Less Money Could Mean More Truck Series Short-Track Races In 2013

Charlotte, NC (September 17, 2012) – Could the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series be headed back to its short-track roots?

Maybe – based on comments made by NCWTS director Wayne Auton this past weekend.

Auton stated Friday at Iowa Speedway that NASCAR is waiting to assess the results of a safety report that could allow select short tracks without SAFER barriers to join the tour in 2013. The ‘soft-wall’ technology has been required at NASCAR tracks hosting Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series events for nearly a decade.

The Truck division debuted in 1995 as primarily a short-track, grass-roots 20-race series with most of the events on speedways one-half mile or shorter in length. The only races to be the exception to that scheduling were races at Phoenix, Milwaukee and road course events at Sears Point (now Infineon) and Topeka.

That quickly changed as Homestead, Nazareth and Las Vegas were added to a 24-race slate in 1996. Any thoughts of keeping the Trucks as a ‘bullring’ circuit were dashed when they made their first appearance at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997. There, Mike Bliss showed the Trucks could compete on a high-speed, mile and a half oval when he won the pole for the inaugural Pronto Auto Parts 400 with a lap of 175.667 miles per hour.

Since then, the Trucks have all but abandoned the short-tracks in favor of the big ovals. In 2012, the division will race at just two half-mile ovals – Martinsville (two events) and Bristol.

Meanwhile, Daytona, Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Pocono, Kentucky, Michigan, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicagoland, Talladega and Homestead – all a mile and a half or larger – comprise 14 of the 22 races on the tour.

For years, many in the Truck Series garage have waxed poetic about the ‘old days’ when the series would take over a town like Bakersfield, CA, Flemington, NJ or Tucson, AZ playing to standing room only crowds. Back then, having the then NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series come to your town was a ‘happening’ – not just another support race on a Cup or Nationwide Series weekend.

Now, there seems to be a move afoot to try to bring that feeling back again, but it won’t be easy.

Waiving the SAFER barrier requirement is the first step. Adding the padded walls comes at a steep price as evidenced by the nearly $1 million price quote received by Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, GA two years ago. Simply stated, few – if any – short tracks could absorb that kind of expense.

Additionally, NASCAR’s six-figure sanctioning fees again make it all but impossible for a short-track to make money on a Truck Series event. Using the GMP example again, the track would have to rent and construct up to as many as 30,000 temporary seats and hundreds of portable rest rooms to accommodate the anticipated crowds. Throw in dozens of temporary concession stand facilities, the rental of nearby land for overflow parking and the additional bodies to staff it all, and you’d have to sell every ticket in the house at $40 just to break even.

Given short-track race promoters are like everyone else – they like to make a dollar or two for their efforts – the cost of adding SAFER barriers, NASCAR’s inflated sanctioning fees and associated event costs have priced them out of the game in recent years.

Waiving the requirement for SAFER barriers would be a good first step in bringing the Trucks back to the short-tracks. NASCAR drastically dropping the sanctioning fee to a reasonable price would be another.

Without these – and other concessions – the Trucks will again find it hard to fill dates in 2013.

As a long-time supporter of and competitor in the Truck Series, I applaud Auton and NASCAR in their efforts to return the Trucks to their short-track roots. Also – as a someone who participated in the renovation of Peach State Speedway into what is now Gresham Motorsports Park – I’d like nothing better than to see Truck Series events at GMP and other short tracks in 2013.

In the end, all it takes is money to make this happen – or in this case – a lot less of it required from the tracks.

Keep an eye on this emerging story as dates for the 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series are announced in the coming weeks and months.

Chasing Keso

Sunday’s opening race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase took just under three hours to complete, but it only took 12.9 seconds on pit road and a gutsy split-second decision afterward to decide who would win it.

That’s all it took for Brad Keselowski to beat Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field in the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Before the final round of stops, the 400-mile event belonged to Johnson. The five-time Sprint Cup champion had led 172 of the 227 laps contested to that point and appeared to be untouchable. On a day where being out front in ‘clean air’ meant everything, Johnson’s sails were full while everyone else seemed to be at half-mast.

But then the pair headed to pit road where Keselowski’s Penske Racing crew cracked off a lightning-quick stop bolting on four fresh Goodyear tires and filled his Dodge to the brim with fuel. Now right on Johnson’s bumper as the pair exited pit road, Keselowski – easily the most aggressive driver on the Cup tour this season – didn’t wait to ‘blend in’ at the exit of Turn 2 per NASCAR rules blasting by Johnson in the middle of the corner.

NASCAR reportedly reviewed the pass and allowed it to stand. That put Keselowski in front where he roared away from Johnson to take his fourth win of the 2012 season and the eighth of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.

Afterward, Johnson sniffed the bold pit exit move “did impede my progress and I had to check up” but also added “I’m not sure I could have held him off. At the time, it messed me up, but I don’t think it affected the outcome of the race.”

The reality is nobody has been able to hold of Keselowski lately. He’s been red-hot scoring seven top-five finishes and 10 top-10 efforts in the last 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup events.

Suddenly, everyone is looking up at Keselowski in the 2012 Chase standings as he leads Johnson by three points after Sunday’s race. And while nobody is handing him the trophy just yet as there are nine more races to go, you have to think it’s going to come down to Keselowski and Johnson given how the rest of the championship contenders fared Sunday. With the exception of Kasey Kahne, none of them were ever in contention for the win.

One final note.

How delicious would it be if Keselowski were to win the Cup championship this season? With Dodge pulling out of series at the conclusion of this year, wouldn’t it be ironic to see the mark win the title on ‘Ford Championship Weekend’ at Homestead in November?

After Sunday, it’s a distinct possibility.

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