For once, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series was the biggest thing going in a weekend. That, in and of itself, may be the best takeaway from a nostalgia-filled return of NASCAR's third-level series to one of the sport's most traditional tracks.
There were many aspects to enjoy from NASCAR's much-anticipated return to Rockingham Speedway (formerly North Carolina Motor Speedway). The venerable track and iconic black press box looked the part on television; the grandstands filled beyond what many expected – NASCAR listed Sunday's attendance at 27,500 – and the race itself was pretty solid, too, as Kasey Kahne slip-slided to his fourth NCWTS win in five tries. Andy Hillenburg, Rockingham's affable track owner, even got perfect weather with bright sun peering through spotty clouds in the Richmond County, N.C., sky.
It was the perfect venue, the perfect day and the perfect result for the NASCAR's truck racers who are too often the minor cog in NASCAR's big machine. And if I can have any influence on the NASCAR brain trust, I'd say it should be a lesson in how the two Sprint Cup undercards should be treated on future schedules.
This season, Rockingham is one of three tracks where the NCWTS will race as the headliner during it's 22-race schedule. Eighteen events will either pair the truck series as a warmup act for Sprint Cup, Nationwide or IndyCar race weekends.
Don't get me wrong: there's some good exposure offered to the NCWTS (and that Nationwide Series, for that matter) by partnering with Sprint Cup for a race weekend. More Cup drivers seem to cross ranks and a large crowd for the Cup race invariably results in more tickets sold for the support events.
But there's a point where both of those series should be allowed to stand more on their own and ideally succeed like the trucks did at Rockingham Sunday. And by doing so, NASCAR may find themselves opening new doors in new markets – or, in the case of Rockingham – coming back to ones that have missed the product. Mostly, though, it would give the feeder series a way to avoid being caught in the Sprint Cup blender – affording drivers and teams to take more of the spotlight.
The idea is certainly not easy to implement right away. Standalone events are a tougher sell, with some tracks having closed down because they couldn't draw without the Cup Series. But there are still venues, both and old new, that could be worth a shot with the right promoter and the right regional excitement like Rockingham has. And while we're at it, why not change things up in a sure-fire way to generate buzz? Let's get one or both series to race on a dirt track in 2013. Eldora would sell out in minutes.
Rockingham was a splendid cap to a mostly decent weekend for NASCAR after the Sprint Cup Series finished the two-night show at Texas Motor Speedway. It was a breath of fresh air to the truck series and came at a point in the schedule where nearly everyone in the industry had a chance to step back and see the likes of Nelson Piquet Jr., James Buescher and Parker Kligerman fight their way around the tricky one mile.
There's a lot to like with NASCAR's return to Rockingham. Let's hope we see more.
HOT: Two weeks ago, I wrote that Greg Biffle wasn't impressing me despite leading the points. I was wrong. That's a big win for the No. 16 team.
NOT: You've got to think the temperature of Joey Logano's seat at Joe Gibbs Racing is continuing a steadily rise. The No. 20 hasn't sniffed the top 10 since Phoenix and has finished 16th or worse in every race since. There's a lot sponsor money from Home Depot and Dollar General riding on his car, especially with Kurt Busch looming over the 2013 NASCAR Silly Season.
HOT: Admittedly, I would've liked a caution somewhere in the final 234 laps of Saturday night's race to bring the field together and create some drama. That said, I'm beyond impressed that 35 or so drivers were able to sling around Texas' 1.5-miles without incident for over two hours. I'd bet many had quite a lazy day Sunday in recovery.
HOT: Are you still waiting for Michael Waltrip Racing to crack? If so, I don't blame you. We've been conditioned to expect it by now. But they aren't, and it's time to start thinking of Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. as Chase contenders.
NEUTRAL: Tony Stewart and his No. 14 team just never found the handle of TMS and it showed with his surprising 24th-place run. Smoke fans shouldn't be too worried. He'll bounce back.
NOT: Aside from his Watkins Glen win in 2011, it seems any time Marcos Ambrose gets close to a good finish a small problem takes away the chance. Saturday night, Ambrose raced up front all night until his No. 9 ran out of fuel in final laps.
HOT: 2011 Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., now has two wins, four top-5s and five top-10s in that series' first six races. His Sprint Cup future appears very bright.
NEUTRAL: Some driver in a bright green car moved from 17th to 8th in Friday night's 300-miler at Texas. Yep, Danica Patrick led the charge for the JR Motorsports team that included some guy named Earnhardt.
HOT: Nelson Piquet Jr. watched his chances at his first NCTWS victory slip away Sunday at Rockingham Speedway thanks to a pit road speeding penalty during the final caution flag. Still, he finished 7th and led over 100 laps. But his best move of the day came after he climbed from his Chevrolet and complimented how great Rockingham was to drive. It's a line that should printed on the wall of every NASCAR executive.
"I think the good thing about Rockingham is that the tires fall off so fast and you have to really race these trucks a lot," Piquet said. "The whole race, you're on the edge and I think that's what makes a great race. I was really happy with that part of it. I wish we had more races like these."
Tires that had a regular wear pattern and an abrasive surface put the race in the drivers' hands at Rockingham. When you do that, races become a lot more fun to watch.
On to Kansas.
Geoffrey Miller has covered motorsports since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffreyMiller.