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Kids Running Wild At Rockingham

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 13 2013

Kyle Larson is fast and solid at The Rock. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. – Youth was served on Saturday at Rockingham Speedway, a facility chock full of rich, racing history.

Twenty-year-old phenom Kyle Larson carved up the rugged 1.017-mile oval like a seasoned pro to pace the 36 drivers who turned laps during opening practice for Sunday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Rock presented by Cheerwine.

Larson was followed on the speed chart by youngsters Ryan Blaney and Ty Dillon, two other rising stars of the sport.

Blaney, whose father David Blaney is a longtime competitor in the Sprint Cup Series, wasn’t surprised the kids were watching the veterans of the series from their rear view mirrors.

He did, however, direct much of the credit toward equipment and the mechanics that turn the wrenches.

“All three of us have great teams behind us,” said Blaney, who had never turned a lap at Rockingham until Saturday. “I think it speaks a lot about how prepared these teams that they can unload fast trucks.

“It’s a good thing for all of us to be hooked up with good teams.”

Jeb Burton was 3 years old when his father, former Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, won the fall 1995 Cup event at Rockingham.

Now he’s hoping to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be part of racing,” Jeb Burton said. “And when dad started getting out of racing, that fire in me started. I didn’t want to leave the sport. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until he was on his way out.

Following an extended absence from racing, Ward Burton is a fairly regular fixture at truck series events to keep an eye on his son.

The popular veteran stood on the spotter’s stand at Martinsville last weekend when Jeb started on the pole.

“But he’s actually not here today,” Jeb Burton said Saturday afternoon. “We’ve made it where he doesn’t even have a radio with a button now.

“He’s helped me here. But it’s just like I was talking to Chase (Elliott, son of 1988 Cup champion Bill Elliott) about it. It’s better when you (get racing advice) from someone else besides your father.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum is veteran driver Matt Crafton, who will establish a new truck series record for consecutive starts on Sunday at 297.

He is a big fan of the oval in Rockingham that had sat idle for the majority of the past decade before the inaugural truck series race here last season.

“I wish more race tracks were like this,” Crafton said. “I was actually talking to somebody the other day; all these new paved race trucks just plain and simple suck to go race on.

“We run around the bottom and we can’t pass. I think they need to make some type of machine that, once they pave the race track, would make it abrasive and put some kind of sealer on it where your stuff will slide around.”

After taking a red-eye flight from Dallas to Charlotte this morning following Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, series director Wayne Auton was roaming the Rockingham truck garage on Saturday.

Operating on little sleep, it was pretty evident to see that Rockingham is one of the favorite tracks of the longtime and former truck series director.

“This is the place to be,” Auton said as he flashed his trademark smile.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 13 2013
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