News & Media


Trio of rookies in exciting Truck rookie battle

November 01, 2011, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Combined this season, Joey Coulter, Cole Whitt and Nelson Piquet Jr. have 10 top-fives and 30 top-10s. (Autostock)

Coulter, Whitt, Piquet have put up strong finishes while still learning on the job

Each of the three major contenders for the Truck Series rookie of the year has had his share of ups and downs in 2011. That's to be expected. But what's perhaps unexpected is how well Joey Coulter, Cole Whitt and Nelson Piquet Jr. have run this season, particularly in the second half of the year.

With his fifth-place finish at Martinsville, Coulter took a four-point lead on Whitt in the rookie race, with third-place Piquet Jr. just nine points out of the lead. And with two races remaining, it's still anybody's guess as to how things will sort themselves out by Homestead.

"It's crazy how quickly the points can change. One minute, you're way behind. Another minute, you're caught up."

--COLE WHITT

After finishing second at Charlotte in May, Whitt found himself in position of the series points lead. He's faded to ninth since, but had finished 15th or better in five consecutive races before his No. 60 Chevrolet wound up 27th at Martinsville.

"It's been like a rollercoaster," Whitt said. "The way the season started out, we missed the show at Daytona and had to race a different truck to get the driver points. Then we went out and ran strong at Phoenix and grabbed the pole at Darlington.

"Things really started rolling there and it seemed like we couldn't do anything wrong. We got all the way to the points lead, and as a rookie it was really cool. We've had a lot of accomplishments this year and we'd like to get that first win. We've had our rookie deals, too. A few motors have blown and a few crashes here and there. It's been a crazy season."

After a spirited battle with Kyle Busch at Kansas, Coulter tore off seven consecutive top-10 finishes. And that seemed to flip on a switch for the driver of the No. 22 Chevrolet.

"From there on out, the way I've raced around other guys has changed," Coulter said. "I've learned a lot from there until now. It's all about passing and working with the air. The trucks don't have as much horsepower as the cars do.

"We're wide-open at Kentucky, we're wide-open at Texas. So the only way to pass is to work with the air and work around other trucks. I've never had to do that before. So that was a huge part of the learning curve, especially going to places like Chicago. It's so small, it's hard to go wide-open. But that's where it's fast, and you've got to stay wide-open to make passes. That was a tough challenge."

But don't count out Piquet, who has rebounded from a series of early-season crashes to close on Coulter and Whitt.

"It's literally been a rookie year," Piquet said. "I've done a lot of mistakes, learned a lot, improved a lot. It's one of those years where it started not very good and it's wound up better and better. I'm still trying very hard to win the rookie of the year. It's not going to be easy but it's still doable."

One of the hardest things for a rookie to learn is patience. All three rookie contenders can certainly attest to that.

"These races are so long that you have to learn to kind of ride the race out and get every little bit that you can, but don't overdo it," Whitt said. "And if you do that, it puts you in a good position to really race hard at the end. And then you can take a lot more and learn a lot more by being there throughout the race. More than anything, patience has been a big thing."

Coulter agrees, as figuring out the best time to be aggressive is perhaps the hardest thing for a rookie to understand.

Truck Series

'11 Rookie Standings
Pos.DriverPointsBehind
2.C. Whitt197-4
3.N. Piquet Jr.192-9
4.P. Kligerman182-19
5.M. Paludo169-32

"I think it's [about] learning when to hang your nose out there and see what you can get, and when to hold back and ride," Coulter said. "[At] Talladega, we tried to be cautious and it backfired on us. We'll have 25 races to look back on, going into next year."

Just getting adequate seat time -- and understanding how trucks handle differently from other series -- has been a key for Piquet.

"It's all the experience I learned this year, from overtaking, from being quick, from learning the tracks, learning how the tires work with the setup, all of those different things," Piquet said. "Everything adds up.

"You have to work on learning the track, on the setup -- and [all] at the same time. That hasn't been a big issue for me this year. The difficult part was racing and keeping the truck clean and finishing the races. Sometimes that's been a bit difficult."

So how will things play out? Whitt can't even hazard a guess.

"It's crazy how quickly the points can change," he said. "One minute, you're way behind. Another minute, you're caught up. The next minute, you're leading. And then the next minute, you're behind again."

No matter how things wind up, Coulter has had a blast in 2011.

"It's been a pretty awesome year," Coulter said. "It's blown my expectations away. Coming into it, I knew RCR was going to give me some of the best equipment out there. I just didn't think, with the little experience I had, that we'd be able to run like we have.

"It's changed a lot of things. The rookie battle's really tight. It's going to be awesome when it gets to Homestead."