The 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season has been a year of many firsts for Nick Sanchez.
For the 22-year-old rookie, the opportunity to compete for a title in this year’s Truck Series Playoffs is another first to add to the list, starting with this Friday’s Round of 10 opener at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
But the allure of simply competing in his inaugural postseason isn’t solely what the No. 2 Chevrolet driver for Rev Racing has in mind. For Sanchez, the possibility of winning could feasibly be in the cards. And the idea of finding Victory Lane for the first time in his Truck Series career — and during a title hunt, no less — would certainly cross another first off the list.
“I think that would be amazing. Obviously, being close many times this year, but I feel like if there is a time to get it done, it’s definitely now, and I know that win would be multiplied times 10 because I’d advance to the next round,” Sanchez said Tuesday via teleconference during playoff media day. “If it’s in the Round of 8, I’d go to the championship round, so I think it’s a really unique format, but I think that would be amazing to hopefully get a win here in the playoffs and compete for a championship in Phoenix.”
After Rev Racing announced its expansion into the national series — with Sanchez as pilot of its No. 2 entry — the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program participant wasted no time making his appearance known in the Truck Series. Sanchez not only claimed the pole in his first-ever Truck Series start at Daytona International Speedway to open the 2023 campaign but amassed four pole awards during the regular season, most in the entire circuit.
Of course, speed was always there for the former ARCA Menards Series standout. To go along with four career wins, Sanchez additionally netted 18 top-five and 31 top-10 finishes while competing in the series. A banner 2022 — in which Sanchez compiled three wins, nine top fives and 16 top 10s — eventually culminated with the driver earning an ARCA championship.
Fast forward almost a full calendar year later and Sanchez finds similar speed, headlined by two top-five and eight top-10 finishes during the regular season. And while he doesn’t incorporate any strategy from that 2022 title year to his chances at a Truck championship in 2023, he does understand where he must be cognizant.
“I think the area that I need to improve on is just execution from start to finish in a race,” Sanchez said. “Usually, we qualify very amazing, top three most of the time, but I feel like you kinda gotta keep that up regardless of how the race plays out or strategy. You have to find a way to be there at the end, so I think that’s gonna be the emphasis I’m gonna put on these next seven races, honestly. Just kind of inverting my race, finishing where I started, so I think that’s the area as a driver I want to improve on.
“I think also aggression. I think, as a rookie, I don’t want to say I’ve been pushed around a little bit, but I’ve definitely been used up a good bit, and part of that is just me trying to be cautious knowing my points position, but I feel like, at least where I am now, it’s the playoffs. I have nothing to lose. So, I think just ramp that aggression up a little bit and start making more aggressive moves to hold position or advance position.”
For Sanchez, the goal of executing through continued speed and increased aggression could be the remedy to not only finding Victory Lane for the first time but outlasting the cream of the Truck Series crop once the Championship 4 race in Phoenix rolls around. Sanchez’s 231 laps led during the regular season ranked third among the entire Truck Series field, and while it was trumped by regular-season champion Corey Heim (408), Sanchez believes he has what it takes to battle with him and other steady contenders.
“It is a very strong field from top to bottom,” Sanchez said. “Week by week, you really don’t know who’s gonna be in Victory Lane, but I think, as far as raw speed goes, I would put us up there right with the 11 (Heim), week-by-week, as the fastest trucks in qualifying and just the fastest on speed, and I think part of what you see in that is truck. I have a really fast truck, but I think once you get to the race, sometimes, I don’t necessarily know right from wrong. Usually, I’ve qualified on pole a good bit. I go out, get a lead and then I lose it in restart, and that’s the first time I’ve experienced dirty air.
“Knowing that I have a fast truck, I just need to put a big emphasis on closing out races, and I think, once me and my team can accomplish that, I feel like we’re gonna be at the top echelon of the field as far as for a shot to win and a shot at the title.”
As postseason play gets underway, Sanchez will look to continue growing as a young driver looking to cement his place in the Truck Series. But above all else, the No. 2 driver will look to keep it simple. There is momentum to build around with a strong regular season behind him, after all.
“I think my expectation for the rest of the season is just to compete for wins and ultimately get to Phoenix, but I feel like the rest of the season, I want to treat every race as its own season,” Sanchez said. “Not really worried about points too much, not really worried about the end goal of Phoenix. Just living the moment and taking it race-by-race, but I think for me, at this point, just competing for wins. That’s the only thing that I haven’t done this year, win. So, I feel like, race-by-race, I just wanna put myself in position at the end to be there and advance.”
And perhaps that position will help check off another first or two.