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Five Storylines to Watch in 2017

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The Camping World Truck Series doesn’t feature the most traditional start to their season, with only four races in the first four months, as a way to give teams time to prepare for the rest of the schedule.

Though with only two races in the books so far – Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are still some storylines developing. As the days continue to count down to Martinsville, here are five of those to watch moving forward.

 

GMS Racing’s Strong Start

Arguably the strongest team in the Camping World Truck Series right now is GMS Racing, even though Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Christopher Bell leads the standings.

In the first two races, with four truck per event, the team has scored three top-fives, four top-10s, and no finishes outside of the top-15. Notably, the early highlight of the year was rookie Kaz Grala scoring the victory in the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway.

The strong start is no surprise, though, as the team has veteran leadership in Johnny Sauter, and had Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman behind the wheel of their trucks at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The team is also quick to credit the veteran leadership from industry veteran Mike Beam, who joined the organization in late 2014.

“It’s been a dream watching that man work,” Spencer Gallagher told Popular Speed in December. “The revolution and changes that have happened since that man came on have been amazing, and you saw that on the race track. We made statements at every type of tracks – dominated Talladega, we had two trucks that led and ran up front at Texas, and we ran well on the short tracks.”

The success is something which started last year, as Sauter walked away as the champion after finishing out the year with four straight top-five finishes. With the veteran second in points and Grala fourth, they could easily go two in a row.

 

Rough Start for Cindric and Gragson

Sometimes for rookies, they find early success – like Grala – and sometimes they find themselves struggling. Unfortunately, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson find themselves in the latter category.

In the first two events, Cindric has failed to post a top-20 finish as a result of a pair of wrecks. He got taken out in the Lap 2 crash at Daytona and had worked his way back to the top-10 at Atlanta following a pit road penalty before going for a spin with six laps to go.

Gragson was also involved in that wreck at Daytona, followed by another early race incident at Atlanta. A three-wide move on the first lap didn’t go as planned, with Gragson’s No. 18 Switch Toyota Tundra getting loose and going around, collecting Brett Moffitt in the process. With minimal damage to his truck, Gragson was able to join up at the back of the field for the restart and continue. He used the rest of the day to fight back to a 14th place finish.

Both rookies have shown speed in the first two races, but have yet to come around with the top-10s to match that as a result of a mix of inexperience and luck. With both having short track experience via their backgrounds, a strong run in the next event at Martinsville Speedway could turn their year around.

 

The Surprise: Regan Smith?

Each year, there’s a small budget team that surprises everybody on a weekly basis. For the second straight year, it seems Ricky Benton Racing has made it happen.

After starting off last year well with Parker Kligerman, the team has done it with Regan Smith at the wheel this time. Smith scored a fifth place finish at Daytona, followed by a 12th place finish at Atlanta.

Smith being able to give the team a pair of competitive runs is no surprise, though, as he has proven he has talent. The past Southern 500 winner posted a top-five finish in each of the three seasons he ran in the XFINITY Series with JR Motorsports.

Currently, the team hasn’t announced plans for the whole schedule. RBR plans to run 12 races this year, including the first six races. Though if they continue to remain in the top-10 in points, one has to wonder the possibility of sponsorship being put together for a title run.

 

Further Back Than Expected: John Hunter Nemechek

Going into 2017, everyone thought John Hunter Nemechek would be a championship contender. After all, youngster posted a pair of wins and 11 top-10s en route to finishing 11th in the series standings last year. However, he currently sits 12th in points as a result of finishes of fourth and 28th (flat tire) in the first two events this year.

Despite the rough start, Nemechek believes his team can pull together a strong year.

“I feel like we’re going to be able to contend for wins week-in-week-out,” he told Popular Speed earlier this month. “We’ve kind of changed our mindset a little with the new segment rule coming in. I feel like it definitely be more exciting with the more tracks that that we get to. I feel good about our year. I feel like it’ll be a good year.”

Truthfully, the confidence is well-founded as he was running well at Atlanta before the tire issue and it doesn’t appear NEMCO Motorsports has slowed down at all. With a podium finish in each of the last three races at Martinsville, a win could put these thoughts in the rearview.

 

Early Favorite: Christopher Bell

With an eighth and a victory in the first two races, it appears as though Christopher Bell is emerging as the early championship favorite this season. Notably, he’s also faced adversity in both of those races. The eighth at Daytona came after being involved in three wrecks, and the Atlanta victory only happened due to him fighting his way through the field on a restart as a result of the late-race strategy.

The expectations surrounding Bell started last year, though, as he was one of the four drivers to qualify for the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and closed out 2016 with no finishes outside of the top-11 in the final nine races. Besides, being the primary driver for Kyle Busch Motorsports naturally brings pressure, as everyone knows what they’re capable of with past titles.

As long as Bell can keep a calm head on his shoulders and focus on the consistency he finished 2016 with and not the over-driving from the beginning of his career, he could very well walk away this year as the champion.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.