spin out eight or nine times in the last 20 laps, but that’s part of what makes this track fun and competitive. I know we wanted to win this race tonight, but we can’t win them all, and ultimately the fastest truck won. We had a really good points night; we’re close to getting the championship lead and hopefully when we get to Iowa I’ll be able to get the win and lead.” _James Buescher, finished third_
“We had a fast No. 7 Toyota Tundra on the long run. That first run we were so awesome. We drove through the field and I thought we had something for the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). I thought we had something for the No. 3 (Ty Dillon). We got the lead there for a long and I just let the No. 3 in and I was probably too nice. From there, we had that restart in second and got a great restart. I just got put three wide and swamped, and I got loose and lost nine positions, so we had to drive through the field again and we did it again. From there, we made an adjustment that probably wasn’t the right adjustment, and we were just kind of hanging on for the end. It took us out of being a first-place truck to a fourth-place truck.” _Parker Kligerman_
*Up Next:* The Camping World Truck Series takes a weekend off before heading to Iowa Speedway for the American Ethanol 200 presented by Hy-Vee on Saturday, September 15th. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 8:00 PM ET; it can also be heard on your “local MRN affiliate”:http://www.motorracingnetwork.com/Affiliates/Affiliates.aspx#showFindStations or SiriusXM Channel 90.