Johnny Sauter returns to defend his 2016 title when NASCAR’s Truck Series opens its season Friday with the Nextera Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway.
Here are five storylines to watch in this season’s Truck series:
Can Sauter do it again?
Sauter was opportunistic last season, taking advantage when rookie sensation William Byron bowed out at Phoenix in the final race of the playoffs’ semifinals. To Sauter’s credit, he had already qualified for the final four after winning twice in a row (at Martinsville and Texas) in the semifinals. With Byron moving up to the Xfinity series, Sauter figures to be a favorite to repeat.
Truck differences, too
The points and race-stage rules changes announced in January by NASCAR include the Trucks. That means we can say goodbye to the Trucks’ short-lived caution clock. The traveling medical team that NASCAR announced it will use this season will not be at standalone Truck (and Xfinity) races, however, but only when those series are racing at the same track as the Cup series.
Replacing the young guys
The Truck series, of course, is a developmental series. So several young drivers “developed” themselves right out of the Truck series and into the Xfinity series this season, including Byron, Cole Custer, Spencer Gallagher, Ben Kennedy, Daniel Hemrick and Matt Tifft.
Mooresville’s John Hunter Nemechek, 19, who continues to hope he can find major sponsorship, made the playoffs last season and has three career victories. Christopher Bell, 22, made the championship round last season and won at Gateway (Ill.) Motorsports Park. Ben Rhodes, Justin Haley, Brett Moffit, Grant Enfinger and Ryan Truex (younger brother of Cup driver Martin Truex Jr.) are other young guys to keep an eye on.
Veterans to watch
Sauter, 38, taught the young guys a lesson last season. And then there’s Matt Crafton, who won the championship in 2013 and ’14 and made the championship round last season. At 40, he has said he’s content to stay in the Truck series.