Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks
On Friday night (June 7), Greg Biffle makes his long-awaited return to NASCAR, piloting the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
What I hope to see in that race is Biffle battling it out with Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen for the win while schooling every driver ages 18-25. Having a race like that would be awesome because it would throw it back to the Truck Series of old — the Truck Series I grew up watching.
The Truck Series used to consist of the veteran, middle-aged, blue-collar drivers who laid it all out on the line every week. They had passion, they had aggression and, most importantly, they were unfiltered. They had personalities that fans could latch onto, and the general consensus was that these guys earned their rides. Daddy’s money certainly didn’t buy their ride, because most of them probably had fathers who were retired. It was a group of drivers who wouldn’t have let Kyle Busch come down and bat 1.000 against them.
From the series’ inception in 1995 until 2010, only one Truck champion was under the age of 30, and that was Travis Kvapil, who won the 2003 championship at age 27. Even Biffle, who was an up-and-coming NASCAR star, had just turned 30 when he won his title in 2000. And to win those titles, Kvapil and Biffle had to beat the likes of Jack Sprague, Dennis Setzer and Ted Musgrave, all of who were over the age of 35. Setzer and Musgrave were in their 40s. Sprague, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner completely dominated the series in the early years before Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans Bobby Hamilton, Johnny Benson Jr. and Todd Bodine moved back down and won championships before the ends of their respective careers.
But in 2011, Austin Dillon won the title at age 21, and James Buescher won it the following season at 22 years old. That, along with NASCAR re-lowering the Truck Series’ minimum age to 16, started a trend of younger and younger drivers getting into the series. With every team wanting the next young superstar and TRD signing what seems like every driver in the world under the age of 25, all of the Truck rides were filled with kids while the veterans were left without rides or sponsors.
Hornaday is the greatest driver in series history (unless you count Kyle Busch), and yet he had an unceremonious retirement when he didn’t have a sponsor to back him. Benson and Bodine had similar fates. More recently, Timothy Peters was the veteran who was a championship threat every year. He proved he still had talent last fall when he won at Talladega Superspeedway, yet Peters still couldn’t land a full-time ride for this season and has only shown up to the track in four of eight races in 2019.
So with that, there’s only four drivers remaining that would fit in with the gritty drivers of the early Truck Series. It’s the four drivers I listed earlier: Sauter, Crafton, Enfinger and Friesen. Joe Nemechek would also fit this description, but he’s a start-and-park entry most weeks despite driving for a team that won just last year.
Instead, we’re mainly stuck a bunch of kids in the series. What fan wants to root for an 18-year-old who’s never had a real job in his or her life and only has a ride because of sponsorship? The result is an entire generation of drivers who get the fast track to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series despite only beating equally inexperienced drivers their age. And when they get to Cup, they don’t have any fans and it takes a long time for them to have success at that level. How many William Byron or Erik Jones fans do you see out there? How much success have those two had in Cup despite dominating the lower levels?
The drivers who came out of the Truck Series when Hornaday, Sprague and Hamilton were running point had immediate success at the Cup level because they had been thrown to the wolves and already survived. The list of drivers that came out of Trucks during that time includes Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. All four won in either their first or second season of Cup and already had quite the following by the time they got there.
That’s why we need a guy like Biffle back in the Truck Series. Hopefully Biffle has a good enough run and so much fun this weekend that he gets the itch to come back and go for a second Truck championship. And hopefully Busch is so fed up with his current full-time drivers’ lack of success that he’s willing to put Biffle in one of those trucks (or another team does the same) and the sponsors are cool with it.
Biffle turns 50 later this year. If he goes out there and whips up on all of the so-called future NASCAR superstars in the field, it will give more veteran drivers the idea of racing in Trucks and more team owners the idea of hiring veterans. Drivers such as Peters, newly minted Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne (if his health allowed him), Trevor Bayne, Casey Mears, David Reutimann, Dave Blaney and Jeff Green should all be trading paint in the Truck Series right now. Bill Elliott ran a NASCAR Xfinity Series race last year. Who wouldn’t want to see Awesome Bill race a truck? It’d also be great to have short track legends like Philip Morris, Lee Pulliam and Peyton Sellers moving up late in their careers in the same manner as Hornaday and Skinner.
With a field like that, Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton winning would carry more weight, and the experience gained from racing that pack would better prepare them for the Cup level. More importantly, fans would get a gritty group of drivers they can relate to instead of a bunch of spoiled teenagers.
The culture of the Truck Series would have to change a lot for it to go back to that manner. Perhaps Biffle running this Truck race at Texas is the start of that culture swing.