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After struggling to get through the first couple months of the season when trucks were on track exactly three times between Feb. and May, suddenly the Camping World Truck Series hit the halfway point of its regular season last weekend at Gateway Motorsports Park. Now, with momentum under their belts, several teams are hitting their stride as the season edges ever closer to the seven-race playoffs that will begin at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
While the off weeks have been incredibly quiet, the season hasn’t been without its storylines. From a first-time winner at Daytona to a couple first-time wins that have slipped away near the end, there’s no shortage of things going on, especially now that the racing has ramped up substantially.
Eight races into the 2017 season, and there have been six different winners, only one of which was a first timer. Four of those winners have been series regulars trying to assert themselves as championship favorites going into the second half of the regular season. Chase Elliott, who won at Martinsville, and Kyle Busch, who has a pair of back-to-back victories at Kansas and Charlotte, mark the three events the series regulars took a back seat.
Kaz Grala snuck through the last-lap carnage at Daytona to end the season opener in Victory Lane, giving him an early point lead and potentially locking the rookie into the playoffs.
Fast forward to Atlanta Motor Speedway and it was Christopher Bell who emerged victorious after leading 99 of 130 laps. The driver of the No. 4 Toyota also has a victory at Texas, though that one was by mere inches over Chase Briscoe after a scary flip for Timothy Peters as the leaders took the white flag.
Almost three months and four races later, defending champion Johnny Sauter won at Dover, leading just the final 33 laps en route to Victory Lane. Then, last weekend at Gateway saw one of the most emotional wins of the year when John Hunter Nemechek emerged from the troubles he’s faced for much of the season, including sponsorship uncertainty, to celebrate in Victory Lane. The win meant so much to him that he couldn’t control the tears that flowed after the checkered flag flew.
Meanwhile, this year’s rookie class has definitely made some noise, starting with Grala in Victory Lane at Daytona, but it doesn’t end there. In fact, four of the top 10 in the standings are rookie contenders, and three of those are currently in position to make the playoffs.
Chase Briscoe, who’s fresh off of back-to-back runner-up finishes, sits fourth in points and is the highest rookie in the standings. He nearly had his first career win at Texas, and he led 88 laps at Gateway last weekend after starting on the pole. It appears that it’s only a matter of time before the No. 29 team gets to celebrate in Victory Lane.
Briscoe is tied in the rookie standings with Grant Enfinger, who current sits sixth in points. The driver of the No. 98 Toyota is fresh off of a fifth-place finish at Gateway, which marked his third-straight top five. Grala sits eighth in points and has the win to help put him in position for the playoffs.
Noah Gragson is 10th in the standings and scored his first career pole at Texas Motor Speedway. Briscoe’s teammate, Austin Cindric, finds himself 12th in the standings, followed by Cody Coughlin in 13th. Justin Haley, who’s run a part-time schedule so far, sits 14th. Meanwhile, Stewart Friesen, who entered the year planning to run full-time has been sidelined and will be back at Kentucky Speedway next month.
Friday night’s race at Iowa Speedway marks the downhill slide to the playoffs, and with Eldora, Bristol and Canadian Tire Motorsports Park still looming before the championship field is set, you can bet there’s still plenty of excitement to be had. There are, of course, several drivers that appear to be on the cusp of their first career wins, along with a veteran in Matt Crafton who has yet to find Victory Lane.
We may have hit the halfway point in the regular season, but the fun has only just begun.
- The entry list for Friday night’s Iowa 200 at Iowa Speedway sits at 30 trucks as of press time, and since the Cup Series is in California this weekend for the road course race at Sonoma, it’s a chance for the series regulars to shine once again. 2015 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Rookie of the Year Trey Hutchens will make his Truck Series debut with Bolen Motorsports, while Martins Motorsports, which shifted its focus to the XFINITY Series earlier this year, returns with Matt Mills behind the wheel of the No. 42.
- The last two Truck Series races at Iowa Speedway saw rookies from Kyle Busch Motorsports celebrating in Victory Lane. In 2015, it was Erik Jones who took the win, and William Byron emerged victorious in 2016. Nine rookie of the year contenders are entered for Friday night’s race.
- With four winners already this season and another eight races until the playoff field is set, points could turn out to be incredibly important for those with only one victory. Christopher Bell is the only driver who can relax a little, though not too much, since he has two wins this year. The rest need to make the most of the remaining eight races to ensure their spot in the championship battle.