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For years, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been putting on compelling, exciting and dramatic road-course races, and the trucks’ debut Saturday afternoon at the Circuit of The Americas promises to be a worthy chapter in the road-course annals.
The Toyota Thunder 250 (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be the second of four scheduled road-course races for the Camping World Truck Series this season, and the 3.41-mile, 20-turn course just outside Austin, Texas, will undoubtedly be a must-see venue. A new challenge awaits everyone on the grid.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the very drivers currently leading the championship have a road-racing resume that makes them the favorite again this weekend at COTA.
The seasons‘ two-race winner, John Hunter Nemechek, driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, holds a 46-point edge over fellow two-race winner Ben Rhodes in the points standings. Reigning series champion Sheldon Creed is ranked third, having picked up his first 2021 victory in the last race at Darlington Raceway.
Those three drivers bring plenty of road-course merit to COTA as well.
Nemechek, 23, won at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in 2016 and finished runner-up there in 2018. He was third in the only road-course race of 2021 to date — at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
Rhodes, 24, driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Toyota, won at the Daytona Road Course this February and has a third-place finish at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (2019) to his credit. Four times this year, he has finished first or second — winning both on the Daytona superspeedway and then the road course and finishing runner-up at Bristol Motor Speedway and Darlington. He is particularly enthusiastic about this week‘s stop.
“Ever since Daytona, I‘ve been so eager to get back on a road course and I can‘t think of a better place than COTA,” Rhodes said. “Knowing that everyone is learning it together will be fun and quite the challenge.”
Creed, 23, is not only coming off the Darlington win two weeks ago but also looks like a favorite this weekend. He finished runner-up to Rhodes in the Daytona Road Course race — leading a race-best 17 laps in the No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet. He won there in 2020 and also has a top-five at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (2019).
There are other story lines to watch as well. Former NASCAR Cup Series driver Paul Menard will be making his first Camping World Truck Series start since 2007, driving the No. 66 ThorSport Toyota. The former NASCAR Cup Series driver — and winner of the 2011 Brickyard 400 — last raced full time at the Cup level in 2019. This will mark his first NASCAR race since.
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Driver/television analyst Parker Kligerman will make his fifth start of the year at Austin, driving the No. 75 Henderson Motorsports Chevrolet. And perennial championship contender Grant Enfinger will be back behind the wheel of the No. 9 CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet. He has only competed in seven of the eight races in 2021 but sits eighth in the championship standings.
Several of the drivers — including rookie Hailie Deegan — took a road-course refresher course with the Skip Barber Racing School to prepare for the weekend. Nemechek did laps with his boss, Kyle Busch.
“I‘m really looking forward to going to COTA this weekend,” said Christian Eckes, who will drive the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota. “It‘s a race track that I‘ve watched F1 at for years and it‘ll be fun to race. I‘m not extremely experienced with road courses but I have had fun at them in the past. Hopefully we can put on a good show and get another good run for our No. 98 FarmPaint.com/Curb Records team.”