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Young faces stayed fresh ahead of Martinsville

April 02, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Young faces stayed fresh ahead of Martinsville
Martinsville Speedway should be rust-free after drivers kept busy during layoff

Joey Coulter took his late model stock car and raced at dirt tracks throughout the Southeast over the past six weeks while waiting for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to get back on track.

Ryan Blaney, who finished eighth in the season-opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway, was one of multiple Truck Series drivers to race go-karts in Mooresville, N.C., and test his truck at Rockingham Speedway.

The key to drivers staying sharp over such an extended break was getting in the car -- any car -- and on a track -- any track -- to do what comes so naturally on the NASCAR circuit: log laps.

“When you get breaks like this, not running is pretty bad,” said Darrell Wallace Jr., who finished 12th in his opening Trucks Series race back in February. “I mean you take Kyle Larson, he runs 150 races a year. So I personally try to do as much racing as I can to keep everything up to par.

"...if you’re a racer, you always want to race something, no matter what day of the week it is or where it’s at."

-- Darrell Wallace Jr.

“Plus, if you’re a racer, you always want to race something, no matter what day of the week it is or where it’s at.”

Wallace is part of a young contingent of drivers that will be on the track this week in Martinsville for the Kroger 250, the first Trucks Series race since Feb. 22. In fact, six drivers on the 40-car entry list are younger than 20.

In addition to Wallace, who is 19 years old and will drive the No. 54 Toyota, Blaney is 19, Grant Galloway and Devin Jones are 18, Chase Elliott is 17 and Erik Jones is 16. Of that group, only Wallace and Blaney have previously driven in the Truck Series.

They have the opportunity to race Saturday following a rule change in the offseason that allows 16- and 17-year-old drivers to compete in Truck Series races at tracks 1.1-miles or less.

“Lowering the age limit to 16 at the smaller tracks gives another opportunity for drivers to get experience before they get into the mile-and-a-half-type tracks,” Truck Series director Chad Little said. “(It’s a) very important goal for NASCAR and also working with our partners, the track owners.”

Jones is the youngest beneficiary of the rule change, and he’ll drive the No. 51 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It’s an interesting twist, given that Jones outraced Busch in December to win the 45th annual Snowball Derby, an event considered the premier late model event of the season.

Jones’ win at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla., led to negotiations for him to drive a five-race schedule for KBM -- Jones will also run the fall Martinsville race, at Rockingham Speedway on April 14 and both races at Iowa Speedway.

“Coming here to Martinsville, you can feel that history. This is a great opportunity for me, and I think it’s going to be a good race for us,” Jones said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity, with Kyle Busch trucks having so much success here. I’m used to short tracks, so I think it’s going to be a good race for us.”

Like most of his fellow young competitors, Jones has not raced at Martinsville. His first foray to the .526-mile paperclip track was last week during a media availability session.

He took in the flat, speed-inviting straightaways and tight turns while riding along for a few pace-car laps.

“Martinsville is one of those real bullring type tracks,” Jones said. “It’s always been one of my favorites to watch on TV. Getting off the corner will be big. If we can figure that out and get around people, I think we’ll have a pretty good day.”

The young folks, though, will be in the pack with some veterans who have been racing longer than they’ve been alive.

Ron Hornaday Jr., who has four Trucks Series titles, 51 wins and 323 total series races, sits second in the standings after finishing third at Daytona. He’s the elder statesman of the Truck Series at age 54. Other veterans include Johnny Sauter, who won the opening race and leads the points standings, and 49-year-old Todd Bodine, who is 10th in the standings.

What happens if Jones or some other young hotshot has a chance to outduel a bigger name in the waning laps?

“In your first race, it’s kind of setting a precedent. You can’t let people knock you out of the way,” Jones said. “When the white flag comes out, you do what you got to do.”

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