NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: A Chase Full of Unexpected Faces

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A wild NASCAR Camping World Truck Series weekend at Kansas Speedway has come and gone, and with its conclusion, another surprising Chase entrant has surfaced.

That’s not to say that rookie William Byron is a surprise to see inn the Chase grid. The 18-year-old competes for Kyle Busch Motorsports, arguably one of the top three teams in the paddock, and just last season Byron won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title in his first attempt.

Byron was expected to make the Chase at some point, whether on points or with a win. What’s surprising is to see his name on the grid before some of the series’ biggest stars.

Picture this: With Byron’s victory, three drivers have guaranteed themselves entry into the first NCWTS Chase barring unforeseen circumstances – Byron, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek.

2016 Atlanta CWTS MAtt Crafton truck Russell LaBounty NKP
Should Matt Crafton be getting nervous about his potential spot in the inaugural Truck Chase? (credit: Russell LaBounty – NKP)

That’s right, a rookie, a veteran that went winless in 2015, and a great talent driving for his father’s underfunded team comprise the three series regulars to make it to victory lane thus far. Meanwhile, championship favorites like Matt Crafton, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have been left scratching their heads and looking for answers.

A two-time champion of NASCAR’s truck series, Crafton entered 2016 as the presumed driver to beat. To an extent, he’s made good on that promise, leading a series-high 138 laps in the four races held this year. But Crafton’s failed to seal the deal, scoring only one top five thus far.

As for Reddick and Custer? They’ve struggled through the season’s opening stint, combining for just one top 10 (Custer finished seventh at Kansas) and finding themselves both outside of the top 10 in points.

Those two aren’t alone, either. Last year’s winners, Christopher Bell and John Wes Townley, can both be found sitting outside of the top 10 after their own share of bad luck, as can familiar names such as Ben Rhodes, Ben Kennedy and Cameron Hayley.

In their place, a crop of underdog and redemption stories have arisen in the NCWTS paddock. Timothy Peters and Daniel Hemric sitting first and second in the series standing is no surprise, but Ryan Truex and Tyler Young sitting third and fourth, respectively, for two terribly underfunded teams is quite the shock.

The back half of the top 10 offers similar surprises, with Brandon Brown and NBC analyst Parker Kligerman both outperforming their equipment for financially challenged organizations.

The result of this surprising championship table through four races is a much murkier Chase grid for the Truck Series than expected.

Sure, a few drivers are likely to win their way in. Bell and Crafton have each held the lead in the closing stages of different races this year, and Reddick and Custer promise to deliver good results once their respective teams gets things back on the right track.

However, with potential Chase openings getting fewer by the week, a couple of championship hopefuls might get denied an opportunity at the playoffs.

Take Townley, for example. The long-time journeyman rode a consistent campaign and a late-summer win to an eighth-place points finish in 2015. This year, however, Townley finds himself sitting 21st after four races, with only a lone finish inside of the top 20.

There’s still a lot of racing to be had before the inaugural Truck Series Chase begins, and the summer months will likely see the points standings regain some level of similarity to previous seasons for most teams on the grid.

Still, if a few of the underdog teams can manage to keep their consistent runs marching forward, or if more of them can find a way to victory lane, the Chase grid might turn out a lot different than most analysts predicted it would look back in February.

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