Kroger 250 field is filled with NASCAR's next generation
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – John Hunter Nemechek is anxious to return to the Camping World Truck Series.
The 17-year-old has been sidelined for the first two races of the season due to age restrictions. This weekend’s Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway – the third race of the NCWTS calendar is his first opportunity to climb behind the wheel on a track that is shorter than a mile-and-a-half.
I feel our short track program got better by the end of the year and got stronger over the off-season.
John Hunter Nemechek
“The goal is to win the race,” Nemechek said. “I feel confident in our team and the crew I have around me. We made some major changes in the off-season – switching over the Chevy and some personnel – but I feel our short track program got better by the end of the year and got stronger over the off-season.
“So I feel like we’ll have a truck that’s capable of contending for the win.”
In the interim, his father Joe Nemechek has performed admirably while keeping the seat of the No. 8 Chevy warm for the next generation of NEMCO Motorsports drivers. The elder Nemechek finished 20th at Daytona and 10th at Atlanta under the direction of veteran crew chief Gere Kennon, who replaced Jerry Babb at the end of last year.
Coming of age
However, when John Hunter turns 18 on June 11, he’s expected to ease into full-time competition – an opportunity that can’t come fast enough. In 12 truck starts, his best finish was fifth last September at Loudon. The last time Nemechek was in a truck was Phoenix last November where he started eighth and finished seventh.
To keep his skills sharp, he competed in Late Models and won the prestigious Snowball Derby and All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Off the track, Nemechek graduated early from high school and has started taking a few college courses.
Despite his youth, Nemechek already has three starts at Martinsville Speedway. With an average finish of 13.3 on the half-mile track, it’s clear that patience has paid off for the second-generation racer at NASCAR’s oldest track.
“There’s going to be some great battles,” Nemechek said. “You’re just going to have to stay out of all the trouble. I’m sure there’s going to be some wrecks – and tempers flaring. You just have to stay out of all that stuff and be there when it counts at the end.
“I feel like we’ve been able to do that the last few times we’ve come to Martinvsille.”
Here are some other rising stars to watch in Saturday’s truck race:
1) Cole Custer (17) – Custer is making his JR Motorsports debut but he is no stranger to the No. 00 Silverado. In nine truck starts, he has one win – from the pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where he led 148 laps. Custer’s first pole came at Gateway in his third career truck start. Although he finished 12th in his Martinsville debut, after tangling with Brandon Jones early in the fall race Custer ended up 29th, his first finish outside of the top 15.
2) Brandon Jones (18) – Speaking of Jones, the driver of the No. 33 Chevy is making his second start at Martinsville this weekend. In eight truck starts, Jones best result was fourth at Dover last year. His average finish at Martinsville is 22nd. The Atlanta, Ga. native will test an XFINITY Series car next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway in anticipation of making his NXS debut on May 17.
3) Gray Gaulding (17) – Gaulding is back in Toyota this weekend after parting ways with Bob Newberry and signing a one-off deal with Red Horse Racing. Gaulding will drive the No. 7 Krispy Kreme Toyota. Veteran Butch Hylton will be his crew chief. Gaulding has nine truck starts with one top-five finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Overall, Gaulding’s qualifying effort has been significantly better than his finishes. His average start is 9.3 but his average finish is 17.1.
4) Matt Tifft (18) – One of Kyle Busch Motorsport’s (KBM) development drivers, Tifft is piloting the No. 25 Clinical RM/Honoring Ebola Fighters Toyota which was prepared by Venturini Motorsports for the driver. Tifft has just four truck starts. His best result was here at Martinsville where he finished eighth.
5) Erik Jones (18) – After two part-time seasons, Jones is running for rookie honors in the truck series with KBM. He is already well on his way to establishing a solid NASCAR career. With three wins, two poles, eight top fives and 15 top 10 in 19 starts. He is third in the truck standings. While Jones was expected to run a limited XFINITY Series schedule this season, he has started every race. His overall NXS average is 11.1.