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Truckin’ Thursdays: What if the Truck Series Used Heat Races?

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This weekend, the Camping World Truck Series sits idle once again, and it will for another two weekends before heading to Kansas Speedway for Mother’s Day weekend. But the XFINITY Series will run its first of four events where heat races will set the starting lineup for the 200-lap main event. It’s an experiment that could go either way for NASCAR and be a major disaster or an overwhelming success. Regardless of which way it goes this weekend, it’s left me wondering.

What if NASCAR were to bring heat races to the Truck Series?

Before you panic at the thought of yet another change to the Truck Series, stay with me for a moment. NASCAR has proven this year, with the implementation of the Chase and the caution clock, that it’s looking for a gimmick to change up the series a bit. While I’m convinced we’re likely stuck with both for quite some time (ugh), if not permanently, I could easily see myself embracing heat racing in the series.

Remember that when the series first began, it didn’t perform live pit stops, but rather had five-minute “halftime” breaks for teams to work on their trucks and make the necessary adjustments. Tires were only allowed to be changed if there was a safety issue. Sure, part of the reasoning was that many of the tracks the series raced at the time weren’t equipped with pit roads, or those in place weren’t safe enough for live pit stops. Of course, another reason for the halftime breaks was to help teams save money by not hiring traveling pit crews.

Later, some races had two to three intermissions, depending on the length of the events, but ultimately full-fledged pit stops during competition won out. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing by any means, but it’s important to remember where the series came from when it comes to talking about its future.

Consider for a moment that NASCAR were to implement heat races for the series. First and foremost, I feel like it would appeal to those that enjoy visiting their local short tracks since that’s the format many of those events run. That, in turn, would also help those drivers coming into the Truck Series to prepare themselves for a career at NASCAR’s top level. Though the equipment they’re driving would be substantially different, the overall format of the racing would be quite similar.

And I bet you could easily convince some of the smaller, single-truck teams that heat races are the way to go. In just three races this season, 24 times drivers have been sent home because they were unable to post single-lap speeds high enough to make the field, and the worst part about it is that you’re looking at drivers who may not have been able to contend for the win but were making strides in their own journey into the series.

Instead, they were made to pack everything up and head home, losing the investment they put into making the trip to the track in the first place. While it’s great to see that many teams showing up to attempt to make the 32-truck field, I can’t help but wonder how many of those teams that consistently aren’t making the show will just give up, rather than attempt to find a way to make their trucks faster.

But if the series were to use heat races, all of those drivers who were sent home would have more of a fighting chances at making the main event. Remember what Norm Benning did in the Truck Series’ inaugural trip to Eldora Raceway?

Sure, he was never a factor to even think about winning the main event, but the mere thought of a single-truck team scratching and clawing to make the big show – and the television coverage that came with it – is enough to make anyone at least give it a shot.

Would it be something that would take some getting used to? Of course! But that’s the case with any change, no matter what it may be. In the long run, though, I do think it’s something that NASCAR should consider for the series, as long as it’s a decision made during the offseason and not one sprung on the teams in the middle of the schedule.

I know I’m open to seeing even more excitement in the Truck Series… are you?

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Brian Cullather

Waited till the Xfinity heats were over to confirm my original thoughts about heats, uhhh, no, especially not as it is configured now, risk/reward not worth actual bumping and banging.

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