Kentucky Speedway

Rookie Whitt a surprise star heading into truck race at Kentucky Speedway

The crew for driver Johanna Long's No. 20 truck pushed it into place as haulers were unloaded at Kentucky Speedway in preparation for Thursday night's Camping World Truck Series race. Long had her best finish of the season in the series' most recent race, when she ran 11th at Texas on June 10.
The crew for driver Johanna Long's No. 20 truck pushed it into place as haulers were unloaded at Kentucky Speedway in preparation for Thursday night's Camping World Truck Series race. Long had her best finish of the season in the series' most recent race, when she ran 11th at Texas on June 10.

Cole Whitt isn't just being humble when he says he didn't expect what has transpired so far in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career.

Despite driving against veterans and champions such as Ron Hornaday and Todd Bodine, the 20-year-old Whitt finds himself second in the series standings in his rookie season, just 20 points behind leader Johnny Sauter heading into Thursday's 150-lap race at Kentucky Speedway.

Although the Truck Series is regularly visited by Cup stalwarts such as Kyle Busch, the only time Whitt has finished outside the top 15 this year is when his engine went up in smoke at Texas on June 10.

"We didn't think we'd be this good right away," Whitt said of his Red Bull team. "We thought maybe we'd tweak things and get better, but we've really stepped it up quick."

Success has come Whitt's way fairly quickly throughout his auto-racing life, from his first championship in go-karts to becoming the youngest winner of the USAC National Midget Series Championship in 2008.

And in his first full season in the Trucks Series, Whitt has recorded five top-10 finishes in nine races, including a second-place outing at Dover on May 13.

In addition to gaining spots in the standings, Whitt is also acquiring the respect of his more seasoned rivals.

Until his blown engine at Texas resulted in a 28th-place finish, Whitt had completed every lap this season, avoiding the wrecks that often hamper young drivers.

"I'd say initially the goal was just to run in the top 5 all the time, which is what we're still trying to do," said Whitt, who ran one truck race last year, finishing 28th at Homestead. "The biggest thing I've had to adjust for is just how aero-dependent the trucks are, so it's been a learning curve of how to race and how to keep up with how the trucks handle.

"I've just always been fairly good with adapting to new situations, to new cars. It's just really been one of my strong suits."

Whitt might still be seeking his first series win, but he has already had a taste of what it's like to start thinking championship.

The former Hoosier Outlaw Sprint Series Rookie of the Year actually led the points standings following a third-place effort at Charlotte, where the only two ahead of him that day were Busch and fellow Cup regular Clint Bowyer.

The Truck Series has gained a reputation in recent years for giving second careers to drivers who weren't able to maintain rides on the Cup circuit.

However, Whitt's early success is proof NASCAR's developmental series is still just that.

"I hope so; it's kind of tough the way things are these days," Whitt said. "Hopefully I can make a name for myself, surprise the right people and make my way up through NASCAR. But you never really know what can happen in this sport."

Unfortunately for Whitt, he is already getting a firsthand lesson on how unpredictable life in NASCAR can be. Team owner Red Bull announced earlier this season it is slated to leave NASCAR as both a car owner and sponsor at the end of the year, leaving plans for 2012 uncertain for one of its more promising drivers.

"Really, we haven't gotten that far. We've been looking for answers, but we haven't heard anything yet," Whitt said of the situation. "As far as I know, it sounds like we have to kind of find our own thing."

If this season is serving as an audition of sorts for Whitt, he is at least getting noticed for all the right reasons.

  Comments