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As the Camping World Truck Series comes into Martinsville Speedway off of a three-week hiatus, the eight playoff drivers are set to make their bid for the Championship 4 and a chance to race for the title next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
Christian Eckes and Tate Fogleman each scored their first career wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, respectively, and more importantly, the duo prevented any of the eight eligible playoff drivers from securing their spot in the championship race.
All eyes will be on the playoff drivers and you know the race broadcast will spend a ridiculous amount of time following points as they run during Saturday’s (Oct. 30) Martinsville coverage. And while setting the Championship 4 is important, especially with no one locked in at this point, there are plenty of other storylines to follow.
Will there be another first-time winner?
Eckes and Fogleman helped cap off a three-race stretch of first-time winners by following up Chandler Smith, who scored his first victory at Bristol Motor Speedway to lock himself into the Round of 8 with a little help from teammate John Hunter Nemechek.
The last time the Truck Series saw three straight first-time winners? It was 2008, when Matt Crafton kicked it off with his first career win before Donny Lia and Scott Speed followed. But what’s even more interesting is what series hasn’t even seen.
Why is that important with the playoffs and setting the Championship 4 being the center focus this weekend? It’s simple, actually. Martinsville Speedway has been host to 11 first-time winners since 2000 when Bobby Hamilton snagged his first of 10 career wins during a part-time campaign that season. Most recently, Todd Gilliland accomplished the feat in 2019 ahead of his departure from Kyle Busch Motorsports after a tumultuous two years that saw owner/driver Kyle Busch publicly call out his drivers for lack of performance.
Obviously, a first-time winner isn’t a guarantee, but take the beating and banging nature of short-track racing and add in the desperation of having only two races left to find victory lane before the end of the 2021 season, it’s definitely possible.
Camping World still has money to hand out
Back in February, Camping World CEO and avid supporter of the Truck Series, Marcus Lemonis, announced bonus prize money for various points in the season. The first was $50,000 split between Ben Rhodes and his road crew for winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Nemechek’s road crew snagged a combined $125,000 for leading the points standings following races at Kansas Speedway and Knoxville Raceway.
Of course, we can’t forget about the Triple Truck Challenge in its third year. Sheldon Creed (Darlington), Gilliland (Circuit of the Americas) and Nemechek (Charlotte Motor Speedway) each earned $50,000 for winning their respective races.
But there are still a couple prizes left to hand out.
— NASCAR Camping World Trucks (@NASCAR_Trucks) October 27, 2021
If I had to guess off the top of my head, I would have assumed it was Nemechek who had the most laps led, given that he’s got five wins and has been atop the series standings for the majority of the season. But a trio of dominant runs at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Darlington Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway during the Round of 10 actually gave Creed the edge.
Interestingly enough, the prize is still up for grabs as Nemechek has 570 laps led, compared to Creed’s 602. And with 350 laps still left to run this season, Gilliland mathematically remains in that battle as well, though he’d need to flat dominate the final two races while hoping Nemechek and Creed don’t lead a single one (highly unlikely) since he sits at 226 circuits in front of the field this season.
In addition to the prize money, this year’s champion will also receive an electric truck and a Lordstown electric RV.
Sage Karam making Truck Series debut
Typically, Martinsville brings out a host of teams trying to make the field, but the last two seasons of setting the field without running qualifying has changed that a bit. In turn, those making their series debuts at the half-mile oval have decreased significantly. But this weekend, part-time NTT IndyCar Series driver Sage Karam will make his Truck Series debut, piloting the No. 3 Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet.
Welcome back @SageKaram 👊🏼
Looking forward to having Sage behind the wheel of the 31 Camaro at @BMSupdates and @CLTMotorSpdwy later this year along with making his @NASCAR_Trucks debut at @MartinsvilleSwy in the 3. pic.twitter.com/kxg04Vls0G
— Jordan Anderson (@j66anderson) September 10, 2021
Karam made the jump to NASCAR earlier this season with his Xfinity Series debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course behind the wheel of the No. 31 JAR Chevrolet. He suffered electrical issues and wasn’t able to finish and instead walked away with a 26th-place result. Since that debut, he’s run Bristol Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL where he finished 16th and 25th, respectively, though his ROVAL finish could have been much higher if not for a late-race incident.
Fast forward to this weekend and Karam will try his hand at the Truck Series as he continues to make his way through a part-time NASCAR schedule among other ventures. Given that Martinsville can easily turn into an attrition race, if Karam can keep himself out of trouble and make the most of his seat time, I’d expect a minimum of a top 20 out of him. But the key here is going to be for him to keep his nose clean so he can be around at the end of the race.
- In what will hopefully be one of the last weekends for the field to be set by the metrics formula as opposed to qualifying, Nemechek will start on the pole at Martinsville. Gilliland will line up alongside him on the front row, followed by Rhodes and Creed. Crafton rounds out the top five starters.
- According to FOX Sports, Stewart Friesen will participate in a test of the Next Gen car at Wythe Raceway, a half-mile high-banked dirt oval on a date yet to be determined. The goal is for Friesen to help determine a tire to be used with the car on the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt surface.
Stewart Friesen will test a Next Gen car on the Wythe Raceway dirt track, a half-mile high-banked clay oval (date TBD) to help determine a tire for the Bristol dirt race. Friesen gives some interesting insight on why a harder tire likely would be better: pic.twitter.com/sxMv8Q3MIP
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) October 27, 2021
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