The Easter weekend gives drivers an opportunity to climb out of the car and spend time with their family and friends.
Because of the momentary pause, Sprint Cup competition – the primary focus of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not – will also get a break. While this blessing is nice for drivers and teams who have struggled in stock car racing’s premier series, it moves the spotlight onto those involved in NASCAR’s more developmental divisions.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who has performed well in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series this season, along with who might need more off time after encountering slow starts:
Sam Hornish, Jr. set out in 2013 looking to better a 2012 Nationwide Series campaign that left him fourth in series points upon completion of a full-time schedule. So far, all signs point to him doing just that. The former IndyCar driver leads the standings and has never looked more comfortable behind the wheel of a Penske Racing stock car. After five starts, he has amassed a series leading four top-5 finishes.
Hornish also visited Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the second time in 71 career races. The No. 12 Mustang looked dominant in Sam’s Town during that event, leading 114 of 200 laps before beating Kyle Busch to the line. While Hornish was able to outrun Rowdy then, that hasn’t stopped Busch from putting his Toyota Camry in the winner’s circle on three separate occasions.
Toyota also tallied a victory in the Camping World Truck Series’ first race in Daytona. When Johnny Sauter won the NextEra Energy Resources 250, the Japanese automaker extended an already impressive milestone. Sauter’s first Daytona triumph marked Toyota’s 100th win in the series, along with its seventh consecutive at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Brian Scott seems to be enjoying his transition to Richard Childress Racing. After departing from Joe Gibbs Racing over the offseason, he has already equaled the number of top-10 finishes that he recorded over the entire 2010 campaign with five. The early success puts him third in driver points, unmarked territory for a driver who’s never ranked higher than eighth during three previous full seasons in the Nationwide Series. If Scott hopes to leapfrog Regan Smith in pursuit of Hornish, he’ll need to reverse a downwards trend at Fort Worth when the series resumes action on April 12th. In six starts there, he’s managed one top-10 result, but that doesn’t help erase two DNFs and a paltry 21.3 average finish.
One driver near Scott in points is rookie Kyle Larson, who already looks like a seasoned veteran in a short time. Larson has rebounded well from his horrific crash in the season-opening race at Daytona by posting solid results, including a runner-up finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. At age 20, Larson is having no problems living up to lofty expectations despite skipping a potential full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. He currently leads all series rookies, sitting ahead of veteran drivers as well such as two-time defending Nationwide runner-up Elliott Sadler and title favorite Brian Vickers.
After hoisting Timothy Peters and Parker Kligerman into title contention in 2012, Red Horse Racing is expecting big things, but their Camping World Truck Series season didn’t start the way owner Tom DeLoach envisioned. Newcomer John Wes Townley had some success at Daytona, but he couldn’t replicate his ARCA Series victory in the Lucas Oil 200 in the CWTS event. Townley ultimately finished 21st after sustaining damage during a lap 92 accident that ended the night for his teammate, Peters.
Meanwhile, rookie teammate German Quiroga was caught up in a massive 14-car pileup that left the No. 77 pit crew with plenty of repair work. The former NASCAR Corona Series champion eventually finished 25th in his debut with the organization.
Some might blame Ryan Truex for the lap 92 incident after the young gun suffered a flat tire while running in the middle of a three-wide pack. Truex showed promise in the race, running as high as fourth position, but the unfortunate circumstance puts him in an early hole nonetheless. That being said, Truex had a team – the No. 30 Turner Motorsports operation – capable of climbing much higher than their current 27th in the standings, if only he could run with them full-time. The 21-year-old received some news that might help warm him up recently, though when it was announced that he’ll make his Sprint Cup debut for Phoenix Racing in the April 27th race at Richmond International Raceway. That became a nice consolation prize for the bad news he received in its place; no sponsorship left him out of Turner Scott’s truck at Martinsville. Instead, Nationwide regular Nelson Piquet, Jr. will drive it.
With five races in the books, the start-and-park tradition is alive and well in the Nationwide Series. At the forefront of this abominable act of retiring upon or shortly after the green flag is none other than Jeff Green. The former Nationwide Series champion is no more than a shade of his former self. Four vibrations and one handling issue later, the No. 10 TriStar Motorsports team has a DNF in every race of 2013, including a four-lap run in the season opener. By adding those four circuits to the driver’s total – an underwhelming 93 laps or 9.6 percent of those run by some title contenders – it becomes evident that Green is the hands down king of the start-and-park. It’s gotten so bad that the veteran ranks behind drivers like rookie Kevin Swindell and Chris Buescher, who have competed in just one event.
This acute lack of success hasn’t stopped Green from making headway in the money column. He’s taken home over 97k in winnings for being present on track, ranking him ahead of Josh Wise – who has 83.7k in earnings despite running 560 more laps than Green. The effort involved in staying on course, plus the entertainment value of having more cars on track in the final laps of any given race, should be worth more than taking the easy way out and parking early.