COMMENTARY | Just a few years ago, the names fans heard in the Camping World Truck Series were Ron Hornaday Jr., Todd Bodine, Mike Skinner, Johnny Benson and Jack Sprague. While Hornaday Jr. (age 55) and Bodine (age 49) are still competing regularly in the series, many of the names and faces have changed - and so have their ages.
The Truck Series, while still having a couple of regular Cup Series "invaders" in Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, doesn't get as many non-points-racing drivers on its entry lists as the Nationwide Series does, and it has since become a better proving ground for young talent looking to break into NASCAR's big leagues.
Youth Takes Over the Truck Series - The past two Truck Series champions - James Buescher in 2012 and Austin Dillon in 2011 - are 23-year-olds. This season's points leader, veteran Matt Crafton (age 37), is being chased down by a group of youngsters: 20-year-old rookie Jeb Burton (son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton), 21-year-old Ty Dillon (younger brother of Austin and grandson of Richard Childress), Buescher, 19-year-old Ryan Blaney (son of sprint car champ and Sprint Cup Series driver Dave Blaney) and 19-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. - and these are just the drivers with a full-time ride.
Teenagers are Taking Over the Truck Series - In addition to Blaney and Wallace Jr., 17-year-olds Chase Elliott and Erik Jones are making waves in the series. Blaney became the series' youngest winner ever last September at Iowa Speedway, where the Truck Series races this Saturday, July 13th, at the age of 18 years, eight months and 15 days; it was just his third Truck Series start. His fellow Rookie of the Year competitor Wallace Jr. is just the fourth African-American driver to secure a full-time ride in one of NASCAR's top series, and it was a good one at that: with Kyle Busch Motorsports, as part of his development contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Elliott, son of 1988 Cup Series champ Bill Elliott, is a development driver with Hendrick Motorsports and is competing in nine Truck Series races in 2013. In three races so far, he has an average finish of 5.0, tying Kurt Busch for the best three-race start by a true NASCAR national series rookie. Jones, another young KBM driver, will drive in five races this season; in two races so far, he has two ninth-place finishes. Jones may be best remembered for beating Busch to win the 2012 Snowball Derby, a prestigious Late Model race. Elliott and Jones teamed up at the ARCA Racing Series event at Pocono Raceway in June to finish one-two, with Elliott becoming the youngest winner in ARCA history.
"Veterans" Taking Youngsters Under Their Wings - The advantage these young drivers have? The experience that's behind them. The Dillons have their team owner/grandfather and their father, former Nationwide Series driver Mike Dillon. Burton has his father, his uncle Jeff and veteran crew chief Mike Hillman Jr., who has 20 Truck Series wins on his resume, 19 of which came with Bodine, and two championships with Bodine. Blaney has both his father and his team owner, 2012 Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski (who, at the young age of 29, no longer seems like a kid around these drivers). Elliott has his championship-winning father and a foursome of Hendrick drivers at his fingertips - Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. Wallace Jr. and Jones, as well as their 23-year-old teammate Joey Coulter, have veteran Busch behind them (now 28, it's difficult to remember that he made his Truck Series debut 12 years ago at age 16).
While the Nationwide series has always been looked at as the "Triple-A" league in NASCAR, the true development series for NASCAR these days is the Camping World Truck Series.
Source: "Storylines" New Hampshire and Iowa," NASCAR Media, July 8, 2013
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