Truck Series regulars may have an edge over "ringers" at Knoxville Raceway

Truck Series regulars may have an edge over
Courtesy of Toyota Racing

KNOXVILLE, Iowa—Entering the Clean Harbors 150 at Knoxville Raceway, Stewart Friesen and Buddy Kofoid should be the favorites, right?

Friesen and Kofoid, the 2021 USAC National Midget champ, can be found grinding on the different dirt circuits throughout the week. While Kofoid, 20, is making his second Camping World Truck Series start on Saturday, Stewie, who turns 39 next month, is a seven-year veteran on the tour.

Tyler Carpenter is a second-generation dirt specialist from West Virginia making his NASCAR debut at Knoxville. Carpenter, 31, earned the opportunity to race the No. 41 Aggressive Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports after winning the Super Late Model division in the 2021 Gateway Dirt Nationals.

“I’m more excited than you can imagine about racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this weekend at Knoxville Raceway,” Carpenter said. “It’s something that you dream about being a part of when you’re younger—or any event that’s NASCAR associated. I’m stoked to get behind the wheel of a Niece Motorsports Chevrolet Silverado this weekend.

“It’s been a long time coming since earning this opportunity back in December.”

When it comes to a take-no-prisoners approach to racing, the Kamikaze Kid embraces that style. On Friday, Carpenter took his first laps in a truck on the half-mile clay surface. He was 17th quick out of 38th entrants in first practice with a time of 23.872-seconds, 0.839-seconds behind current truck champ Ben Rhodes, who won the Bristol Dirt race in April. Carpenter gained three positions from 15th in first to 12th in final practice in the Best 10 Consecutive Lap category.

Carpenter joins a field that includes Jessica Friesen, who returns to Knoxville as husband Stewart’s on-track teammate once again. The 36-year-old has competed in both sprint cars and dirt modified throughout her career. After missing the Bristol Dirt race, she was eighth in Best 10 Consecutive Lap Averages in Happy Hour in the No. 62 Halmar Friesen Racing Toyota.

Brayton Laster is another Dirt Super Late Model driver hoping to make the transition from dirt to pavement. The 19-year-old Greenwood, Indiana, native makes his truck debut in the No. 33 Reaume Brothers Racing Tundra. Laster drove an ARCA car at Daytona and Talladega last year.

Austin Hill was somewhat of a surprise winner in the inaugural Knoxville truck race last year, after grabbing the lead from Chandler Smith with 10 laps left. Saturday’s victor should be a bit more predictable. Veteran Matt Crafton was fifth on the speed chart in first practice, third in final practice and topped 10-lap averages. The three-time truck champ finished sixth in the inaugural Knoxville event and races on dirt for fun in his spare time.

“I think the truck is pretty good,” Crafton said. “I just need to keep up with the track all night. First practice, the track was pretty good. Second practice, they tried something different but they feel they know what they did wrong.”

Crafton is not alone among the NASCAR regulars who have incorporated recreational dirt racing on the side. Rhodes, John Hunter Nemechek and Carson Hocevar, who is recovering after breaking his right tibia in a vicious wreck at World Wide Technology Raceway two weeks ago, were among the fastest drivers on Friday at Knoxville. All three drivers have recently spent time running at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, N.C., to up their games.

Nemechek agrees with Crafton that keeping up with the track will be key. The driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota studied the World of Outlaws race last weekend at Knoxville to glean clues entering the truck race. He’ll also lean on Kofoid, his KBM teammate this weekend, for advice on the surface.

“I think having ‘Buddy the Dirt Driver’ with us this weekend is definitely going to be good to just have a different perspective,” Nemechek said. “Having Brian Brown there last year, he doesn’t have a lot of stock car experience, kind of like Buddy, but you can pick their brain about the dirt, how the track is going to change, and what the track is going to do in terms of rubbering up or staying wet and tacky.

“Definitely going to be interested to see how the track changes. It changed a lot last year in those two practices and was completely different when we went back on Saturday for the race, so just have to stay on top of it and know what to do and how to make adjustments inside the race car with my hands and feet and pedals and everything else to try and get the truck to turn or not break rear traction depending on the conditions of the racetrack. Being able to lean a lot on those guys for that information is very important.”

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