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Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR released the 2018 schedules, and while most of the focus was placed on significant changes to the Cup side of things, there were a few subtle changes on the Camping World Truck Series lineup as well.
Sadly, the schedule remains at 23 events, which still doesn’t bring the lineup back to the 25 races seen just a handful of years ago. But what did change a little is the length of the early season breaks.
Like I mentioned in the podcast this week, we’re looking at actually have seven events in the books by the end of May, compared to just five this season around the same time period. You have the addition of the date at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early March, along with Dover being moved to run before back-to-back mile-and-a-half track visits to Kansas and Charlotte in May.
The series will still have an extended break early in the year as it takes the entire month of April off, but the idea that holding more races in the month to open the year should help give teams and drivers a little more momentum. Plus, it should give the teams a better feel for where their equipment stands so the break between Martinsville and Dover can be used even more efficiently.
While the series loses its standalone event at Las Vegas in the fall, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of these teams lean on Cup crews to help pit their trucks and complete other tasks throughout the weekend, so removing a date where teams were forced to bring a full crew out to the west coast should, in theory help to reduce costs right off the bat.
Of course, you still have the five straight races at Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead to close out the year, for races that have become the norm the last several years. And frankly, that’s the kind of momentum needed, especially in a stretch where the championship is on the line.
But perhaps what stands out the most about this new schedule is the track that will open the playoffs. This year, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will host the first race in the playoffs, but next season that moves to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, a road course that’s been known to produce thrilling finishes in its short time on the Truck Series schedule. And don’t forget that Bristol will now be that final cutoff race to set the playoff field. Can you say excitement?
For years, I’ve thrown out ideas about how the sanctioning body can fix the schedule to help the series build momentum, and once again I feel like doing the same. Frankly, I feel like a broken record since I end up saying much of the same thing each time the next year’s schedule is revealed.
The timing on this one couldn’t have been better because it was a topic that Kevin Harvick tackled on his Happy Hours show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90 on Tuesday night. In fact, you could hear in his voice that he’s very passionate about the topic and wants to see the sanctioning body fix the issue.
“The Truck schedule is racing at a ton of the wrong race tracks,” Harvick said. “They should be back at Louisville (Motor Speedway), they should be back at some of these grassroots race tracks. The Truck Series should be helping us build our grassroots program, from Late Models on up, by having a Truck race there.
“In order to help our sport to produce from the bottom up, we have to help figure out how to get the grassroots program where they need to be and that’s what we need to be using the Truck Series for. Go to these grassroots race tracks and guess what? That’s where the Trucks need to be racing because they’re going to put 10 to 15,000 people in the grandstands every week to watch these races because they’re unique events.
“They don’t want to show up on a Friday at Dover (International Speedway) and watch these trucks drive around the race track because they’re going to show up on Sunday to watch the Cup cars. Take the trucks somewhere where everybody wants to see them, because there’s short tracks across the country that want to see them.
“The Trucks should be opening up in January like they used to at Tuscon Raceway Park or the Copperworld Classic when it was at Phoenix. Let the Truck Series start our season in January so they can have exposure on TV by themselves. If the Cup guys want to go out there and race, that’s fine. Let them go race. Because that’s going to help put fans in the grandstands.
“Myself and Greg Biffle and Ron Hornaday and Mike Skinner, guess what? We’d never make to it to Cup racing, Truck racing or anything else that we do because we wouldn’t have been on TV if they didn’t have ‘Winter Heat’ and all these different series. In order to produce young stars and expose them to the public you have to start them from the grassroots level up.
“You can’t keep lollygagging along with the Truck Series at these race tracks and expect people to show up.”
I don’t know if there’s really anything to add to what Harvick said. The selfish side of me enjoys seeing them race at places like Kansas and Texas, especially, since both tracks are ones I can make the trip to relatively easily, but bringing the series back to more of its roots could ultimately end up killing two birds with one stone. The Truck Series would have more of its own identity, and it, in theory, should encourage smaller teams and lower budget drivers to make an attempt to race, lending to a healthier series all the way around.
Some of these smaller tracks Harvick is referring to wouldn’t necessarily stand up to what NASCAR needs in order to bring the Truck Series to the facilities, but Harvick even has a solution for that.
“Let’s figure out a way to help these tracks get soft walls if that’s what it takes for them to get a Truck race.”
In recent years, it’s appeared as though the Truck Series has been an afterthought, at best, when setting the schedule, and that’s definitely not how it should work for the series that puts on some of the best racing each weekend.
While some of the changes that were made for the 2018 schedule are a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go if NASCAR wants the series to remain around in the long term.
- Red Horse Racing abruptly shut down this week, with owner Tom DeLoach keeping a small group of people around in hopes of securing some sort of sponsorship to continue running. The organization, which has run in the series for the last 13 years, has 16 wins, 112 top fives and 236 top-10 finishes in 532 races.
Sponsorship, which has been hard to come by for the organization for the last few years, has been an issue in 2017 again. In a combined 1o races this season, drivers Timothy Peters and Brett Moffitt have had exactly one sponsor; a last minute deal put Harley Davidson Thunder Road on Peters’ No. 17 at Martinsville.
“I tried as long as I could but I can’t keep funding it out of my own pocket,” DeLoach told Motorsport.com. “We’ve tried as best as we could but I’ve finally decided I may be building a bridge to no where. I’m still looking, but I’ve told the guys if they could find employment elsewhere, don’t let us hold you back.”
The loss of the organization, which had two trucks inside the top 10 in the standings speaks of where the series sits as a whole. Costs are astronomical, manufacturer support is limited, at best, and sponsorship is hard to come by, even for a team that has had a presence in the series for so many years. It’s definitely a huge blow to the dwindling field, and speaks highly to the point that NASCAR has got to find a way to control costs, especially when those costs affect even a team that was a part of the championship race last season.
- Niece Motorsports and Victor Gonzalez Jr. have partnered for the Truck Series’ lone road course race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in September. Gonzalez will make his series debut behind the wheel of the No. 45 Chevrolet. The Puerto Rican driver made a pair of Cup Series starts at Watkins Glen and Sonoma in 2013 for Tommy Baldwin Racing. He also has seven previous XFINITY Series starts from 2009 through 2012, including a best finish of 14th at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada in his debut.
“I’m excited to get behind the wheel in the Truck Series,” said Gonzalez. “Road course racing is truly something that I enjoy, although road course racing in heavy stock cars is definitely different. I think that we can put together a really strong run this September in Canada, and I look forward to working with this Niece Motorsports team.”