By Vito Pugliese – The Camping World Truck Series will be the first of NASCAR’s three national series to kick off their season this Friday night in Daytona.
Often proclaimed the best racing of the weekend, the CWTS will see many changes when the green flag falls. Here’s a list of five notable things to watch for in their first of 22 races this year.
NASCAR unveiled the new body style for the 2014 trucks on Wednesday and the result was a bit of a throwback. Not necessarily the retro redux of the Nationwide Series that features Camaros, Mustangs, and Challengers, but a profile that is reminiscent of the original Truck Series bodies back in the mid to late 1990s.
The trucks last year began to take on the cobbled and cock-eyed look the last year of the Gen-4 Cup cars back in 2007; however they look decidedly more truck-y. The new box rocks however, as brand identity extends to these beer cans as well, and one would hope the new look might help lure Chrysler and the RAM brand back into the fold.
Oh, then there’s that side benefit of punching big hole in the air with boxy air-unfriendly girth typically resulting in better racing and less whining about aero-push.
2. First Time Winners
Daytona is the perfect place for some one-offs and fresh faces, and this weekend will be no different. Ben Kennedy may not be a household name to many, but it just may be after Friday night. The great-grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., the 22-year-old driver was fastest in Wednesday’s practice for the NextEra Energy Resources 250.
Kennedy will be driving the No. 31 Florida Lottery/Whelen Engineering Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports, replacing 2012 champion James Buescher. Hendrick horsepower and Turner Scott trucks are never lacking in horsepower or speed on the big tracks, making him a contender from the get go. That coupled with Daytona loving a first time winner (just ask John King), and another chapter in the France racing dynasty just might be beginning.
3. Hired Guns, Just For Fun
Perhaps the biggest shock to the series before the season kicked off was news that Jeb Burton was out of a full-time ride after sponsor Arrowhead did not make due on their payments for the 2014 season. After an outpouring of support and keep-your-head-up Tweets from fans and fellow drivers, Burton was announced as a late addition for this race at ThorSport Racing.
Getting a ride with the defending series and Daytona champions isn’t a bad thing, and it’s safe to say that the second-generation driver has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. And that little matter of needing to find a full-time ride the rest of the season. The team is part-time and TBD for much of the season, but winning the biggest race of the year has a way of elevating people’s thinking.
Also look for Cup Series talent Parker Kligerman in the No. 58, and 2003 Truck Series champion Travis Kvapil to make a start as well this Friday night. And speaking of hired guns, GunBroker.com drivers Brennan Newberry and 2012 Daytona winner John King, will be racing for gun safety.
Sponsor Gun Broker will be donating $24 for every lap they run in the top 10 during the race to benefit Project Child Safe http://www.projectchildsafe.org, a national gun safety program sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
4. 11th Hour Star Power
When you’re an established and successful driver you get to a point in your career where you don’t have to just take what’s given to you – one can pick and choose their battles. Ron Hornaday is in such a position, and when the four-time series champion found himself without a ride for the 2014 season, he was content to wait out the right opportunity for Daytona.
He found that at ThorSport Racing and provides a fitting bookend to young Jeb Burton with the championship and defending Daytona winning team. The team is looking to expand their involvement and participation past Daytona should suitable sponsorship be found. The deal came together kind of late, but with a team of this caliber and Hornaday’s experience, they’re going to be a factor Friday night for sure.
5. This Onion Won’t Make You Cry
Todd Bodine is no stranger to Daytona, winning back-to-back in 2008 and 2009 in the CWTS, and going airborne in 2011. This year however, the two-time series champion will be in the broadcast booth providing commentary with FoxSports 1. It’s always great when a driver joins the booth, particularly when it’s one who’s been behind the wheel recently. Todd’s usually not one to mince words and will provide a new perspective for the action Friday night in the NextEra Energy Resources 250.
The race can be seen on FoxSports 1 starting at 7:30pm EST.
EMAIL VITO AT firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @vitopugliese