Remember this past February? Yeah, it’s been a good while, but in the realm of NASCAR racing, it may not be too tough to recall. After all, that month saw all three top series visit Daytona, the Speedweeks kickoff which naturally produces the most memorable races of the entire season. The Nationwide and Truck races in particular saw first-time winners in James Buescher and John King, respectively.
And then King, a rookie then driving for Red Horse Racing, pretty much fell off the face of the earth when it came to NASCAR. Although able to secure funding for the first five races of the Camping World Truck Series season, King’s team scaled back tremendously, only resurfacing when Parker Kligerman took over the ride just last month. King was the first in a line of young drivers who lost their rides in the series, and is now the latest to emerge with a new team. At this weekend’s Kentucky 201 at Kentucky Speedway, the Tennessee native aligns with Wauters Motorsports, itself the former home of a much-maligned rookie, Paulie Harraka.
King isn’t the only driver to return this week. After a week sabbatical following his departure from Thorsport Racing, Dakoda Armstrong returns this weekend to drive the No. 4 for Turner Motorsports. In recent weeks, Max Gresham has landed a part-time gig with Eddie Sharp Racing after leaving Joe Dennette Motorsports. And of course there’s Parker Kligerman, who joined Red Horse Racing after having parted ways with Brad Keselowski Racing.
In a climate where drivers — especially those of the younger variety — often lose good chances in the sport and fail to be heard from (at least in a decent ride) again, it’s good to see that these four racers have been able to avoid being flicked off to the side as damaged goods.
Kligerman in particular was running incredibly well at the time of his team switch, and King has, of course, won a race – although the legitimacy of that win is hotly debated, after he moved Johnny Sauter out of the way en route to victory at Daytona. Armstrong and Gresham were having unspectacular seasons, but there was certainly little performance-wise to discount them from being decent drivers in the series at some point. The point is, none of them deserved to be thrown out on the streets to never return due to performance issues.
In the case of Armstrong and King, sponsorship woes forced them to sit on the couch while others raced, while the departures of Kligerman and Gresham were said to be nothing more than mutual partings.
Seeing these four drivers still in the sport and entered at Kentucky is certainly heartening. It keeps four young guns racing in a series that in the past was hurting for some promising talent. The rookie crop this year in particular has been exciting, not necessarily in the sense that it’s been a good race (Ty Dillon’s made sure of that), but that there’s so many rookies out there this year. Still more new guys have shown up on certain weekends — and Kentucky’s no different, with Travis Miller, Brennan Newberry and Jake Crum making the trek.
King could certainly do with a good run this week, and his chances certainly seem promising — after all, the last time his team was at the track, they scored a top-five finish with Aric Almirola. Armstrong, too, could prove quite a bit in one of the series’ elite’s Truck teams.
When I was younger, I remember the Truck Series being entertaining in that there were always young guys and relative unknowns looking to prove themselves and move up the ladder in NASCAR. But in recent years, all three series have struggled to hit that mark, with a plethora of promising drivers being lost in the wind or relegated to part-time or parking status (see: Stephen Leicht, Chase Miller). Drivers rarely get the chance to develop — that is, unless they have quite a bit of cash — and run a full season.
So it’s good to see someone like John King coming back, for however long that may be. It’s also refreshing to see Max Gresham still trying to show he can get it done when provided reliable equipment. It’s good to see Dakoda Armstrong get the nod in a Turner Motorsports ride, possibly the shot to his system his career needs. It’s good to see Parker Kligerman, possibly a future star of the sport, still fighting for the championship despite having to do so with two different teams.
It’s drivers like these that make the lower series worth watching. No, not the old, washed-up veterans or the Cup regular who can’t win in his own series and decides to move down a level or two on occasion. Guys like King, Kligerman, Armstrong and Gresham, racers who are still struggling to make it into the sport at all in an unpredictable period for the sport.