Two races into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, a 19-year-old is breathing down the bumpers of the best the series has to offer.
Red Bull development driver Cole Whitt finished sixth Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway, putting the rookie in prime position in the points standings. As the series enters its first bye week coming off a sand-to-sand trip that began with a 14th-place showing at Daytona, Whitt ranks third in points.
"Points are points," Whitt said. "If you run well, points take care of themselves. With this new points system, it's going to be tight. One bad day, you can drop eight spots. A good day, you can gain eight spots. We're in a good position because we've stayed smart in the these first two races.
"We're definitely good enough to run with those veterans, those guys that have the Truck Series what it is today."
After starting ninth, Whitt used his smarts to keep Turn One Racing's No. 60 within striking distance of the top 10 for the race's first 100 laps. Whitt's race-clean approach worked perfectly, as he avoided a big wreck on lap 112 to move up to ninth. As Whitt drove calm and collected over the remaining 50 laps, a few of the frontrunners faded and the No. 60 moved forward on the slick, 1-mile flat track.
Whitt called Friday night "a huge step" for Turn One Racing. The truck failed to qualify for the season-opening race at Daytona — Whitt eventually hopped in the No. 93 — but the team regrouped and completed a successful turnaround in time for Phoenix.
"It was a good weekend for the team," Whitt said. "To miss Daytona and come back with the finish we had at Phoenix says a lot about this team, the guys I work with. It was hard to not get down on ourselves. But the team did a good job and stuck with it.
"We didn't unload with the truck we thought we had, but in the final few minutes of practice we started getting it. I didn't wear the tires out and just kind of held my position. Others guys took off an ran hard, but they eventually came back to us."
Follow Red Bull Racing Team on Twitter: @RedBullNASCAR.