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As the weekend quickly approaches, so does the 2016 Camping World Truck Series season. With a handful of changes and a large number of driver moves, this season is shaping up to be the healthiest in years, and it all starts with Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250.
The biggest changes you need to know about this season are the addition of a Chase and caution clock. This year, eight drivers will battle it out over seven races to determine the season championship. The elimination style format, which mirrors the one the Cup Series has used for a couple years now, will feature three rounds of two races apiece before the final four compete to settle the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Drivers will receive three bonus points for victories during the first 16 races of the year, and at the end of each round, two drivers will be eliminated from the championship battle.
In addition to the introduction of the Chase, NASCAR also introduced a caution clock. The concept is rather simple, really. With the exception of the Mudsummer Classic at Eldora Speedway, each race will feature a caution clock, set for 20 minutes, that will start at the drop of the green flag. If nothing happens on the track to bring out a yellow flag, a competition caution will fly, and the clock will be reset. When an event gets down to 20 laps remaining, the caution clock will be removed and drivers will be left to settle the race under the old rules, with the only exception being Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and Pocono, where that timeframe shrinks to 10 laps to go.
“We think it’s going to add to the strategy during the race, and if you look at the Camping World Truck Series, that is an area where some of our younger drivers, younger teams, newer teams really can use the competition caution to be able to adjust on the truck,” Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, said. “We’ve seen that in the Cup Series when we’ve had a competition caution early in the race. It’s allowed the teams to make some last-minute adjustments early in the race.”
I won’t go too in depth about how I feel about those two additions to this year’s lineup since I already hit on them last month after the announcement, but I will go as far as saying these gimmicks are not the way to continue advancement in the series. Despite the rules changes, I sincerely hope the on-track competition will not be affected, especially since the series had been hanging on by a thread for so long already.
Additionally, earlier this month, NASCAR announced a change in the points structure for the series to reflect the smaller fields. Now, the winner will receive 32 points (not including bonuses), something that can change the strategy for drivers striving to win the championship. Previously, the winner would be awarded 43 points before any bonuses were applied, equating to an 11-point swing, which will significantly change a driver’s ability to erase a deficit caused by a bad race.
Along with the points structure, the sanctioning body also did away with the green-white-checkered finishes in favor of creating a new overtime procedure. Very little has changed in the way of the procedure, though instead of the field needing to cross the start/finish line to take the white flag for a race to be official if it’s extended, the leader will only need to make it past the overtime line.
While the overtime line is supposed to vary at each track based on its length, the assumption that can be made after seeing it at Daytona last weekend in the Sprint Unlimited, the field will likely only need to make half of a lap clean before it crosses the overtime line and the race is over with the next flag. The rule will certainly help to eliminate some of the carnage that happens at restrictor plate races, but I seriously question the need for a change across the board, though, like the other changes we’re facing this season, I’ll be taking the wait and see approach before criticizing (or praising) it based on how it pans out.
Rule changes aside, this year’s field is shaping up to be one of the healthiest in years. With 37 teams currently expected to run a full-time schedule, qualifying will become more important than ever for the 30-truck field, and along with that, the number of start-and-park drivers should drop significantly too. While I understand the reasoning behind an entry that just runs a handful of laps before calling it quits, it’s a little more than ridiculous when you have eight trucks out of the race by the time the field has completed 50 miles.
As far as the individual teams go, plenty of driver moves have happened throughout the offseason too. ThorSport Racing is quickly making its case for being the powerhouse team in the Truck Series. Expanding to four trucks this year, Matt Crafton will be back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Toyota as the strong veteran to lead the team, and Cameron Hayley returns to the No. 13 for his sophomore season. The organization has also added two Rookie of the Year candidates in Rico Abreu and Ben Rhodes.
Alongside Abreu and Rhodes, Kyle Busch Motorsports brings a pair of rookies in Christopher Bell and William Byron to step into the big shoes that champion and Rookie of the Year Erik Jones leaves behind in his move to the XFINITY Series. And that doesn’t even count the third truck that Daniel Suarez and Cody Coughlin will share.
Perhaps one of the more surprising silly season changes actually came late last season. After seemingly playing second fiddle to Crafton, Johnny Sauter made the decision to leave ThorSport and head to GMS Racing. While GMS hasn’t proven to be hugely successful and Spencer Gallagher has seen his fair share of struggles, Sauter may be looking at the organization as a place where he can come in and be the veteran voice that guides the team, instead of an afterthought with a team that was largely built around Crafton for the last 15 years.
Moving across to the only successful Ford team in the field right now, Brad Keselowski Racing has snatched up Daniel Hemric from NTS Motorsports for the 2016 season. Placing him alongside title contender from last season, Tyler Reddick, the organization is setting itself up with talented youth that should help sustain growth for years to come.
Meanwhile, speaking of NTS, the organization has left us guessing at its 2016 plans. Rumors swirled that the team had shut down its Truck Series operation, and there were reports that the team’s facilities were up for sale. Given that Hemric made the move from NTS to BKR, it’s easy to believe those rumors and expect that the organization no longer plans to compete in the series and instead place its focus elsewhere, but Scott Lagasse, Jr. will be racing the No. 14 for owner Bob Newberry at Daytona, though that’s as far as the team’s plans seem to go in the series at this point.
Through all of the changes and driver moves, the most exciting thing this season is the positive outlook we enter 2016 with. Yes, there are plenty of rules changes that are questionable and may turn out to be a compelte disaster, but the one thing we likely won’t see much, if any, of this season is start-and-park efforts. After all, with 37 teams planning to run full-time, you’re looking at drivers regularly missing the field and qualifying being at a premium for the foreseeable future.
Buckle up everyone, because this season is shaping up to be the greatest for the Truck Series in quite some time.
- Austin Theriault will race a third truck for Brad Keselowski Racing at Daytona. Piloting the No. 2 Ford, the 22-year-old will join Tyler Reddick and BKR new addition Daniel Hemric for the season opener. In the meantime, Theriault continues his search for a full-time ride for the 2016 season.
- Parker Kilgerman will return to the Truck Series once again to the run the season opener, this time with Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises, piloting the No. 92. The 25-year-old, who has served as an analyst for NBC Sports Network, has not run full-time in the series since 2012 when he scored his lone victory in the restrictor plate race at Talladega.
- Ben Kennedy secured sponsorship in the 11th hour to remain at Red Horse Racing for the 2016 season. For the driver no one really expects to sit on the sidelines, given who is family is, the fact that he was left in limbo until the weekend before the season opener speaks to the sponsorship climate in the sport today.
- Carlos and Enrique Contreras have announced the formation of NASCAR’s first Hispanic-owned team that is set to debut at Daytona this weekend. Carlos, who has more than 100 starts in NASCAR will pilot the No. 71 Chevrolet Friday night, and the organization enters the series looking to give up-and-coming drivers opportunities to fulfill their NASCAR dreams.