The overarching narrative of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series currently stands as such: health, health, look at that health.
And that’s to be expected after a Daytona weekend that saw an 11-truck surplus, one of the largest DNQ lists in recent memory. And even if the series had still possessed its pre-2015 36-truck field, the list would have been lengthy, with, undoubtedly, good trucks potentially heading home after a few practices and a qualifying session. That’s often one of the benchmarks for positive outlooks in NASCAR: not just a strong field on the whole, but a regular roster of DNQs as well.
That continues as the series moves from Daytona International Speedway to Atlanta Motor Speedway, with the series competing for the second weekend in a row (a far cry from past seasons when next up was a month-long break that culminated with a short-track race at Martinsville Speedway). As it stands, 34 trucks are entered at Atlanta — more than enough to fill the field — with at least three entries expected because of their expressed intent to run the whole season (Make Motorsports’ Nos. 1 and 50, plus Tommy Joe Martins’ No. 44). Another week, another list under the failed-to-qualify ticker on Fox Sports 1.
Two weeks in a row with a full field. But does that mean the series is healthy?
That’s the real question, especially on a race weekend where, at press time, neither the Sprint Cup nor XFINITY series will have a 40-car entry list despite sending multiple drivers home at Daytona; in the latter’s case a substantial drop from 48 entries (again, barring late additions, and there are multiple XFINITY teams planning to run the full season not currently listed). The prevailing narrative can change in an instant, especially when, so it seems, the main proof of a series’ viability is whether or not enough drivers are coming out to race.
Because, remember, the Truck Series has seen this before. Maybe not so much last year, when the entries had already dwindled to 31 by Atlanta, but in 2014, the first two races had plenty of teams show up, only to drop to 31 by the third race at Kansas Speedway. In 2013, the series (sometimes barely) managed a full 36 through six races, but by its seventh, the list plummeted to 32, with multiple teams from the season’s beginning either curtailing their efforts or closing up shop entirely.
The point is this: it could be well over a month before it’s clear whether the Camping World Truck Series is back to the vibrancy of its early years or if it’ll trend toward the usual: decent fields at some of the shorter tracks, Eldora Speedway and perhaps Homestead-Miami Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway, but often with anemic entry lists dotted throughout.
There are positive signs, though — like the current genetic makeup of the field that is showing up. It was a testament to the amount of strong entries last weekend when drivers like Jennifer Jo Cobb and Norm Benning, often mainstays of the series in recent years, hadn’t a ghost of a chance of making the field even with five provisionals available. That continues this weekend, with the generally formidable entries of Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 (Caleb Holman) and Braun Racing’s No. 32 (Justin Marks) showing up to fill a few of the voids left by the third Brad Keselowski Racing entry (No. 2) and NTS Motorsports. It’s such that there’s still no guarantee a veteran like Cobb or Benning will make their way in, the same for Mike Mittler’s No. 63 (this week with Garrett Smithley driving).
But there are quite a few teams entered this weekend that may not make it the full year, if past results are anything to go by — like Parker Kligerman and the No. 92, which reportedly is only at Atlanta after the team’s strong third-place showing at Daytona. Or Brandon Brown, the fourth-place finisher at Daytona, but a driver who in past years, has been a part-time competitor in the series. Even Ryan Truex’s No. 81 for Hattori Racing Enterprises is mired in uncertainty; Truex has expressed interest in a full slate, but has been clear that it’s not a done deal and is partly contingent on finding additional sponsorship.
For now, enjoy the ride the Truck Series is giving. It may not be a fruitful endeavor the whole year, but for now (and certainly through Martinsville, where a strong crop of youngsters often bumps up the tally in the garage even more), in a sport where it seems like condensing the amount of competitors is commonplace, things are all right in the Truck Series. Whether the ride ends or not, enjoy it while it lasts.
Justin Marks returns to the Camping World Truck Series to drive Braun Racing’s No. 32 in its first race of the 2016 season. Marks competed in just one Truck Series race last season — the season-opening event at Daytona for Win-Tron Racing’s No. 35, finishing 32nd. Meanwhile, the No. 32 ran three races with Justin Haley behind the wheel in Todd Braun’s NASCAR return, with a best finish of seventh at Phoenix International Raceway.
He attempted Daytona with Empire Racing, but this time around Austin Hill is with a new team: his own No. 20, with sponsorship from Arco Design & Build. The team currently plans five starts overall in 2016.
Ben Rhodes and the No. 41 team were issued a P2 penalty after Daytona, with Rhodes and ThorSport Racing each docked 10 driver and owner points.