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Track Smack: Singing Nationwide, Truck praises at Nashville

April 21, 2011, ,

Nashville double could put emphasis on series-only regulars; but beware Busch

1. It's Track Smack, Music City edition! The Nationwide Series points lead seems to change hands every week. Is there anyone at this point who should be considered the favorite for the title?

Jill Erwin: I'll play the role of Dave Rodman for this week and claim multiple people so if any of them win, I'll look like a genius! That being said, I really do think it's going to come down to a Turner Motorsports driver. Jason Leffler and Reed Sorenson have tons of experience and each has led the points, and Justin Allgaier has all the talent in the world. With the funding that team has, plus Hendrick power? Yes, please.

Mark Aumann: Looking at the standings, the thing that still stands out to me is that in seven races, not one Nationwide regular has scored a victory. That may change this weekend, since most of the Cup invaders are in the Bahamas or elsewhere. Jason Leffler leads the points, but he hasn't finished in the top five yet. The guy I think could grab the momentum is Elliott Sadler. He has four top-fives. If he can avoid trouble, he could pull away this summer.

David Caraviello: OK, before I get around to answering the question -- or perhaps avoiding it altogether -- I'd like to point out that I'm warming to this limited championship eligibility rule. I know, I know, you risk having a champion who hasn't won a race. I get that. But from a writer's perspective, it's nice to have a few new faces in the media center, and a few new stories, every week. Beats the usual grind of Carl-Kyle-Brad, nothing against those guys of course. But we've written the heck out of them.

Jill Erwin: Mark, why would that surprise you? The Cup guys are still running. Only one Nationwide-only guy won last year. Can't be that much of a shock. Also, plenty of the Cup guys are running at Nashville. The usual suspects, of course, but more than most standalone weeks.

David Caraviello: Now of course, at the end of the year you're going to have a champion who many believe should have a big fat asterisk next to his name. But right now, at least, it's a nice change to have some new drivers to focus on rather than the usual subjects, even if none of them have yet to win a race.

Jill Erwin: Asterisks, schmasterisks. Them's the rules. I say, it's about time. It cheapened the series to have the champion not even consider it the biggest part of his season.

Mark Aumann: Dave Rodman is the usual suspect. But getting back to the topic at hand, I think we're still so early in the season that it's hard to get a read on trends. It could be -- under the new points -- that nobody grabs an advantage and this thing stays tight all summer.

David Caraviello: Now about answering that question -- in my most Rodmonian fashion, I am choosing two guys: the two-headed Turner Motorsports monster of Justin Allgaier and Jason Leffler. Give me one of those two to be standing on the stage at the end of the year. I think everyone's been impressed with how strong that Turner group has been out of the gate, and they're showing every sign that they're in it until the end. Leffler and Allgaier have been around this deal long enough to know how it's done, and if I had to choose, I'd lay some combo bet on the two of them.

Jill Erwin: I'm calling you Joe Rodman. Multiple picks, and piggybacking off my post.

Mark Aumann: Jill Rodman and Joe Rodman? This is getting to be a regular family affair.

David Caraviello: Dave Rodman is dominating Track Smack and he's not even here! He's probably off scrounging food somewhere. Now, that's not to say that Sadler, Reed Sorenson or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. couldn't win it. Really, no one has separated themselves yet. And given how Cup regulars are dominating the win total, doesn't look like anyone will separate themselves anytime soon. We could have a mad group scramble for this title until very late in the year, which I'm sure is what NASCAR hoped for under this format.

Mark Aumann: Wow. You're going to force me to Rodmanize now. Elliott Sadler, a native of Emporia, Va., which is a town close to the North Carolina border, and a driver who worked his way up through the ranks to land a key role in Robert Yates' resurgence before flipping on his roof at Talladega and eventually winding up in the Nationwide Series, is a pretty nice guy.

Jill Erwin: I will say this on Sadler: After a slow start, he has really come on. And I think we all know better than to underestimate a Kevin Harvick Inc. car. Things are really falling into place for him, and that figures to only continue as he settles in even more. And he's a pretty nice guy.

Mark Aumann: Leo Durocher said nice guys finish last. But he didn't watch the Nationwide Series. And he wasn't a nice guy. I still think the Roush guys will be there at the end, too. And Aric Almirola as an asterisk. (Like that alliteration?)

Jill Erwin: Awesome alliteration, Aumann. Anyway, I'm sticking with my Turner pick. But as both of you guys have so astutely pointed out, we're really in uncharted territory. No one knows how this point system will shake out over the long run. Saying "Hey, the top five are all within 10 points of the lead!" is fine and good, but the results are still the same.

David Caraviello: Here's the big question: so what happens if the season ends, and no Nationwide regular has won a race? That's entirely possible, given that Allgaier's win at Bristol was the only victory for a series regular last season. Do we expect further rule changes in 2012 if Cup moonlighters take all the Nationwide race wins? Not sure what else NASCAR could do.

Mark Aumann: Excellent elocution, Erwin. No, I think if the standings stay close, it'll add more excitement at the end of the season, even if the champion fails to win a race. And perhaps it'll come down to having to race for the win at Homestead.

Nationwide Series Standings

2.Justin Allgaier Turner Motorsports231 -2 0 0 1 4 $240,531
3.Elliott Sadler Kevin Harvick Inc.228 -5 1 0 4 4 $196,796
4.Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Roush Fenway Racing225 -8 1 0 1 5 $221,356
5.Reed Sorenson Turner Motorsports224 -9 0 0 2 4 $221,741
6.Aric Almirola JR Motorsports222 -11 0 0 0 3 $196,551
7.Trevor Bayne Roush Fenway Racing221 -12 0 0 1 4 $216,481
8.Brian Scott Joe Gibbs Racing206 -27 0 0 0 2 $198,101
9.Kenny Wallace RAB Racing184 -49 0 0 0 2 $195,971
10.Joe Nemechek NEMCO Motorsports`169 -640 0 1 1 $194,830

David Caraviello: Hey, there's change we can all believe in.

2. Johnny Sauter won the most recent Camping World Truck race at Martinsville, and leads the points. Meanwhile, multiple titlists Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine are fifth and eighth, respectively. Are we witnessing a changing of the guard?

Mark Aumann: Four races does not a season make, especially when you factor in the fact that Hornaday finished 28th at Daytona and has three top-five finishes since then. I think it's too early to praise anyone yet.

Jill Erwin: I mean, it's gotta happen sometime, right? The Onion's not going to race until he's 70, nor is Hornaday. I'm not sure this is the time to make that call, but there are a lot of younger drivers in the Truck Series who are capable of taking on that role.

Johnny Sauter (13) and Matt Crafton have ThorSport Racing riding high in the Truck Series. (Getty Images)

David Caraviello: Absolutely. Nothing against veterans like Bodine and Hornaday, who are still entirely capable of winning races and championships in this series, but I've been preaching it for a year now -- the kids are coming. The Truck ranks are just bursting with young drivers trying to make names for themselves. I remember walking down pit road during qualifying for a race at Darlington, and you had driver after driver who fit that role. Maybe youth movement is the wrong term, because all these guys aren't kids, but there's plenty of new blood in there.

Mark Aumann: From a standpoint of seeing some fresh races in the top 10, great to see Cole Whitt, Clay Rogers, Max Papis and Miguel Paludo. I think of that group, Paludo has to be the biggest surprise. But he's run well and if he hadn't gotten wrecked at Darlington, who knows where he'd be in the points. And we haven't really seen the best from Austin Dillon yet. He was en fuego last summer -- and we haven't gotten to that stretch of races yet. Of the three national series, I enjoy the unexpectedness of the Truck Series best. Just a nice mix of kids and vets, lots of action, races that are the perfect length. It's enjoyable.

Jill Erwin: Yeah, I think the Truck Series is definitely in the process of being remade. It used to be the "old guy" series for those who wanted to keep racing but weren't in Cup rides. Now, you've got a ton of new faces. It's awesome to watch. But if I'm going to go out on a limb to pick someone (and yes, I realize no one asked me my opinion on this) I think Matt Crafton is going to be a force for a long time to come. Dude has finished in the top 10 in 44 of the past 54 races. He hasn't won but once, but for all of Caraviello's railing against it in the Nationwide Series, consistency can win you a title.

Mark Aumann: You don't hear anybody in the Truck Series say "that race should have been 150 laps shorter." And Matt Crafton is a nice guy.

David Caraviello: I've been railing? Didn't even realize it. Anyway, I know Sauter and Crafton have been around a while, but they still fit the role of guys trying to break through to the next phase of their careers, which would be championship contender. And then you look at Cole Whitt, Austin Dillon, Miguel Paludo, Parker Kligerman, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brad Sweet -- there are just tons of guys down there who are knocking on the door, or could be. It's a very interesting time in the Truck Series right now, and that makes it a lot of fun to watch.

Jill Erwin: I've always enjoyed watching the Truck races. But yeah, with all the change bubbling under the surface, it's added a new layer of enjoyment.

Mark Aumann: We're all so positive today! What the hell happened?

Jill Erwin: We're all waiting for topic No. 3.

David Caraviello: Now, despite all that -- Hornaday, as Mark pointed out, has finished inside the top five in every race since Daytona. Bodine has had only one bad result all year, a crash at Daytona. Both those guys are being held down because of tough finishes in the season-opening race. The deeper we get into the season, the more that result is going to be mitigated, and the bigger championship threat those guys are going to be become once again.

Mark Aumann: Exactly, David. And they've been through the pressures of a championship on multiple occasions. The young guns haven't -- and that could very well be the difference when the leaves turn colors later in the year. (That sounded like something Rodman would write. Dave Rodman is a nice guy.)

David Caraviello: But in the meantime -- it's a lot of fun to see a guy like Sauter win a Martinsville, to see Earnhardt get a top-10 at Daytona, to see Cole Whitt tear it up at Darlington. Again, new faces, new storylines. Everyone wins.

Mark Aumann: You can tell it's almost Easter. The sugar sweetness of this Smack will give everyone cavities.

Jill Erwin: Who brought the Cadbury Cream Eggs?

Camping World Truck Series Standings

2.Matt Crafton ThorSport Racing145 -50 0 1 3 $53,450
3.Timothy Peters Red Horse Racing 143 -70 0 1 2 $51,250
4.Cole Whitt Turn One Racing143 -71 0 0 3 $46,100
5.Ron Hornaday Kevin Harvick Inc.141 -9 0 0 3 3 $69,025
6.Clay Rogers RBR Enterprises 131 -19 0 0 1 1 $61,150
7.Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing130 -20 1 0 1 2 $51,900
8.Todd Bodine Germain Racing122 -28 0 0 1 1 $58,400
9.Max Papis Germain Racing121 -29 0 0 0 1 $38,950
10.Miguel Paludo Red Horse Racing 109 -41 0 0 1 1 $57,775

David Caraviello: And the Peeps!

3. Kyle Busch is entered in both races this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. Odds of him sweeping? And who might be able to stop him?

Jill Erwin: I can answer this in a short and sweet manner: High, and very few. I mean, the guy's made one Truck start there. He got the pole, and the victory. That's a pretty good percentage on that side of things. And he's finished no worse than third in his past three Nationwide starts there. Without Cup distracting him, I think he could be a beast this weekend.

Mark Aumann: I hate to say it, but the only thing that seems to stop Kyle Busch is Kyle Busch. If he doesn't wreck or blow up, he's going to be very tough to stop.

Very good

Kyle Busch has finished first or second in 20 of his past 26 Truck Series starts (14 wins).

-- Powered by Racing Recall

David Caraviello: Ah, back to reality. After all this talk about depth and new faces, we face the very real prospect of a Rowdy weekend in Music City. Busch is one of only two drivers on the Truck circuit (along with Hornaday) to have won at all three concrete tracks in the series. He has a very good track record at Nashville in both vehicles. And oh yeah, Kyle has won three of the past four Nationwide races. Good luck trying to get in the way of that train.

Mark Aumann: Let's hope he's more careful with the trophy this time. But if I'm going to put together a list for the Nationwide race? Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, Sadler. Jason Leffler and Reed Sorenson have wins there.

Jill Erwin: I was going to say, Sam Bass is probably rooting for anyone but Kyle.

Mark Aumann: In the Trucks, interesting that Hornaday and Bodine have wins there. Talk about a great place to jump over a few positions with a victory.

David Caraviello: Just dug through the NASCAR advance stats and saw that Kyle is 1-for-1 in his Truck career at Nashville, and hasn't finished lower than third in any of his past three Nationwide starts there. That's strong.

Mark Aumann: Huh. I thought I heard that somewhere?

Jill Erwin: That's a good point, Caraviello. Where have I heard it before, Joe Rodman?

Mark Aumann: Oh, it's so much fun to pile on. Sauter's average finish at Nashville is 7.3. That's second behind Bodine's 5.4 -- of the guys who can score points this weekend. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Johnny makes it back-to-back trips to the winner's circle.

Jill Erwin: Aumann, I appreciate you looking for a Nationwide-eligible driver to make a challenge. But the last winner at Nashville who isn't currently in the Cup Series was Scott Wimmer in 2008. Before that, it was Reed Sorenson in 2005. It's fun to think of a Nationwide guy winning on a track Cup doesn't race on, but the results haven't played out that way.

Mark Aumann: Impressive! Nothing like getting a taste of my own medication.

Jill Erwin: Tastes like awesomeness, huh?

David Caraviello: OK, now that I've educated everyone on Kyle's stats at Nashville, it's time to figure out who might be able to beat him. On the Nationwide side, Reed Sorenson has an average finish of 9.2 on the Tennessee track, so you have to think he likes the place and will be a factor. As for the Truck side ... well, there's the Onion again. As Mark mentioned, Bodine is third among all drivers with an average finish of 5.4 on the concrete superspeedway. Sauter's not far behind at 7.3. And Dillon is 8.0, and Hornaday 8.9. So plenty of candidates to choose from there.

Jill Erwin: And Kyle's average finish in Truck races remains 1.0.

Mark Aumann: Small sample size. That's always the excuse given when you can't come up with a reasonable defense. OK. I'll throw a name out there: Austin Dillon. He's running both events this weekend, but he's due in the Truck Series.

Jill Erwin: Look, I'm not saying Kyle's going to win. Far from it. As you've both pointed out, there are plenty of contenders. But the guy has made it to a point where he's the favorite in either of these series whenever he takes the track, and it's a well-earned role.

David Caraviello: Kyle is the only Cup regular entered in the Truck race, and as Sauter showed a couple of weeks ago, he is beatable -- sometimes. The competition may be much tougher in the Nationwide race, where Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and David Reutimann are also entered. But no question, the possibility of a sweep looms large. Sam Bass had better bring a few extra guitars.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the participants.