No win. No championship. No rookie of the year.
“Hell yeah I’m disappointed,” Cole Whitt said, looking back on his first season in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series. “Almost every week we were fast. That’s all you can ask for out of the trucks, out of everybody at Turn One Racing. But you can’t change your luck. It seems like every time we were running good, something bad would happen … an engine failure, a loose lug nut or we’d get caught up in something. I guess you pay your dues. I hope I’m around long enough so it comes back the other way.”
Like most drivers, however, Whitt’s a little hard on himself.
After a 22nd-place finish in the season finale Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Whitt ended up ninth in the Truck Series points standings — not bad for a driver who only 20 months ago was making his first stock car start.
The 20-year-old Whitt finished with two top fives, 11 top 10s, 18 top 15s and one pole, which came his first time out at Darlington — widely considered NASCAR’s trickiest track. After a season-best second-place finish at Dover followed by a third at Charlotte, Whitt, at only 19, became the youngest driver and first rookie to lead the Truck Series standings.
But consecutive finishes of 28th and 26th at Texas and Kentucky became the defining moment of Whitt’s swing at the championship. The first was an engine failure. The next, Ron Hornaday Jr. slapped Whitt’s truck into the outside wall. He fell to third in points, and two months later another engine failure dropped Whitt from fifth to eighth.
"We didn’t have the budget that a lot of those guys did. Or equipment. Or resources. But it was cool to overcome that and outrun those guys."
“There’s a huge learning curve because of the talent that’s out there,” Whitt said. “We could run up there and run good, outrun those Cup guys and all of the veterans of the Truck Series. We didn’t have the budget that a lot of those guys did. Or equipment. Or resources. But it was cool to overcome that and outrun those guys. Throwing it in their face was pretty cool and just showed how hard we were working.”
Whitt outran all but one truck in the early going Friday night. He started sixth and drove to second after disposing of race winner Johnny Sauter on lap 50. With only leader Elliott Sadler ahead, Whitt’s truck was one of the first to begin green-flag pit stops with 65 laps to go. He gave up second with the hopes of gaining time on fresh tires, but a right-front vibration forced Whitt to return to pit road. He re-entered the race one lap down in 23rd.
“We came back in to get another set, get all five lugs on tight,” Whitt said. “That’s all it needed. When we got back out there, we were plenty fast to lead the race. Probably was a truck to win, but things didn’t go right.”
Whitt was in free-pass position (22nd) when it began raining at about 9:45 p.m. ET. Rather than dry the 1.5-mile track and re-start the race near midnight, NASCAR officials opted to call the race 15 laps from its scheduled finish.
It’s not long until Whitt’s back in the cockpit of a car. He’ll participate in the Dec. 1 Red Bull Kart Fight, which matches stars from NASCAR, IndyCar, Grand-Am, American Le Mans, NHRA and the X Games in a karting event at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Orlando.
“It’ll be the first time I’ve done it, and I’m looking forward to it,” Whitt said. “Go down to Orlando and just relax, have fun with it. I haven’t been in a kart in years …”
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