Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, the NC Education Lottery 200 was a glorious reminder of all the reasons why I love auto racing and especially the NCWTS.
The battle in the closing laps between @Erik_Jones and Cup veteran @KaseyKahne should give NASCAR fans reason to breathe a sigh of relief for the future of the sport. Jones gave the veteran no quarter for the final 20 laps of the race and had fans out of their seats as the two fought fender-to-fender to the checkered flag. It was only a matter of pure luck that when they bounced off of each other approaching the finish line, Kahne’s truck inched forward ahead of Jones’ and denied the 18-year-old the win.
“I just can’t believe we lost it,” said Jones in a post-race interview on Fox Sports 1. It had been the second week in-a-row that the young man dominated the NCWTS race only to lose it in the closing laps. A late pit stop for fuel in Kansas robbed him of a sure victory last weekend.
The Truck Series has gone through a multitude of changes since its inception. The original concept, which dates back to the early 1990s made the series a home for Cup drivers past their prime. It also was an opportunity for drivers who were stars in late model or other stock car-based series to move up the professional driving ladder and maybe make an impression on one of the owners in the Cup Series.
It became a proving ground for young talent, offering an entry-level into NASCAR. Several of today’s biggest stars came through the ranks that way – Carl Edwards, the Busch brothers and @GBiffle all started out in the Truck Series. The fans may have come out to see the former Cup stars, but they were introduced to the future stars of the sport.
Over the years, the ranks of the former Cup drivers in the NCWTS got thinner and thinner, as did the stars from other series. Rules changes and the involvement by Cup team owners like Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick turned the series into the ideal starting point for developing new talent and in more recent years, a laboratory for potential rules changes by NASCAR’s competition department.
In 2015, a typical NCWTS field consists of three distinct groups. There’s a handful of Cup drivers that are in a truck either because they own the team – like Brad @Keselowski or @KyleBusch (when he’s healthy). Or maybe its a driver looking to make a few extra dollars like David Gilliland.
There’s a second group of drivers I like to call series’ “regulars.” This group includes @Matt_Crafton, @JohnnySauter, @TimothyPeters17 and @JWTownley. These drivers have either won races or championships or both and their participation in the Truck Series is in no way a reflection on their talent. It is just a matter of circumstance that has them racing full time in a truck.
And then there are the young guns. These are the 18-24 year olds whose participation in the NCWTS is their foot in the NASCAR door. This season’s “crop” of up-and-comers – Erik Jones, @dnlsuarez (Daniel Suarez), @jbossracing (Justin Boston), @Matt_Tifft, @DanielHemric, @BrandonJonesRac and @23SpeedRacer (Spencer Gallagher) – may be the most talented and memorable rookie class in the series’ 20-plus year history.
In the past, it often took several races or a season or two for a young driver to get comfortable with the fast speeds, ever-changing setups and ultra aggressive competition. Now we see drivers like Jones and Suarez coming into the NCWTS and making an impression from their first race.
Jones’ frustration with the outcome of the race is, unfortunately, part of the learning process in NASCAR. The same could be said for Spencer Gallagher’s spin during qualifying for Friday’s race and Daniel Hemric’s late race flat tire that cost him a chance at a top 10 finish.
So, despite its far-too-low purse payouts for races and the continuing difficulty it’s teams have in attracting new sponsors to the series, the NCWTS in 2015 is alive and well. It’s designed to be low cost. Certainly it can be said that no one is getting rich in the NCWTS. It’s role, however, in developing the talent for NASCAR’s future is critical and the series deserves far more attention than it already receives – especially from the fans. Fox Sports 1 does an admirable job of promoting the series, but NASCAR could do more with the series and its drivers.
At a time when too many current and former NASCAR fans are finding the sport less than appealing, perhaps taking in a few NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races could provide a glimpse into the future, today. And the racing is often the best show of the weekend.
This might be the place to point out that NASCAR is like the weather. If you don’t like it, hang around for a bit. It’s about to change.
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