ROCKINGHAM — It is a month until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series makes its way back to Rockingham Speedway for the second installment of the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at the Rock presented by Cheerwine.
This doesn’t mean it is all quiet on U.S. Highway 1.
NCWTS drivers Max Gresham, Ron Hornaday, Justin Lofton and Brennan Newberry hit the track at Rockingham Speedway Thursday to prepare for the April’s return.
Even though the temperature is 20 to 30 degrees colder than what the drivers and their crews will expect in April, they believe the testing will help them during the race weekend.
“We want to have a solid baseline,” Gresham said. “When we come back next month, we will tweak it on what we are learning today.”
Gresham competed in last season’s race, finishing 18th after qualifying in the 15th position. He said the key to having a successful run at “The Rock” is learning the track’s nuances.
“Experience is everything here, knowing the dips and the bumps,” Gresham said. “Having run here last year, I have a race under my belt. I have the experience of surviving until the end. A lot of people didn’t have that. We didn’t have the finish we wanted.”
In the only race this season, Gresham was 24th in Daytona after being caught up in a multi-truck accident, but was able to continue until the end.
Newberry used Thursday’s time to continue to get acclimated to his new crew chief and team after NTS Motorsports and Joe Dennette Motorsports merged in the offseason. After earning the pole in Daytona, Newberry, like Gresham, was in the middle of the multi-truck accident, which knocked him out of the race in 33rd position.
“I think communication and chemistry is very important in a race team,” Newberry said between practice sessions. “The crew has to trust me and I have to trust them. This is like a team-building exercise. I believe building chemistry is done off the track to help build communication on the track.”
Newberry finished 23rd last year after beginning 30th in his first venture to Rockingham Speedway. He hopes to build on that experience and Thursday’s testing to work with new crew chief, Eddie Pardue, to have a truck capable of winning next month.
“We will use what we do today and what we write down after each session,” Newberry said. “Eddie is good at breaking down information and will build a baseline for us. It’s a process.”
Odd man out
Despite having raced at “The Rock” four times and finishing 10th in the inaugural truck race as well as eighth in last year’s NCWTS points standings, Lofton is scrambling to find sponsors to run full time on the series this season.
“It’s really frustrating,” said Lofton, who was fourth in Daytona last month. “I question myself…What did I miss out on? What did I do wrong? It’s been humbling, but I am doing everything I can to stay ready.”
Lofton was in attendance during the practice session to assist Gresham. Lofton jumped into the No. 8 Chevrolet a handful of times to confirm what the young driver was saying about the truck’s handling or setup.
“We want to get Max comfortable on the track,” Lofton said. “Our goal is to get him up to speed. I’m here to back up what Max is saying.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.