Young guns make progress in Truck Series
June 04, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
DOVER, Del. -- As veteran drivers Kyle Busch and Matt Crafton battled at the front of the pack at Dover International Speedway, consistently behind them was a fight just as fierce for a spot in the top five. This one, though, was between teenagers.
Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones and Tyler Reddick were each fighting for their career best NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finish in the Lucas Oil 200, highlighting the potential of a young, new class of drivers.
Custer's hopes at beating his 12th-place finish at Martinsville ran dry with his fuel cell after a pit stop where his team was unable to fill his tank. The 16-year-old driver of the No. 00 Chevrolet sputtered to pit lane, the incident sending him to a 14th-place finish, three laps down from leader Busch.
"We were just biding our time," Custer said after the race. "We had a really good Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado, but we ran out of gas on the backstretch and that was too much for us to overcome."
Custer started near the back of the field after qualifying 28th, but by Lap 80 of the 200-lap race was in the top 10.
"I thought we had a really good truck," he said. "I thought we could've had a top-five finish, but sometimes things just don't go your way."
Instead, 17-year-old Brandon Jones would represent the high-school-aged drivers in the top five. Jones made a steady charge forward throughout the race from his starting position of 29th, hitting the top ten halfway through the race and finishing the race with a career-best finish of fourth.
"Oh, (the top-five felt) amazing -- especially to come here to Dover," Jones said. "This is such a crazy track in this truck. Last year, I ran in the K&N car, and it doesn't even compare to the truck. With just one practice, everybody fought really hard to get the truck really good... Looking forward to the next ones."
Jones, who is competing full-time in the K&N Pro East Series for Turner Scott Motorsports, will race again in the Truck Series in the UNOH 225 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
To move into the top five, Jones had to push 16-year-old Nemechek out of it. Nemechek ran in the top 10 for nearly the entire race, rarely falling below his starting -- and finishing -- position of sixth.
"It felt good to accomplish that as a team," Nemechek said of the race. "All the hard work that we've put in over the winter and spring, now it's all starting to pay off. We're a brand new team, we're a small team, so it shows we can run up front with the equipment we have and we can be competitive."
Also in the top 10 was 18-year-old Reddick, who scored his first top ten in the series with an eight-place run.
The strong showing of this next generation of drivers hints at the potential of the series' future. Nemechek, son of veteran race car driver Joe Nemechek, is scheduled to compete in eight more races this season, all at tracks compliant with NASCAR's age regulations. As the drivers hit the 18-year-old age minimum to compete full time in the series, they'll likely become a more permanent presence on the Trucks circuit.
"I've actually been racing some of those guys for a while," Ben Kennedy, who finished seventh, said after the race. "John Hunter Nemechek, I raced with him a little bit in the late model series, and Brandon Jones in the K&N Series -- and they have a great bunch of talent. …I think there's a lot of talent coming up through the series and I think you could definitely see that out there today, and with the whole NASCAR Next program."
The NASCAR Next program is an effort by the sport to help develop young drivers. Custer was one of the 12 drivers selected as a NASCAR Next driver when the roster was revelaed in April; the others have a good chance at joining the program in the future.
"Ben Kennedy actually was the (Sunoco) rookie of the race, but we had several teenagers running up front, including Brandon Jones, John Hunter (Nemechek) and Tyler Reddick, and doing a nice job at a tough race track," Chad Little, managing director of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, said.
Custer, Nemechek and Reddick will all be competing again in a truck at Gateway Motorsports Park on June 14th for the Drivin' for Linemen 200. But don't expect them to stop there.
"I think give it another ten years or so, and they'll be some more names in the Cup series," Kennedy said.