NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series will debut at a new venue — and this Friday, it’s the famed Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway half-mile dirt, short track. The Corn Belt 150 Presented by Premier Chevy Dealers at Knoxville (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Racing on dirt isn’t necessarily new to the Truck Series, which competed at Bristol this spring and held seven races on the famed Eldora (Ohio) Raceway from 2013-19. This week’s new venue – renowned as the “Sprint Car Capital of the World” and host of the summer’s Knoxville Nationals – creates a fresh challenge for the Truck Series drivers and has definitely become a popular venture as far as fans are concerned.
NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. won the Bristol Truck race on dirt earlier this season with full-time series championship competitors Ben Rhodes finishing runner-up and Todd Gilliland finishing fourth. Current championship leader, five-race winner John Hunter Nemechek finished 39th on the Bristol dirt track, crashing out after completing only 48 laps.
Nemechek, 24, arrives in Knoxville riding a career year in NASCAR competition. He won the last truck race – two weeks ago in Pocono – to extend his series-best victory total to five. He’s won three of the last four races (at Charlotte, Texas and Pocono), has led laps in 11 of the season’s 13 races and his 485 total laps out front is more than double that of any other full-time series competitor. Nemechek has a series-high eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.
As Rhodes, 24, showed at Bristol this spring, he is up for the dirt challenge. The driver of the No. 99 ThorSport Toyota has kept Nemechek honest in the championship standings all season – winning the opening two races and adding that runner-up at Bristol. Interestingly, he’s earned 10 top-10 finishes, but led only 74 total laps in 13 races – only 11 laps in the last five races. Certainly, Rhodes would like to re-establish some consistency heading into the playoffs. In the last four races, he has two top-10 finishes and two finishes 17th or worse.
Gilliland, driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford is another driver to watch at Knoxville. He didn’t lead a lap the first seven races of the season, but the team has obviously switched into gear and he’s led laps in five of the last six. In fact, Gilliland has been particularly effective on the new venues to this year’s schedule – winning at Circuit of The Americas, finishing fourth on the Bristol dirt and finishing runner-up at Nashville. He’s third in the championship and one of only four full-time drivers with a victory to ensure his place in the Truck Series Playoffs.
With two races remaining in the regular season, Chandler Smith holds a 31-point advantage over former series champion Johnny Sauter for that final playoff transfer position. Tyler Ankrum is 33 points behind Smith.