Over the past few years, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series has produced some of the best racing in NASCAR, and the talent within isn’t too shabby, either. With the likes of Erik Jones, William Byron and Tyler Reddick quickly ascending the ranks from pickups to NASCAR Cup Series cars, the Truck Series has become a breeding ground for talent.
However, with a bounty, expanding field limits and lesser track time, the landscape is changing, as Kyle Busch is not the only Cup competitor anymore to trickle down into the trucks; Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole, Timmy Hill and Garrett Smithley have been leading the charge in 2020. Yet relatively new restrictions prevented the Cup drivers from competing every week, which begs the question: what difference would full-time cup competitors in the Truck Series make?
We saw Truck campaigner Zane Smith show his might last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway when he went toe to toe with Busch and Elliott. While Smith turned a lot of heads for his performance, imagine if he could do that with them for an entire season. The series in the 2000s provides somewhat of a case study for this very thought.
Todd Bodine, Ted Musgrave, Bobby Hamilton and Johnny Benson Jr. had all reached the pinnacle of stock car racing, but their opportunities to continue their Cup careers were drying up. To continue their careers, opportunities were easily found down the ladder in the Truck Series, where all found success and ended their careers as multi-time winners. Yet each week, they were putting on a tremendous show every week with youngsters Carl Edwards, David Reutimann and Brendan Gaughan, all of whom would find success on up the ladder thanks to their performance.
Like Bodine, Musgrave and others, there are tenured drivers who have found it difficult to stay at the top in NASCAR. With the influx of both competitive rides and talent in the trucks, what better way to spice things up than to pull some grizzly veterans down the ladder?
Here are eight drivers who could resurrect their careers in pickup trucks.
Since being called up back into the Cup series this season, Kenseth’s return has been lackluster, to say the least. Despite a lack of practice and qualifying in 2020, the ageless Kenseth has only scored one top 10 in eight starts, but his competitive fire still seems to burn. With his future plans unknown beyond the 2020 season, should it be time for Kenseth to look for a competitive full-season Truck ride?
While Kenseth has never made a Truck start, the schedule is just 23 races long, or about 60% of what a 38-week Cup season is. That means the schedule is far less demanding than what Kenseth has experienced at the Cup level, especially for someone with four children. Harry Gant and Mark Martin continued to win races well into their 50s, it is certainly plausible to say Kenseth can do it as well.
While it is often forgotten, AJ Allmendinger’s NASCAR career actually began when he was making sporadic Truck starts for Darrell Waltrip’s former team. Known as being one of the most versatile drivers in American motorsports, the former Champ Car ace went on to have a lengthy Cup career before being ousted from JTG Daugherty Racing in 2018.
After excelling on NASCAR’s road courses, Allmendinger finally proved he can win on an oval after recently taking the Xfinity Series crown at Atlanta Motor Speedway in May, driving his part-time entry at Kaulig Racing. With a variety of challenging ovals, stand-alone events, a road course and a tricky dirt track, the trucks would be yet another suitable challenge for the Californian.
Ragan has been trying to make some Truck races as of late for DGR-Crosley, a team partially owned by his friend and former teammate David Gilliland. However, due to owner points and a field cap, Ragan is still waiting to make his first Truck start since 2006.
After downsizing and essentially starting from scratch following their switch to Ford this year, DGR could be a solid home for Ragan long term. Despite two Cup wins and 13 full-time years of big-league experience, Ragan fits the mold of a so-called washed-up competitor who could perhaps give the younger truckers a run for their money.
Some have said that if Cassill could get the right opportunity, he would shine in a fully funded ride. Yes, he was in the Hendrick Motorsports farm system at one time, but throughout his career, Cassill has built up a reputation for getting the most out of older equipment in any series. From an entertainment standpoint, it would perhaps be quite the sight to see Cassill in a competitive truck.
Like most on this list, Cassill has very limited Truck starts, the latest coming in 2010. It would be a learning process for the driver to get acclimated to the modern trucks, but that further adds to the challenges, storylines and drama that makes the series so exciting.
While he may still be trying to make a name for himself in NASCAR, the 30-year-old Earnhardt could follow the route taken by Brett Moffitt. Like Earnhardt, Moffitt has bounced around from ride to ride and series to series. However, Moffitt finally found a consistent home wheeling pickup trucks for proven organizations and ultimately won a championship for Hattori Racing Enterprises a few years ago.
Although he has ambitions to return to Cup, Moffitt is still chasing championships with GMS Racing, which has proved to be a very stable ride so far. Earnhardt, who has found it difficult to maintain job security, could also return the family name back to the series. It was his grandfather, Dale Earnhardt, who was one of the original owners in the series when it first got off the ground in 1995.
Sure, he was NASCAR’s biggest Cinderella stories after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. Sure, he failed to live up to his hype and Jack Roush’s wishes. Sure, he has been out of a Cup ride for over two years. But the Truck Series has proved to be an equal opportunity employer, and Bayne could fit the bill.
Not to be overlooked, it certainly does take sponsorship to fund any full-time effort, but it does not call for as much of a robust financial appetite as the higher series do. Bayne may not have the sponsorship connections that he once had, but it could still work. An average driver by statistical record, Bayne is a solid measuring stick for young up-and-coming drivers to get experience competing against a Cup competitor.
Like the Matt Craftons and Johnny Sauters nowadays, Starr was on the way to be a lifer in the Truck Series. However, the Texan, who competed on the circuit from 1998 until 2013, ultimately chose to move up to the Xfinity Series full time in 2015 at the ripe age of 47.
After losing his Xfinity ride earlier this season due to sponsorship woes, Starr has been working the phones to get back into the normal swing of full-time auto racing. With age not slowing him down and Truck wins plus experience on his resume, it could turn him back into a competitive trophy hunter.
Gaughan may have already announced his impending retirement from racing set for the end of the 2020 season, but you never know what you get with the ever-charismatic 44-year-old. After a, quote, “easy flip” at Talladega Superspeedway last year, he is sure still to be in the thick of things revolving around NASCAR.
Although it was far less popular during his time in trucks, Gaughan proved his weight by working his way up through the series, competing each and every week with the likes of Hamilton, Musgrave and Bodine. With Gaughan now in the twilight of his career, the Las Vegas businessman might just want to school those kids one more time.