Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – ROSSBURG, OH – For most NASCAR fans, the Camping World Truck Series Eldora Dirt Derby has become a true summer rite of passage.
The sport’s most unique racing offering is as highly anticipated by those watching as those who will race. And again this year, the racing lineup is accomplished, diverse and full of compelling storylines.
From Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars such as Ryan Newman and Ty Dillon to the Camping World Truck Series 2018 championship contenders such as standings leader Johnny Sauter, veteran Matt Crafton and weekly contender Stewart Friesen to young stars like Todd Gilliland and Myatt Snider to the debut of young dirt track stars such as Logan Seavey, 21, Braden Mitchell, 19, and Tyler Dippel, 18 – driver introductions in Wednesday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be loud and enthusiastic.
There are those looking to make a name under the spotlight, those less familiar with the nuances of racing on dirt and a whole lot of those that enjoy this thrilling one-off opportunity.
It’s exactly the atmosphere that drew Cup star Ryan Newman to want to be a part of the show for the first time since he finished third in the 2013 inaugural race at his former teammate Tony Stewart’s beloved and renowned short track.
“It’s going back to dirt racing. I enjoy all of that,” Newman, 40, said last week announcing his ride in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Jordan Anderson Racing.
“Ultimately, it’s just a good experience, it’s a lot of fun.
“I’m glad NASCAR has put a Truck race on the dirt. Still look forward to a Cup race on dirt at some point. I don’t know if it will be next year or 10 years down the road, but I might come out of retirement at some point for that one.”
The excitement is genuine. And many consider this to be the most competitive entry lists of the season. There are 39 trucks expected for the show at Stewart’s pride-and-joy in Rossburg, Ohio, which just hosted its prestigious “King’s Royal” World of Outlaws race last weekend.
The format for Wednesday’s big show is unlike any Truck Series race of the year. The field will be divided and assigned a start among five 10-lap heat races. The top-five finishers from each heat move to the main show. And there is a 15-lap “Last Chance” race that moves two more onto the grid. There are four positions based on owner points and even a “past champion’s provisional” available as well.
For most of the drivers entered, it’s the ultimate throwback format to their cherished racing roots.
For some, it’s the current way of racing life as they work their way up to the big time.
Two of the five Camping World Truck Series races at Eldora have been won by Monster Energy Series regulars. Austin Dillon won the inaugural race in 2013 and Kyle Larson won in 2016.
The defending champion, however, is two-time series champion Matt Crafton, who is actually looking to earn his first win of the 2018 season. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Bubba Wallace won this race in 2014 and current Xfinity Series title favorite Christopher Bell won the race in 2015.
Toyota boasts three wins in the five races, including two for Kyle Busch Motorsports (Wallace and Bell).
New for this year, the FS1 race telecast will include both Larson and Bell as commentators. Both young drivers have extraordinary records at the track even beyond their Truck Series wins there. Larson became only the second driver in history to win three USAC races in a single night there in 2011. And Bell is a former USAC Midget National champion with multiple wins at the facility.
“Eldora is my favorite race track in the country and the Truck race at Eldora is one of my favorite events of the season, so when this opportunity presented itself, I quickly jumped on it,” said Bell, who drives the No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.
Larson was equally as enthusiastic.
“I’m really excited that FOX liked the idea and decided to run with it,” said Larson, driver the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Eldora is a great track, and this is a really unique race, so I look forward to hopefully providing some more insight into what it’s like to not only race a truck at Eldora, but some of the nuances of racing on dirt. This race is a great chance to show NASCAR fans the excitement of dirt racing, and hopefully shows dirt fans the intensity of NASCAR racing.”
And it’s a vibe felt throughout the sport.