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Here we go again. Every year around this time, the Camping World Truck Series heads off into Daytona for the season opener, puts on a great race and stops dead in its tracks for several weeks. Once again, the 36-truck field put on an impressive event Friday night only to turn around and take time off until April 6th. That’s right … April 6th! So while we’re on this extended break, I’d like to take some time to look at a few drivers to keep a close eye on this season.
_Author’s Note: Did I miss a driver you think will show up the rest of the field? Let me know on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below._
Following his championship season, there was widespread speculation that James Buescher would make the move to run full-time in the Nationwide Series. After all, he had not only won the championship but had also posted four victories (including his first career win at Kansas in April). But in January, Turner Scott Motorsports announced the 22-year-old planned to spend another year in the Truck Series. While no driver has ever won back-to-back Truck championships, it’s still reasonable to look to Buescher as a favorite in his quest to win it all again this season. The No. 31 team, for starters proved on Friday why you can’t count them out in this championship battle. After suffering damage on pit road and a stuck throttle, the crew worked feverishly to make repairs, and despite his troubles, Buescher still posted a respectable 13th-place finish.
After what can only be called a dismal season in 2012, where Johnny Sauter suffered everything from a last-lap wreck out of the lead in the season opener at Daytona to a number of other maladies, he came into 2013 with a brand new number, ready to shake of the memory of a season gone wrong. Piloting the No. 98 Toyota at Daytona, Sauter simply looked to survive his 2013 debut without finding himself in a deep hole to dig out for the remaining 21 races this season. Well, he did just that – and more – with a trip to Victory Lane, besting his previous high of 17th at the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Now the points leader, Sauter starts off in a good spot and only needs to maintain rather than dig himself out of a hole. That’s not to say he won’t have to work hard; however, it is the best he’s started the season since jumping to full-time in Trucks back in 2009.
Last season’s Rookie of the Year looks to follow up his near-championship 2012 by closing the deal this year, and there’s no reason to think he can’t do just that. After all, he did post his first career victory in Atlanta last year along with a total of 17 top 10s in 22 races. With his current development plan in place to move on to the Nationwide Series next season, the 21-year-old would love nothing more than to leave the Trucks with a championship just like his brother did at the end of the 2011 season. Daytona saw him off to a solid start, leading the most laps for just the second time in his career (56) before fading to sixth down the stretch.
Alright, so this one isn’t a single driver but rather a group of them. It’s always fun to watch the new, raw talent that enters the sport each year as they grow and learn, but after their performance in the season opener, it becomes a little more critical. Two different rookies – Jeb Burton and Ryan Blaney – managed to finish inside the top 10, while Darrell Wallace, Jr. came home with an impressive 12th-place run. In fact, it was only German Quiroga and Brennan Newberry that didn’t finish inside the top 15, amongst the full-time freshman contenders running Daytona but in their defense, both were caught up in accidents not of their making. Newberry did, however, start off his first full-time season by sitting on the pole up against veterans that have been around the sport for much longer. I know Daytona isn’t a great place to gauge whether a driver will see any success the rest of the year. But the performances by the rookie class have to at least open your eyes to take note of what they could be capable of.
(Note: Ryan Truex would also be considered as a rookie of the year contender, provided he runs the full season; however, the deal with Turner Scott Motorsports was announced for Daytona only at this point.)
_Author’s Note: For more in-depth information on Blaney, along with the rest of this season’s Rookie of the Year contenders, check out Truckin’ Thursdays next week where I’ll look at where each driver came from and what you might expect from them throughout the season. Also, don’t miss Jeb Burton’s first Driver Diary of the year this Friday, only on the Frontstretch._
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