NASCAR: Young Guns Stealing the Truck Series Show in 2011
Many traditional NASCAR fans believe the Camping World Truck Series produces the best and most exciting racing in NASCAR today.
Without a doubt, the series provides heated action and flaring tempers no matter where it heads. The trucks even made Pocono seem exciting last July, packing more action into 50 laps than the typical Cup race sees in four hours of strung-out green flag runs.
But the most distinctive feature of the series is the ages of the drivers. Most of the drivers are either young, sometimes teenagers, or well past middle age and in what would seem to be their prime racing years.
In recent seasons, the truck series has been dominated by these grizzled veterans such as Ron Hornaday Jr., Todd Bodine, Johnny Benson, and Ted Musgrave.
Bodine won the title last year at a sprightly 46. The last time a driver younger than 42 won the title was 2003, when 27-year-old Travis Kvapil took home the honors.
However, 2011 is already looking like there could be a shift in power from the established veterans to the young guns of the series.
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Austin Dillon headlines the crop of young drivers in the truck series. He turned a mere 20 during the 2010 season.
He won his first two truck series races at Iowa Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He also won six poles and scored seven top-5's and 16 top-10's en route to winning the Rookie of the Year.
Dillon is the grandson of Richard Childress and he drives a black No. 3 truck for RCR. He currently sits seventh in the standings, with a pole and one top-5 in 2011.
It has been speculated that Childress will bring the No. 3 car of Dale Earnhardt back to the Sprint Cup series if and when Dillon is ready to make the jump to NASCAR's top level.
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Cole Whitt is one of the most pleasant surprises so far in 2011. Prior to this year, he had only one truck series start, but already he has a pole at Darlington to go along with two top-10's.
He also led 30 laps at Darlington, an impressive feat for a young driver making his first start at the tricky track that is called "too tough to tame."
Whitt, 19, is driving the No. 60 as part of the Red Bull driver developmental program.
After his strong start to 2011, he is sitting second in the standings, behind only Matt Crafton, the only driver with top-10's in each of the season's first three races.
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Jeffrey Earnhardt, son of Kerry Earnhardt, grandson of Dale Earnhardt and nephew to Dale Earnhardt Jr., is rapidly making a name for himself in the Camping World Truck Series.
At 21 years old, Jeffrey Earnhardt started the year with a 10th-place run at Daytona and is currently 10th in truck series points.
Earnhardt is driving the No. 1 for Rick Ware Racing and competing for Rookie of the Year in 2011 after racing in just five events in 2010.
He has struggled with qualifying but has improved his average finish from 27th in 2010 to 15th through the first three races this season.
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At just 20 years old, James Buescher is already in his third full season of truck series competition. He is driving the No. 31 truck for Turner Motorsports and started the year off with a top-10 at Daytona, leading a race-high 55 laps.
He failed to qualify the next week at Phoenix, but bounced back at Darlington by leading six laps and finishing fifth.
Even after missing a race, Buescher is 11th in the points and by no means out of contention for the championship. He has already led more laps in 2011 than he had previously led in his entire career and looks to score his first series win this season.
Buescher is also driving a partial Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports this year and had a 13th-place run at Bristol last week.
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Timothy Peters drives the No. 17 Toyota for Red Horse Racing. At 30 years old, Peters isn't quite as young as the other drivers on this list.
He earned his ride in the truck series after enduring many difficulties and watching as sure-fire opportunities (such as a chance to drive for Richard Childress Racing) somehow fell through.
Peters finally got a full-time ride in 2009 and has made the most of the opportunity, with two career victories and three poles to his credit.
After winning at Daytona to open the 2010 season, Peters has had several strong runs and a couple of poles, but hasn't been able to return to Victory Lane.
With three lead lap finishes in 2011, including a top-10 at Darlington, Peters is well-positioned in the points in third place.
He finished eighth in the standings in 2009 and sixth in 2010, and hopes to make a run at the title this year.
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Like Timothy Peters, Clay Rogers is 30 years old, but 2011 is his first full-time gig in the truck series.
He has been racing stock cars for a long time, however, and his career accomplishments include a victory in the 2006 Snowball Derby and four championships in the USARacing Pro Cup Series.
His results have showed great potential so far in 2011. Driving the No. 92 for RBR Motorsports, Rogers led two laps in the season opener at Daytona and finished a surprising third.
In the Phoenix and Darlington races, he finished on the lead lap, and his consistent finishes have been good enough for a fourth-place standing in the points.
Projections for the Young Guns
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Will these young drivers show staying power and build on their promising starts to the 2011 campaign? Only time will tell.
Based on the early results, 2011 could very well be the end of an era in the truck series.
Dillon, Buescher, and Peters have proven that they can contend on a weekly basis, while Earnhardt, Rogers, and Whitt are looking to show that they are legitimate threats as well.
Could this be the year when a young gun once again takes home top honors in the truck series? Stay tuned to find out.