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Kroger 250 Preview: NASCAR’s Youth Ready to Shine

Kroger 250 Preview: NASCAR’s Youth Ready to Shine

by March 29, 2014 0 comments

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

RIDGEWAY, Va. — After a 36-day hiatus, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is back in action this Saturday with the Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.

This weekend’s race is notable for having no full-time Sprint Cup Series drivers in it, Erik Jones will make his return in Kyle Busch Motorsport’s No. 51 Tundra while Ben Rhodes will make his Truck Series debut in the No. 32 Turner-Scott Motorsports Silverado. Given that, it’s looking like the youth of NASCAR will be the strongest contenders for the second race of the season when you take a look at how they have performed here in the past.

Jones and last fall’s Martinsville winner, Darrell Wallace Jr., head to Southern Virginia with a head of steam. Wallace finished in the top-five in both races here last year, both races also being his only two starts at the track in the series. After being caught up in the big wreck synonymous with Daytona in the season-opening Nextera Energy Resources 250, Wallace is looking for a rebound performance at the track that has provided him with his sole Truck Series victory.

“I have the same feeling, if not a better feeling, as I did heading in to the October race at Martinsville last season,” Wallace said. “Our season really starts this weekend. We didn’t have the finish we wanted at Daytona, but we’ve regrouped and definitely have confidence on our side as we go back to Martinsville.”

Jones made his series debut at Martinsville last season, finishing ninth in his maiden race after running as high as fourth. In an exclusive interview with The Fourth Turn, Jones stated that he believes that he possesses the know-how to improve on that ninth-place result and possibly drive a Kyle Busch-owned truck into victory lane at the track for the second consecutive race.

“Last year was my first truck race and I had never been at the track before,” Jones told The Fourth Turn. “Having experienced the track now and also some experience in the trucks I feel like I can go to the track a little more confidently and knowing a little more what I need to be doing to run up in the top-five and contending for a win this time.”

The Kyle Busch Motorsports duo’s greatest competition on Saturday will come from the Turner-Scott Motorsports stable. Ben Kennedy and four-time series champion, Ron Hornaday Jr., will lead the TSM charge into Martinsville looking for the team’s maiden victory at the circuit. The organization will field an additional two entries for this Saturday’s race with Brandon Jones returning to the No. 33 truck and Rhodes, making his series debut, strapping into the No. 32 truck.

The Turner-Scott team’s best shot at victory might come out of Kennedy, who finished fourth in last October’s Martinsville race. Veteran Hornaday has one win in 23 races at Martinsville, however, in his past four starts at the track he has not been able to finish higher than ninth. Kennedy has set a target on the Kroger 250 as an opportunity to strike.

“After the fourth-place finish we had there last year, Martinsville is a race that I’ve had circled on my calendar since the schedule came out,” Kennedy said. “We had a great run there, and anytime you can go back to somewhere that you have experience, there’s things you’ve learned that you can take with you into the next race.”

Rhodes, current K&N Pro Series East points leader, comes into his debut truck race with an impressive record in the K&N Series. Currently in his second year in the series, Rhodes has a win, five top-fives, and eight top-10s in 11 career K&N Pro Series starts. In his last start in a race car, the 17-year-old won at Greenville-Pickens Speedway to take the points lead in the series. Rhodes is optimistic heading into his first race in the Truck Series.

“I’m really excited to be making my Truck Series debut this weekend at Martinsville,” he said. “I know we’re going with a great truck and I’m very confident in my Turner Scott Motorsports team. I was able to test with these guys a few weeks ago and it went great. I’m really looking forward to working with [Mike] Hillman [Jr.] throughout the year and plan to learn as much as possible throughout these five races.”

A statistic that might worry the Brad Keselowski Racing team of Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney is the fact that a Ford F-150 has not won at Martinsville in 16 races, a drought that extends to 2005. Blaney will make his fourth Martinsville start in the trucks while Reddick will make his debut at the track. Blaney had his best finish at the track come in last year’s fall race when he finished in fifth position.

“I’m more than ready to get back behind the wheel of my Cooper Standard Ford F-150,” Blaney said. “I had a chance to race Bristol for Team Penske in the Nationwide Series but it’s still been a while since my last race due to the schedule. I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to win at Martinsville the past several trips there, and hope to close the deal this time around.”

Reddick is also feeling optimistic heading into his first race at Martinsville.

“Ever since Daytona last month I’ve been itching for the opportunity to get back in the BKR Ford F-150,” Reddick said. “The 19 team is strong, and it is a privilege to drive Brad’s truck. This weekend should be another great learning opportunity and I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of the Broken Bow Music Group Ford F-150!”

A driver that’s due for his first Martinsville win is the driver who finished third in both Martinsville races last year, Jeb Burton. Burton, who was rocked with the news that he’d be out of a full-time ride with Turner-Scott Motorsports for the 2014 season, has put together another opportunity with ThorSport Racing to race in Martinsville this weekend as the team was able to piece together a sponsor deal for the weekend.

Burton’s current deal with ThorSport isn’t for a full-time season, the team is currently competing on a race-by-race deal that is completely dependent on sponsorship. With this, the motivation for Burton to succeed is higher than ever, and with the series returning to a track where he’s had plenty of success at last season he may be able to turn in a run that could provide him with the opportunity to compete in more races this season.

Qualifying will prove to be very important tomorrow morning. The last eight races held at Martinsville Speedway were won from a top-five starting position. The five entrants for Saturday’s race with the lowest average start at Martinsville are Wallace, German Quiroga, Burton, Hornaday, and Travis Kvapil.

Plenty of cautions should be on hand for tomorrow’s race, with the average number of cautions in the last 10 Martinsville truck races being 10.1. While there will be plenty of beating and banging throughout all 250 laps tomorrow, Martinsville doesn’t require drivers to keep their car completely clean in order to contend for a win. It would not be a surprise to see tomorrow’s winner roll into victory lane with taped-up fenders and other sorts of cosmetic damage on their truck.

The youth movement of NASCAR is front and center in the Camping World Truck Series with several youngsters already earning victories at various tracks in the series. Will we see a new face make a name for themselves after 250 laps tomorrow? Or will we see an established name in the series further their legacy? Regardless of who wins, there will be plenty of excitement when the trucks take to Martinsville tomorrow.

The Kroger 250 will air live on FOX Sports 1 tomorrow with coverage starting at 2:00p.m. ET.

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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