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After a thrilling season opener at Daytona International Speedway last month, the Camping World Truck Series will be back on track next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. It marks a huge change of pace for the drivers as they go from high-banks and big packs at Daytona, to the tight confines of Martinsville.
Heading into next weekend’s race, here are five drivers that you should keep an eye on.
No. 13 for ThorSport Racing: Jeb Burton
Coming off a solid rookie season that included seven poles, a win at Texas Motor Speedway and a fifth place finish in points, Burton was scheduled to run the full season for Turner-Scott Motorsports. However, that wasn’t meant to be as less than a month before the 2014 season began, everything fell apart. His sponsor pulled support and as a result, TSM had to let Burton go. A couple weeks before Daytona, ThorSport came to the rescue, hiring Burton to drive for them at Daytona in a one-race deal.
Burton put together a solid run at Daytona – finishing seventh – opening the door for ThorSport to welcome him back at Martinsville. ThorSport would like to run more races beyond Martinsville with Burton, however it depends on sponsorship moving forward.
“I don’t have a ride for the rest of the year, but I feel if we can keep running in the top 10 like we did at Daytona, we’ll be in the top five in points and that’ll help things,” Burton said. “We just got to keep plugging away and trying to find more sponsors.”
Last season at Martinsville, Burton finished third in both races after starting on pole in the spring event.
No. 29 for Brad Keselowski Racing: Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is also coming off of a solid rookie season last year, finishing sixth in points with 13 top 10s, including a win at Pocono Raceway. Blaney is back this season in the series full-time once again with the same team, now working with Chad Kendrick rather than veteran crew chief Doug Randolph.
Blaney didn’t have a stellar effort last year at Martinsville, finishing 16th in the spring race. However, he came back to finish fifth in the fall event. Blaney has shown growth in his short track ability, showcased by a fourth place finish in the Nationwide Series race this past weekend in the first of 15 starts he is expected to make this year in Nationwide.
Blaney is one of the drivers that people are looking to see big things in the future – with a possible full-time Nationwide Series schedule in 2015 under the Team Penske banner. A solid performance could help towards solidifying the hype, and setting him up for a championship run this season.
No. 31 for Turner-Scott Motorsports: Ben Kennedy
Ben Kennedy is entering his first full season of competition in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but does have experience at Martinsville Speedway. Kennedy ran last year’s fall event, scoring a career-best fourth place finish.
Kennedy moved up to the trucks this season after finishing fourth in the NASCAR K&N Pro East Series standings last year with a pair of wins. Kennedy’s experience in the K&N Pro Series should help him this weekend as they run a bunch of the short tracks across the Eastern states.
Kennedy’s experience combined with Michael Shelton’s veteran leadership a top the box, a solid top 10 finish would go a long way for the rookie following a 15th place finish at Daytona in February.
No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports: Erik Jones
Last year, Erik Jones made his first career Truck Series start at Martinsville Speedway, finishing ninth. Since then, the 17-year-old has grown as a driver with experience in both the ARCA Racing Series and four more Truck starts. In each of the truck starts that he made, Jones finished inside the top 10, including a win at Phoenix International Raceway.
Jones has shown that he is capable of winning on the short tracks, picking up the win in one of the late model’s most prestigious races – the Snowball Derby – the past two years. He also picked up a win last year in the ARCA Racing Series at Berlin Raceway in Marne, MI.
Jones’ improvement behind the wheel in each start that has followed should allow Jones to run up front in the first of 12 starts that he is supposed to make this year for KBM.
No. 54 for Kyle Busch Motorsports: Darrell Wallace, Jr.
When Darrell Wallace Jr. first started in the Camping World Truck Series last year, he found trouble early and often. However, as the season went on, Wallace Jr. was able to grow as a driver and got stronger each week. The growth led to big success last fall at Martinsville Speedway as Wallace Jr. picked up his breakthrough win; the first of his career in the CWTS.
Wallace Jr. goes back this year looking for his second grandfather clock and should be considered a favorite with a fifth in last year’s spring event. As mentioned earlier with Kennedy, the K&N Pro East Series experience is a benefit to young drivers simply due to experience on the shorter tracks.
Coming off a 26th place finish at Daytona as a result of being caught up in a wreck, Wallace Jr. needs a good top five finish – perhaps a win – to get himself back into championship contention if he looks to beat the likes of Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Ryan Blaney for the championship.