Add Erik Jones to the growing list of drivers attempting to take down Kyle Busch in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Jones announced on Tuesday he will race at Homestead in hopes of claiming the 100-thousand-dollar bounty put up by Kevin Harvick and Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis.
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson entered the Truck Series fray last week, with Elliott scheduled to race at Atlanta and Kansas while Larson is set to drive at Homestead. Austin Dillon and John Hunter Nemechek are among those who have expressed a desire to get in on the action but are working to secure rides.
All of this great, unless you’re a Truck Series regular. Per Harvick’s edict, only full-time Cup drivers can win the money. So it should come as no surprise that some of the Truck folks feel a little discounted.
“It’s great that Marcus and Kevin are putting up a bounty for Cup drivers,” said three-time series champion Matt Crafton. “I see what Kevin is doing, that a Cup driver can get more TV time and all that. But at the same time, I don’t see why they put their pants on any different than we do. I don’t see why, if we go out and beat Kyle, we don’t deserve it. It’s kind of a kick in the shorts, to be honest.”
Busch will enter Atlanta riding a seven-race winning streak spanning three seasons. His last “loss” came at Charlotte in 2018 when he finished second to Johnny Sauter.
“People forget that we have beaten him,” Crafton said. “In 2016 at Charlotte, I beat him head to head. Johnny (Sauter) beat him head to head before so it can be done.
“I love that Harvick is doing what he’s doing. I understand that he’s trying to get Cup drivers to step up and do it, and be a part of it. But at the end of the day, they should put up the same bounty to everybody.”
Fellow Truck Series driver and ThorSport Racing teammate Ben Rhodes feels similarly to Crafton, in that he understands Harvick’s reasoning, but he too would like a piece of that 100K.
“It was kind of frustrating. I read it as a challenge for all drivers,” said Rhodes. “And then somebody said it was only for Cup drivers and I said ‘What? That’s BS.’”
Fortunately for Crafton, Rhodes, and the rest of the series, they have a windfall of their own to chase. Chris Larsen, team owner for Halmar Racing, and who fields trucks for Stewart Friesen, posted a 50-thousand-dollar bounty of his own to any Truck Series regular who can beat Busch in one of the next four races.
“That’s the way it should be across the board,” said Crafton. “Kudos to him for stepping up and doing that. It says a lot about what he does with the sport. That’s great.”
“We just have to step up our game,” said Rhodes. “My hope is 50-thousand is good motivation for my guys to make no mistakes, put in the hours, and really work on being on the cutting edge of the sport rather than somewhere in the middle.”
Fans have long voiced their displeasure with Cup drivers competing in the lower-level series, particularly Kyle Busch. NASCAR responded several years ago by capping the number of races Busch and his Cup collogues can enter. On the flip side, Truck veterans take zero with issue with Elliott, Larson, and Jones throwing their hats in the ring.
“I think it’s good. It brings extra publicity to the series,” said Rhodes. “It’s funny, some rules have been implemented because of Kyle Busch’s participation in Trucks and Xfinity. But look how much exposure it brings that other Cup drivers are coming in to try and compete with him. It’s good for the series that it’s getting the attention, but it’s also good because it pulls out that double standard that these other Cup drivers are coming and people are excited about it, but when Kyle Busch runs, nobody is excited.”
“I am 100 percent in agreement with them getting to race with us,” said Crafton. “It would be great. There shouldn’t be limits. It’s ridiculous to put limits on it. But I think it’s ridiculous that they put a 100-thousand-dollar bounty out there and the regulars aren’t good enough to get it.”
Drivers get their first crack at Busch and the money at Atlanta on March 14. Then it’s off to Homestead the following week, Texas the week after that, and assuming the challenge is still waging, Kansas on May 30.