(Photo: Beth Lunkenheimer, Frontstretch)

Truckin’ Thursdays: Can a Chase in the Truck Series Work?

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

Early Sunday morning, as the Sprint Cup Series prepared for Texas Motor Speedway, I came across an article title on Twitter that made me want to scream. According to Motorsport.com, NASCAR is reportedly considering a Chase-like format for the Camping World Truck Series. Without even reading the article, I was ready to condemn the idea, especially since it’s something I’ve long advocated against for the series, despite the occasional runaways with the championship.

In the proposal, which the article indicated Truck Series owner Brad Keselowski had heard of, eight drivers would battle in a seven-race Chase. Two would be knocked out at the end of each round of three races, with four teams competing for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And while we can’t assume that each team would approach the season the same, knowing the rules would be different, it’s still worth comparing this season to see which four drivers would likely battle for the championship in a little over a week.

Note that for ease of comparison, we’ll assume John Hunter Nemechek would have received a waiver to compete for the championship since he didn’t turn 18 until mid-season and was unable to compete in every race until that point. Cole Custer, however, will not turn 18 until January and thus is prohibited from competing on tracks larger than one mile, including the mile-and-a-half Homestead.

Based on the rules that are being proposed, this year’s Chase in the Truck Series would have begun at New Hampshire Motor Speedway a week after the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Using that logic, Matt Crafton (four wins), Tyler Reddick (two wins), Erik Jones and Nemechek (one win apiece) would have made the Chase by virtue of victories. The remaining four slots would have gone to Johnny Sauter, Daniel Hemric, Cameron Hayley and Timothy Peters.

Round One

  • New Hampshire Motor Speedway Winner: Austin Dillon (ineligible)
  • Las Vegas Motor Speedway Winner: John Wes Townley (not a Chase driver)
  • Talladega Superspeedway Winner: Timothy Peters

Peters was the only driver involved in this hypothetical Chase format to win a race in this round, while Hemric and Hayley would have missed the cut in transferring on points. The drivers remaining (in order based on points) are Peters (one win), Jones, Nemechek, Crafton, Reddick and Sauter.

Round Two

  • Martinsville Speedway Winner: Matt Crafton
  • Texas Motor Speedway Winner: Erik Jones
  • Phoenix International Raceway Winner: undetermined

Crafton and Jones have already notched their positions in the final race for the championship by virtue of victories at Martinsville and Texas, respectively. Performance at Phoenix aside, Reddick and Nemechek would be in position to transfer based on points. While it’s impossible to predict who will win this weekend, we’ll assume for the sake of this argument that Jones, who has won the last two events at the 1-mile oval, will take that victory once again, leaving two positions in the final championship field open on points.

Using Jones as the winner, we’ll compare average finishes for the remaining four drivers hoping to fill the last two spots for this argument, though I won’t be including points for potential laps led. Using those average finishes, Reddick and Nemechek, who would take the tiebreaker over Peters.

Through all of that math, the trio of drivers already separated by a mere 21 points headed into this weekend’s race in Phoenix would be competing for the championship anyway, while Nemechek would benefit the most, given that he was unable to run every race this season due to age restrictions. If we go a step past there, you would have to put your money on Crafton to have the edge at Homestead, thanks to his ability to excel at the mile-and-a-half ovals.

The bottom line, though, is that things that work for the Cup Series are not always ideal for the Xfinity or Truck series. Though some would argue the Chase format doesn’t work in the Cup Series, part of the uniqueness of the Truck Series in the last 10 years has been the season-long championship. Adding in the element of the unknown could work if it meant Cup drivers were no longer allowed to compete in the series, but removing those drivers would limit the fields in many weeks, and the Truck Series regulars who use those Cup drivers to learn from each week would lose valuable training.

I’m not sold that a Chase for the Truck Series is the way to go, nor do I expect that to ever be the case. Though there have been a handful of runaways with the championship, those have come in seasons where a driver is arguably that much better than the rest of his competition, and in that case, is a runaway champion really all that bad anyway?

Author’s Note: We’ll revisit this topic briefly after the season ends to determine whether a different champion would have been crowned based on results from the next two races.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • The 2016 schedule was released on Tuesday, and much to the dismay of those that had hoped another race would be added, the number of dates remains at 23. Though a few race dates moved around, the biggest highlight comes in a double-header weekend with the NXS at Iowa Speedway in June. For the full 2016 schedule, click here.
  • On Tuesday, the NASCAR appeals panel reviewed the penalty assessed to Brandon Jones and the No. 33 team after illegal brackets were found during pre-qualifying inspection at Talladega Superspeedway. The appeal reduced crew chief Shane Huffman’s suspension from three races to two, but all other penalties were upheld.
  • As of press time, there are 34 drivers entered for the 32-truck field this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Among those drivers attempting to make their Truck Series debuts are Rico Abreu, William Byron, who is scheduled to race full-time with Kyle Busch Motorsports next season, and Cassie Gannis.
  • Last weekend, points leader Erik Jones ran his first triple-duty weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Initially scheduled to run the Truck and NXS races, the 19-year-old was tapped to fill the No. 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the wake of Matt Kenseth‘s two-race suspension. After winning the Truck Series race Friday night in dominant fashion, Jones finished fourth in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, and despite late tire problems in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, he finished a career-best 12th.

“I’m ready to take a day off, I don’t think I’ve ever run more than two races – the Truck and Xfinity race – in more than one weekend,” Jones said after Sunday’s race. “At this point, I’m feeling fine, but I can definitely feel it coming on. I’ll be worn out tonight. It was a fun weekend and I’ll do it again for sure next weekend. I’m looking forward to it, but it’s definitely busy and definitely hard on you. I’ll take a nice day off tomorrow.”

  • Ray Black Jr. made his NXS debut last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in a last-minute deal with Rick Ware Racing. He ran 22nd-quickest in practice, which ended up being where he started after weepers in the track canceled qualifying on Saturday. About midway through the race, Black suffered a broken shock that left him just logging laps to the end of the race. He ended up finishing 27th, eight laps down. Saturday after the completion of the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, Black said “I wouldn’t count on” anymore starts this season.

“[Running double-duty] was fun. I think it helped me more than anything. Being on the track the day before the truck race, logging laps. That was good to figure out how it was going to go. Today was great; I couldn’t ask for much more. We had a great car-the Burnie Grill Chevrolet was awesome, but sometimes bad luck can get you. It just went downhill [after the broken shock], and we didn’t have any cautions. Other than that, it was a great day and we learned a lot, got a lot of laps. I learned a lot of thing for the next time we come here. A lot of the fast guys did move up, so they figured something out fast. It was interesting to see.”

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Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    OH NO! Please, don’t tell me that Nascar wants to inflict it’s stupid ‘not a playoff’ format on another series? With attendance and ratings down for most of the ‘chase’ races, has it not occurred to anyone that only BZF thins this was a brilliant idea? Oh. Sorry. I keep expecting them to actually face reality in the head office. I know better.

  2. Avatar

    Why not. Look how swimmingly it worked out for cup. Sheesh.

  3. Avatar

    It would get the same result as Brian’s brilliant cup chase. Now he wants trucks to disappear too. When does the Busch series get the honour of a chase format? We know it’s coming. Wait for it!