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Truckin’ Thursdays: Deegan, Ankrum Among Drivers Who Need Strong Atlanta Runs

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John Hunter Nemechek

Just two races into the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, John Hunter Nemechek had finishes of seventh and third, while sitting second in the standings. It was the third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year that the driver of the No. 4 Toyota scored his first of five victories on the year. And though he came up short in the championship battle, when Nemechek signed to return to Kyle Busch Motorsports this season, many pointed to him as a title favorite.

Instead, Nemechek has finishes of 24th and 25th to open the 2022 season and currently sits ninth in the standings.

Obviously, it’s awfully early to sound the alarm bells for the No. 4 team, especially given the strength KBM has shown in years past, along with Chandler Smith‘s victory last weekend. But it’s enough to make you sit up and pay attention.

The good news for Nemechek is that he’s led double-digit laps in both races this season. After leading 50 circuits in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, he got caught up in the Big One that brought out the yellow just seconds before the field took the white flag. Two weeks later at Las Vegas, Nemechek ran inside the top five for much of the race and even led 23 laps before a late-race restart shuffled him back in the field. He later suffered a flat tire and had hard contact with Jordan Anderson that heavily damaged both trucks but didn’t bring out the yellow at the end of the race.

Nemechek has a lone victory at Atlanta in 2016, piloting his family-owned No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet. He finished third in this race last season after winning both stages and leading 21 laps.

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Truckin' Thursdays: Why Did NASCAR Leave Spencer Boyd Sitting Wrecked at Las Vegas?

 

Zane Smith

After winning at Daytona, Zane Smith rode the high all the way through a weekend off into a second-place finish at Las Vegas. But illegal lug nuts ended in a penalty and disqualification that dropped him to a last-place finish. A tweet from Smith indicated the lug nuts in question were linked to a supply issue.

But despite those claims, the National Motorsports Appeals panel upheld the penalty, which fell under Section 14.6.1: Wheel Assembly 1-4 Lug Nuts. Instead of sitting pretty near the top of the standings, Smith now finds himself 12th, although his Daytona victory would still allow him to make the playoffs.

While his position in the championship battle is still in a good spot, the disqualification is a definite momentum killer for the driver who’s come up just shy of winning the title the last two seasons. Smith has had some solid runs at Atlanta the last two seasons, finishing fifth and sixth.

Tyler Ankrum

After a dismal 2021 that saw Tyler Ankrum finish inside the top 10 just five times in 22 races, the 21-year-old moved to his third team in four seasons, this time driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises. Running for the team that won eight races and scored 45 top 10s over the last three seasons with Austin Hill, Ankrum entered this season with high hopes for a change in environment.

However, finishes of 28th and 16th have him sitting 17th in the standings already, a far cry from where Ankrum would like to be at this point. At Daytona, he was battling for the win when the Big One was triggered and ultimately took him out of the race.

The good news is Ankrum talks about his team like he’s been pleased with the speed behind the wheel, although Atlanta has only been average for the fourth-year driver. He’s previously posted finishes of 15th and 18th in the last two seasons at the track but hasn’t led a single lap.

Hailie Deegan

After posting just a single top-10 finish in her rookie season, the expectation for Hailie Deegan was that she’d enter this season with the experience needed to perform better. But so far, finishes of 17th and 33rd don’t show that improvement. The unfortunate part for Deegan is that the results don’t show what actually happened for her on race day.

At Daytona, she was running right around the top 10 when she was caught up in the Big One on lap 99. Multiple pit stops allowed her team to repair the truck enough for her to limp home 17th, two spots higher than she restarted on the overtime finish. The following week at Las Vegas, Deegan was caught up in two incidents within a span of less than 10 laps, and despite meeting the minimum speed after repairs, the damage was ultimately too much to overcome.

Last season, Deegan finished 21st, one lap down at Atlanta in a race that was slowed by just the two stage cautions. The driver of the No. 1 Ford currently sits 27th in the standings and needs nothing more than a quiet, solid race and a little confidence booster to continue the season.

See also
Hailie Deegan, Matt Kenseth Running in SRX

Honorable Mention

  • After failing to qualify for the season opener at Daytona, Anderson was on the way to a top-15 finish at Las Vegas before late contact with a spinning Nemechek that resulted in a 26th-place finish. He currently sits 36th in the standings. Add in the team owner side of things where his Xfinity driver Myatt Snider took flight at Daytona and it’s been a tough season for Anderson just a few weeks into the year.
  • Grant Enfinger made the move to GMS Racing after piecing together a nearly full season, despite sponsorship problems that forced him to share the No. 98 at ThorSport Racing last year. But he was caught up in the Big One at Daytona and was again snared in a late wreck at Las Vegas. Finishes of 29th and 23rd have him sitting deep in the standings in 25th. He won at Atlanta in 2020.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Just two races into the 2022 season, the field is down to just three drivers who have finished inside the top 10 in both starts. Matt DiBenedetto, Tanner Gray and Ty Majeski are those three, and Gray has finished inside the top five in both races. By comparison, Gray had just one top five and two top 10s in the entirety of the 2021 season.
  • There are 36 trucks on the entry list for Saturday’s race at Atlanta, meaning all drivers will make the field. Matt Mills returns to the No. 20 Chevrolet following a 15th-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway two weeks ago. Ross Chastain will also will make his first Truck Series start this season in a fifth truck for Niece Motorsports.

About the author

Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 15-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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John Matthew

Give Deegan a clean race and see what she does. I’d like to see that.

Bruce Pater

No luck at All, been driving well, caught up in “racing deals”.

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