Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series comes out of its winter hibernation for the season opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway. As with every offseason, NASCAR has made a few changes headed into this year. From new faces to rules changes, there’s plenty to catch up on ahead of Friday night’s race.
One of those changes is just aesthetic and won’t affect the competition. Every truck will have its driver’s last name on the back window just like in the XFINITY and Sprint Cup series. Additionally, the Truck Series will now place more importance on speed during qualifying. First through 27th in the starting lineup will be set by the fastest single lap, with the fastest driver starting on the pole. Beyond that, 28th through 31st will use owner points for teams that have attempted every race, and 32nd will go to a past champion or the next in line using owner points.
Perhaps one of the most notable changes, though, is the reduction in field size from 36 to 32. On the surface, it appears to be a bad thing for the series since it indicates the Truck Series just can’t fill a field of 36 drivers, and to a point that is correct. A look at last season’s number of short fields and start-and-park teams that filled a large portion of those slots makes it clear that 2014 was definitely a struggle, something that left me wondering if the series would even be around five years down the road.
But entering 2015, we’ve got around 30 full-time teams with the backing to run the full season, and that doesn’t even count those part-time efforts that will pop up for certain short track events and other special races throughout the season. With a smaller field, the hope is that teams will place more emphasis on the race weekends and running to completion, rather than just making the race to bring home enough money to stay afloat.
Speaking of those full-time teams, the Truck Series will see quite a few new faces this season, too. One of the new faces isn’t actually new at all.
After spending a tough season in the XFINITY Series where he scored just two top 10s in 33 races, 2012 champion James Buescher returns to run a partial schedule with NTS Motorsports. Through a team release last week, NTS has said the No. 31 will be a full-time truck, but at this time Buescher is only on a part-time schedule. It wouldn’t be surprising to see sponsorship pieced together to keep him in the seat throughout the year, though, especially since it’s a model that we’ve seen work for multiple teams the last few years.
Alongside Buescher, Daniel Hemric joins the series to race full-time for Rookie of the Year honors. The 24-year-old has three prior Truck Series starts, including a best finish of 12th last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hemric won’t be the only rookie this year, though. Cameron Hayley, who made three starts last year with Turner Scott Motorsports, has taken his family sponsorship in Cabinets by Hayley to ThorSport Racing to run a third truck full-time alongside teammates Johnny Sauter and two-time defending series champion Matt Crafton. In those three starts, Hayley finished inside the top 10 twice, including a career-best sixth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Ray Black, Jr., Scott Saunders and Wendell Chavous, two of which have made a small handful of starts, are also declared to run for Rookie of the Year. Saunders is set to run full-time with an Australian-based team this year, though he will not be attending Daytona, while Chavous will sit out the season-opening race with Travis Kvapil piloting his No. 94.
Last but not least, Justin Boston joined Kyle Busch Motorsports to run full-time for Rookie of the Year in the No. 54 truck vacated by Darrell Wallace, Jr., who moved the XFINITY Series this season. He’ll race alongside standout Erik Jones in what will likely become the next powerhouse duo in the series.
New faces, smaller fields and rules changes aside, the series saw a small shakeup to the schedule this year. Instead of sitting idle following Daytona until the late March trip to Martinsville, teams will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway at the end of February for the series’ first visit to the mile-and-a-half oval since 2012. Also, the series heads back to Gateway Motorsports Park that was removed from the schedule a few years back. Aside from those two additions, much of the schedule remains the same, with large breaks in between events early in the year and the majority stacked in the later months.
The bottom line is that the series is heading into Daytona this weekend looking much healthier than it did last year. And while it may be early to be this optimistic about it, it’s pretty exciting to see an almost rebirth of a series that, this time last year, looking to be slowly breathing its last breaths.