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While the Truck Series season is just two races old, which means we’re still twiddling our thumbs waiting for the next event, still over two weeks away, there are a few observations that can be made early on in 2014. This week, I bring you three lessons learned so far this year as we still wait for the racing to hit high gear.
Author’s Note: What have you learned so far this season? Tell us on Facebook or hit me up on Twitter (@Beth_Frntstrtch) and I’ll share your thoughts in an upcoming column!
The Schedule Stinks
It’s not like I really need to be a broken record about this one, but after two races in four months, it’s a simple statement of fact. The series began its season alongside the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series on February 21st and then sat idle until March 29th, when drivers were once again on track at Martinsville Speedway. Fast forward to May 9th, and that’s the next time you’ll see Truck Series racing. I’ve documented the problem multiple times in the past, and it’s certainly something NASCAR needs to address.
When it comes to the options the sanctioning body has, it can be somewhat limited. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the season begin and end with all three series at Daytona and Homestead, respectively, but trying to stretch out 22 events across a time span designed for 38, plus some off weeks, leads to a substantial amount of down time that the drivers and fans don’t particularly like. One way to change that would be to add more races to the schedule.
New stars! Feuding teammates! Crash bang action! A race every other month! With so many good stories and legitimate action this year inNASCAR, the Camping World Truck Series has lost much of its marketing momentum simply due to the absence of anything on the schedule.
After all, trucks used to run 25 events not all that long ago, so it would seem quite possible — simple even — to add those three missing races back to the calendar. At the same time, the dreaded long stretches without any on-track action were a problem then as well. I’m not sure about moving the series to 30 or 32 events, since so many teams already struggle to find enough sponsorship for the amount we already have. But it sure would be nice to see the trucks on track for that many races — in a perfect world.
That brings us to another possibility of how the schedule can be fixed. Perhaps it’s time to consider dropping several weeks and begin the season at a place like Martinsville or Kansas. Yes, it’s nice to see all three series together in a special weekend surrounding the Daytona 500 to start the year. But at the same time, is the lack of momentum in the early months really worth it? What if we started the year at Martinsville and ended somewhere around the October Martinsville weekend?
I’m not advocating that the paperclip should bookend the season — though it would be spectacular — but timing the schedule to run from late March to October would drop nearly two months worth of down time, giving fans and drivers alike more momentum and hopefully allow the series to grow by increasing its own separate identity.
With all that said, many rumblings have pointed at the 2015 season for an across-the-board overhaul of the schedules, coinciding with new television deals. Let’s hope that happens in Trucks, for they need one more than anyone else at this point in time.
Usual Suspects Rise to the Top
While two races is hardly an indicator of what the season might bring, a quick look at the standings shows that five drivers have finished inside the top 10 in both races. The only real surprise there is German Quiroga, who didn’t find the top 10 until June last season. In fact, in 22 starts in 2013, Quiroga posted just six top 10s, a number that — if he keeps up at the pace he’s started the year with — he’s likely to shatter long before the season’s midway point. The rest of those drivers sitting atop the standings are the usual suspects: Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter, Ryan Blaney, Matt Crafton and Ron Hornaday, Jr. In that group alone, you’ve got five championships, a pair of Rookie of the Year awards and a combined 73 wins, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see them hanging around where they are.
As we all know, many things can change in the blink of an eye, and there are a few unknowns coming up. The race at Kansas in a couple of weeks is the first under the lights at the facility and will leave teams in a position to learn and adjust to different conditions on the surface their notes currently don’t cover. Add in the return of Gateway Motorsports Park, and some of the younger teams will need to put together a brand new knowledge base in a short period of time. One thing I am certain of is that this season appears to be shaping up as another one that will likely come down to the last race or two before the champ is decided, barring some incredibly hot streak by one driver.
Sponsorship is a Major Issue
For quite some time now, NASCAR teams as a whole have struggled with sponsorship, as is evidenced by several top Sprint Cup operations being forced to piece together full seasons of coverage. And even more recently, you’ve seen Swan Racing expand to two cars and then find themselves in a bit of a pickle in trying to fund both rides, leaving a couple of drivers potentially on the sidelines.
When the record holder of virtually every key Truck Series stat is having difficulty piecing a program together, it’s a “canary in motorsports mineshaft” that everyone needs to be wary of.
Over in the Truck Series, it seems even worse. Right now, you’ve got two incredibly talented drivers in Ron Hornaday, Jr., who holds nearly every series record, and Jeb Burton, who has shown incredible promise but has been sidelined, not once but twice, working on race-by-race deals as they’re pieced together. And that’s not to mention the drivers that have been rumored to have a ride or those that raced last season sitting at home right now.
So how do we fix the problem?
Here’s a novel idea: instead of NASCARpulling in “Official Sponsors of [something],” they would be wise to point those funds to the teams struggling to keep their trucks on the track. And what about the lack of television time most struggle with unless they’re running great, wrecking their chassis or a Cup driver (see: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski)? I’ve got a solution for that, too. Sure, television networks pay top dollar to broadcast the races, but you can’t tell me that NASCAR doesn’t have certain expectations for their coverage. While they have little control in the broadcasts themselves, the sanctioning body should have some say in how and when drivers are covered.
In the end, scarcity of sponsorship could end up being the downfall of the series if enough teams are unable to pull together enough backing to keep racing. We’ll have to see, as the summer months come along, who has enough longevity to keep things going and who will fall by the wayside.
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