As with NASCAR’s other national touring series, the Camping World Truck Series kicked off the season Feb. 24 at Daytona International Speedway.
The trucks were on the track again the next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but there’s only been one race during the nine weekends since.
The extended downtime makes this weekend the unofficial start of the Truck Series season.
At least, that’s the way it feels to drivers given the back-loaded schedule that ramps up beginning Friday with the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway, which ends a five-week layoff.
The green flag finally drops again at 7:30 p.m. on FS1.
“You go to Daytona, Atlanta and Martinsville, but you’re off so much time I’ve actually referred to (Kansas) as the start of the season in several interviews,” second-year Truck Series driver Ben Rhodes said. “You’re finally having a consistent run, you’re finally getting into the truck every week, and you’re finally getting to work with your team every week on making a setup better.”
It didn’t used to be that way.
Veteran Matt Crafton, who’s driven full time on the Truck Series for 17 years, remembers when the schedule was more consistent.
“We used to have 25 races and they were trying to save the team owners money and scale it back to 22 races at one point,” said Crafton, a two-time series champion. “My opinion, they went about it completely the wrong way.”
When Truck Series teams don’t race, there’s no chance for sponsorship money, but employees still have to be paid.
“They don’t have to pay a tire bill that week or a motor bill, but a lot of times the sponsor pays for that plus some,” Crafton said. “When they cut those three races out, and they cut them all out at the beginning of the year, they thought that would save a lot of money and it didn’t. It truly didn’t and, truthfully, hurt the team owners.”
Crafton hopes to see a return to 25 or more races, nothing like the 36-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule or 33-race Xfinity Series schedule but still more substantial than the current schedule.
For now, Truck Series drivers have to figure out ways to wile away two months away from the track.
“It’s trying, but you also have to appreciate the time off too — to get trucks built, to kind of work ahead — because you know once it gets here that it’s not going to stop until November,” Rhodes said.
Drivers took part in a test last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Many — including Crafton, Timothy Peters, Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell — also drove in dirt-track races to stay sharp behind the wheel.
Bell, who won at Atlanta, also spent time getting familiar with Joe Gibbs Racing’s stock-car setup in preparation for his Xfinity Series debut later this month.
But that’s not all the Truck Series drivers were up — aside from the April 1 race at Martinsville — since running at Atlanta.
Rhodes attended the Kentucky Derby decked in a bright blue suit with a coral bowtie and silk pocket square.
“No hat, but next year I’m going to do some suspenders, a hat and maybe even a cane,” Rhodes said. “I’m going to get pretty fancy next year.”
John Hunter Nemechek spent his time cycling to stay in shape when not in the shop.
Other drivers like Daytona winner Kaz Grala and Noah Gragson worked to finish their high school diplomas.
Grala also raced in twin 9-hour endurance races at Watkins Glen International and visited a few colleges, ultimately deciding to attend Georgia Tech and study mechanical engineering.
“We’re really going to start hitting the ground running now (at Kansas),” said Cody Coughlin, who visited Prairie Star Elementary in Leawood along with Rhodes on Wednesday to talk with 150 children about the science of racing, “and it’s going to be time to really start performing.”