Youth movement

HARTFORD – The best show in NASCAR doesn’t always take place on Sunday afternoons.

Some of the most entertaining racing and developing rivalries are often seen under the lights when the Camping World Truck Series holds its races on Friday nights. What makes it great for fans is that the action involves the next wave of talented young racers, including some with familiar names.

Jeb Burton, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. are all among the top 25 in points in the truck series. Burton is second with 262, and Blaney checks in at seventh with 232.

“All the young guys are rivals,” Blaney said as a smile creased his face. “We all want to be the best young guy in the truck series. That by itself causes a rivalry. You always want to be the best rookie. That means a lot, especially now because there are so many good rookies out there. It’s really tough to beat them, and it means a lot when you do.”

The 19-year-old Blaney is the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup veteran and Badger High School graduate Dave Blaney. Ryan has competed in each of the truck series seven races, finishing in the top 10 five times and the top five three times.

Ryan found time for a stop in the area to race in the Pay It Forward Foundation Summer Bash Wednesday at Sharon Speedway. He and Sprint Cup veteran Ken Schrader competed in the United E-Modified Series (UEMS) race.

It seems that NASCAR is in need of a shot of the same youthful energy that was so noticeable when Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, among others, arrived on the scene. The hope is that this influx of young drivers will generate the same level of excitement that caused NASCAR to shoot up the charts as a must-see sport.

“It’s definitely going to be good to have the next wave come up,” Ryan said. “There was a period there where there were no young guys coming up. I think it’s going to be very cool for NASCAR to have this next generation come up.”

There’s not a lot Ryan can complain about as he deals with the challenges of his rookie season. He’d obviously like to get his initial win of the season and second of his career.

“The manufacturer change we had has been a little difficult on us to really know what we need with these new bodies,” said Ryan, whose team switched from Dodge to Ford. “We don’t really have a lot of motor in the truck series, so you have to make up for it somehow to be able to run wide open, which we do on most mile-and-a-half race tracks.”

The difficult part about this season is dealing with down time. The schedule for the truck series includes just 22 races, compared to 36 for the Sprint Cup. In addition to his commitment to Brad Keselowski Racing’s No. 29 Cooper Standard Ford, Ryan would like to get a couple rides in the Nationwide Series. He’ll also run three ARCA races with Cunningham Motor Sports.

The racing industry thrives on almost constant activity. NASCAR’s three-month offseason is about two months too long for some team members.

“Sometimes we’ll have three weeks off,” Ryan said. “If I can keep racing as much as possible, I think it keeps you sharper as a driver and just more up to par in being as good as you can.”

Ryan fell two spots in the standings after last week’s race at the Texas Motor Speedway because of a failed shock. The loss of six points dropped him 53 points behind leader Matt Crafton.

With just 15 races remaining in the season, Ryan knows there’s not much margin for error if he wants to achieve his goal of winning the points championship.

“It’s a matter of finishing these races and not having any trouble we can prevent,” he said. “We definitely want to win the points, and we have to start getting a bunch of top 5s and wins to catch those guys.”