Series again a breeding ground for future stars
For seven consecutive seasons, from 2004 through 2010, the man who raised the championship trophy at season’s end had already celebrated his 40th birthday.
But last year, Austin Dillon continued his meteoric ascent to stardom, becoming the series’ youngest champion at the age of 21 years, six months and 22 days. Graduating to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season, Dillon ran away with the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honor.
And 2012? This season’s follow-up to a 2011 youth movement was yet another one -- this one even more pronounced.
James Buescher won the title at the age of 22 years, seven months and 21 days -- the second-youngest champion in series history. Buescher battled Austin’s younger brother, Ty, throughout the 2012 campaign. Ty Dillon, age 20, finished fourth in the series.
In fact, four of the top five final points finishers -- Buescher, Dillon, Joey Coulter and Parker Kligerman -- have yet to turn 23. The youth movement continues.
As is always the case in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, there were some outstanding performances and spectacular highlights that took place during the recently completed 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck season. The following is a look back at some of those standout performers and memorable races.
James Buescher -- The Lone Star State rocked, as Buescher became the first Texan to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. A winner of a series-high four races, Buescher especially excelled on the intermediate tracks. All four of his wins, including a sweep of Kentucky Speedway, came at 1.5-mile venues. This season was one of retribution for Buescher. In 2011, he failed to qualify at Phoenix, the second race of the season. Though finishing third in points, the Phoenix setback spoiled a campaign that otherwise saw Buescher chip in one championship-worthy performance after another. This season, however, he started all 22 races, stationed in the top five points for 20 of them.
Timothy Peters (Honorable Mention) -- Peters, the oldest member of the final top five at only 32, was the picture of consistency during the 2012 season. Peters, who finished second in the championship points and never fell out of the top three, tallied two wins, 10 top fives and 16 top 10s. His personal highlight of the 2012 season came at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he turned in one of the most dominating performances in the last 15 years. There, he led all 204 laps, becoming the first driver to lead every single lap in the truck series since Ron Hornaday Jr. did it in 1997.
Comeback Driver of the Year
Justin Lofton – Lofton personified the “sophomore slump” phenomenon in 2011. After a solid 2010 rookie season where he scored four top fives and eight top 10s en route to a 12th place points finish, Lofton failed to score a single top-five in 2011. There was little reason to believe he’d be a factor in 2012. He shirked those beliefs, big-time. Driving for Eddie Sharp Racing, Lofton captured his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Charlotte and finished eighth in points. Scoring a career-high 13 top 10s, Lofton also won his first Keystone Pole Award, at Chicagoland Speedway.
Red Horse Racing -- It’s rare that the championship winning team wouldn’t also win the “Top Team” award in a rundown like this, but there’s good reason to give it to Red Horse Racing. Actually, there are four good reasons: Timothy Peters, Parker Kligerman, John King and Todd Bodine. All four drivers, who strapped in for owner Tom DeLoach this season, won at least one race. That has never happened in the 18-year history of the series. Better yet, the team had two legitimate championship threats in Peters and Kligerman, who finished second and fifth, respectively.
Turner Motorsports (Honorable Mention) -- The championship-winning team won a series-high seven races in 2012, with three different drivers. Champion James Buescher won four, Nelson Piquet Jr. won two and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kasey Kahne won the inaugural series race at Rockingham Speedway. Team owner Steve Turner accomplished all of that after coming into the 2012 season without a single victory to his credit.
Top Breakthrough Performance
Ty Dillon – Talk about pressure. For his rookie season, Dillon was stepping into a truck owned by his grandfather (Richard Childress) that just won the championship with his brother Austin driving, and was sporting one the sport’s most iconic numbers -- the No. 3. So, it would be understandable if there were some rookie jitters. There weren’t any -- at all. He opened up the season with nine consecutive top-10 finishes, and eventually took the points lead after race No. 15. He nabbed his first series win -- at Atlanta -- and threatened to become the first driver in series history to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year and the championship in the same season. He came close, but a late-race wreck in the season-finale crushed any hopes of a title. Still, he did win rookie honors, easily.
Parker Kligerman (Honorable Mention) -- Few handled adversity with the type of determination that Kligerman showed in 2012. After losing his ride with Brad Keselowski Racing midseason, Tom DeLoach offered Kligerman a job at his Red Horse Racing organization. Kligerman made DeLoach look smart, scoring eight top 10s in 11 starts including his first win (Talladega) and a fifth-place points finish.
Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16) -- Five drivers entered the season finale with a mathematical chance at winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. James Buescher ended the night as champion -- but it was far from a sure thing throughout the race. Ty Dillon posed the biggest threat, but his hopes evaporated after colliding with NASCAR Drive for Diversity product Kyle Larson for the lead with less than 10 laps remaining. Larson led the most laps in the event, with Cale Gale capturing his first series victory. Gale became the 16th different winner and ninth different first-time winner of the season, both series records.
American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway (Sept. 15) – Iowa Speedway has quickly developed the reputation of providing unmatched entertainment and drama when hosting NASCAR national series event. This one was no different. The race was a battle of young guns, as Parker Kligerman and Ryan Blaney proved to be the class of the field. Kligerman led the most laps, but his hopes for a first win were dashed after a late race spin. Blaney went onto became the youngest winner in series history at 18 years, eight months and 15 days in only his third career race.