NASCAR Draft Kit: 2018 Truck Series Rankings

NASCAR Draft Kit: 2018 Truck Series Rankings

This article is part of our NASCAR Draft Kit series.

1. Johnny Sauter – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet – With the promotion of reigning truck series champion, Christopher Bell, we're left to wonder who will step up and contend with Sauter for the 2018 Camping World Truck Series championship. That shift in power, vacuum of talent, could propel the GMS Racing veteran back to the crown. He'll certainly be the odds on favorite to race away with the championship. Sauter posted four wins and 19 Top-10 finishes last season in finishing runner-up in the points. Those numbers are nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2016 en route to winning his first title. GMS Racing will bring back the same team and support and in our books that's good enough to make him the top of the heap entering the season.

2. Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford – ThorSport makes the shift from long-time Toyota team to Ford in 2018. That's a wrinkle to keep in mind going into the season, but in the big picture Crafton and this team bring the experience and skill to mount a serious threat for the championship. The veteran driver is a 14-time winner in this division of NASCAR and a two-time champion. Crafton's one-win and 16 Top-10 campaign of last season earned him a fourth-place finish in the standings. He should hold the line on those numbers and possibly even improve with the shakeup of talent and new, younger faces entering this racing series. Crafton is just two

1. Johnny Sauter – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet – With the promotion of reigning truck series champion, Christopher Bell, we're left to wonder who will step up and contend with Sauter for the 2018 Camping World Truck Series championship. That shift in power, vacuum of talent, could propel the GMS Racing veteran back to the crown. He'll certainly be the odds on favorite to race away with the championship. Sauter posted four wins and 19 Top-10 finishes last season in finishing runner-up in the points. Those numbers are nearly identical to the ones he posted in 2016 en route to winning his first title. GMS Racing will bring back the same team and support and in our books that's good enough to make him the top of the heap entering the season.

2. Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford – ThorSport makes the shift from long-time Toyota team to Ford in 2018. That's a wrinkle to keep in mind going into the season, but in the big picture Crafton and this team bring the experience and skill to mount a serious threat for the championship. The veteran driver is a 14-time winner in this division of NASCAR and a two-time champion. Crafton's one-win and 16 Top-10 campaign of last season earned him a fourth-place finish in the standings. He should hold the line on those numbers and possibly even improve with the shakeup of talent and new, younger faces entering this racing series. Crafton is just two seasons removed from a six-win campaign and title. It's that homerun potential he brings to the plate this season.

3. Ben Rhodes – No. 27 ThorSport Racing Ford – Rhodes made some real progress in 2017. He nabbed his first series victory at Las Vegas and went on to post 12 Top-10 finishes en route to a fifth-place points finish. It was a dramatic improvement over his 2016 campaign. Rhodes now looks to step up his game another notch and become a championship contender and challenge for race wins. ThorSport will give him the trucks and team to make that happen. This racing series is all about developing younger talent and this 20-year-old will take his next steps this season and turn into the next big name to watch in climbing the NASCAR ladder. Rhodes' talent is undeniable and it's certain that big things are ahead.

4. Noah Gragson – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota – Gragson returns for season two at Kyle Busch Motorsports and the No. 18 Toyota. He tore the series up in his 2017 rookie campaign that saw the 19-year-old win his first-career victory and collect 13 Top 10s. With the promotion of Christopher Bell, Gragson now carries the banner as the point man for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He'll be paired with crew chief Rudy Fugle, and the duo will set their sights on winning more races and challenging for the championship. Given the change in the talent pool and the obvious excellence of this driver and team, it's all on them to step up and win right away as the top team for manufacturer Toyota. Gragson should take some big steps this season, and become the next big prospect driver to come out of the KBM camp, like Erik Jones and Bell.

5. Todd Gilliland – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota – KBM made big headlines in promoting Gilliland to the No. 4 Toyota Tundra in the offseason. He takes over the No. 4 truck that Christopher Bell raced to the championship in 2017. Gilliland will be paired with veteran crew chief, Marcus Richmond. The entire situation screams of the vote of confidence that owner Kyle Busch has in the young man. Gilliland turned heads in 2017 in just a part-time slate. The 17-year-old nabbed three Top-10 finishes in just six starts with KBM. Gilliland is the son of long-time NASCAR veteran David Gilliland. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. It's apparent that he has the racing "gift". Gilliland won 12 races and back-to-back titles the last two years of racing in the K&N Pro Series West. That didn't happen by accident.

6. Cody Coughlin – No. 2 GMS Racing Chevrolet – With the promotion of Kaz Grala to the Xfinity Series, GMS quickly signed Coughlin to join the No. 2 Chevrolet team. The 22-year-old slogged through a tough rookie season last year at ThorSport Racing and is looking to hit the reboot button for season two in the truck series. Joining GMS and this race team could be just what the doctor ordered. Grala piloted this truck to one win and 11 Top-10 finishes last year. The potential is there for a big, breakout season for Coughlin in 2018. He carved out quite a reputation racing on dirt, and it has yet to coalesce on pavement in stock cars, but that day is coming. We'll see Coughlin take some major steps this season, and he could be poised to exceed expectations.

7. Justin Haley – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet – Haley returns to the No. 24 team of GMS Racing after a successful rookie campaign in 2017. The Indianapolis native collected three Top-5 and 12 Top-10 finishes last year is what was a rock-solid campaign. He'll be reunited with the same team and same crew chief in Kevin Bellicourt. At just 18-years-old he has a lot of development left to do. Haley will undoubtedly take some steps forward in 2018. His 2016 K&N Pro Series East championship underscores his talent. This combination of driver and team will yield some results, but it remains to be seen if Haley can make his way to victory lane. It could take another year of truck series racing before he's ready to taste the thrill of victory.

8. Harrison Burton/Brandon Jones/Spencer Davis/Riley Herbst – No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota – KBM will once again carry on their rich tradition of developing young NASCAR talent. Burton is the son of former NASCAR great, Jeff Burton. The 17-year-old got just a cup of coffee in the truck series in 2017, but now he'll up his participation this season. Burton will get nine starts in the strong No. 51 Toyota Tundra. He nabbed just one Top 10 in his six starts last season, but we expect he'll be much better this season. Jones, Davis and Herbst will fill out the rest of the 25-event schedule. Mike Hillman Jr. will call the shots from the top of the war wagon, and this will be one of the stronger multi-driver teams in the Camping World Truck Series in 2018.

9. Dalton Sargeant – No. 25 GMS Racing Chevrolet – The Florida native has made quite a name for himself racing in both K&N Pro Series and the ARCA Series over the past three years. Sargeant has made just a handful of starts in the Camping World Truck Series, but he gets the full-time promotion in 2018. GMS Racing has brought Sargeant in to pilot the team's No. 25 Chevy Silverado. The young driver is a four-time winner over the last two years in the ARCA Series and he finished runner-up in the points last season. There's little doubt about Sargeant's talent. He'll be paired with crew chief Doug Randolph for what should turn out to be a pretty good combination. Sargeant should give Todd Gilliland a pretty good run for the money in the Rookie of the Year chase.

10. Grant Enfinger – No. 98 Curb Racing Ford – The 33-year-old journeyman driver will return for a second season of competition with Curb Racing. The team makes the shift from Toyota to Ford in 2018 and we'll see if that pays dividends. Enfinger peddled to a surprising nine Top-5 and 15 Top-10 finishes in 2017 with this same race team. They'll set their sights higher for this campaign. Jeff Hensley will return at crew chief and continue to build on what the two accomplished last season. Enfinger may be older than the average truck series driver, but he is no less talented. He won 16 races in 10 years of ARCA Series competition and won the 2015 championship in that racing series.

11. TBD – No. 13 ThorSport Racing Ford – Right now this is an empty seat, however, it is for one of the stronger multi-truck teams in the series. ThorSport Racing had Cody Coughlin in this ride last season, but he struggled to achieve much success. He raced to just three Top-10 finishes during the year and wound up a distant 13th in the final driver standings. This team has a good amount of potential as driver Cameron Hayley showed in 2015 and 2016. He piloted this same truck to consecutive campaigns of 11 and 13 Top-10 finishes. It's that potential that makes this an intriguing team for this season. However, any success is going to be directly tied to whatever free agent driver they sign to pilot the team's truck.

12. TBD – No. 16 Hattori Motorsports Toyota – With Ryan Truex moving to full-time Xfinity Series racing in 2018, the No. 16 team of Hattori Motorsports is scrambling to secure a driver prior to Daytona. The team signaled its intentions to compete full-time over the offseason, so they'll be in the mix this season. At the time of this writing it's still up in the air as to who will be the driver. There are a number of young talents and veteran free agents in the driver pool, so there are ample options. Truex piloted this team to a surprising 13 Top-10 finishes and a ninth-place points finish last year, so there is lots of potential in the No. 16 Toyota Tundra. This team's ranking right now is only limited by the unknown of the driver.

13. Chris Eggleston – No. 17 David Gilliland/Crosley Sports Group Toyota – This joint venture purchased trucks from the closed Red Horse Racing team, and plan to field Eggleston in the full season in 2018. The sponsorship and crew chief of this team has yet to be named, but things are coming together pretty quickly. Eggleston dominated the K&N Pro Series West for each of the last three seasons, compiling eight combined victories and 33 Top-10 finishes. He finished runner-up in last season's championship. Eggleston will attempt to carry that success forward to his first full Camping World Truck Series campaign. He's a talented driver in deep field of talented young drivers, it could come down to team chemistry and quickly this new team develops as to how much success they have in 2018.

14. Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet – The Canadian raced most of last season with this team and nabbed five Top-10 finishes in a 19-start schedule. It wasn't too bad of a performance for this small race team. No plans have been announced as of this writing, but it's expected that Friesen and this team will return for another go at a full schedule. They finished last season with three Top 10s in their final four starts, so momentum was on their side going into the offseason. Tripp Bruce served as crew chief and would be expected to return if the deal comes together.

15. Austin Hill – No. 02 Young's Motorsports Chevrolet – Last year was a part-time effort by Hill at the Young's Motorsports team, but they'll be going full-time this season. The No. 02 truck was split between a handful of drivers, but Hill will have the driver's seat all to himself in 2018. The team would grab three Top-10 finishes last season, and one of those was credited to Hill at Kentucky Speedway. In his 12 starts he nabbed five Top-15 finishes in addition to the Top 10. That's a pretty good base to build on for this season. Hill will enjoy the leadership of Chad Kendrick atop the pit box, and look to improve in his first full-time schedule.

16. Austin Wayne Self – No. ?? Niece Motorsports Chevrolet – Details are still pretty sketchy on this race team, but it appears to be coming together. Self has been named to one of Niece Motorsports' entries, but no number, crew chief or sponsors have been named as of this writing. Self battled through an 18-start slate with multiple teams in 2017 that saw him crack the Top 10 only twice and pile up six DNF's. He's hoping for more continuity and team stability as he races this season. With so many questions still remaining about this team, it's difficult to project potential success.

17. Justin Fontaine – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet – Fontaine will transition to full-time truck series racing in 2018. He's made just a handful of starts in this division of NASCAR over the last two seasons. At just 20 years old, and with a limited NASCAR resume, Fontaine has a lot to learn and to prove this season. He'll be teammates with Austin Wayne Self in a two-truck operation at Niece Motorsports. The No. 45 Chevy team has brought in Darrell Morrow to serve as crew chief, and at this time the sponsorship package is unknown. There are a lot of variables to come together for this team to enjoy some success, and a lot is going to ride on youngster Fontaine's shoulders.

18. TBD/John Hunter Nemechek – No. 8 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevrolet – It's difficult to project the potential of this ESR team in 2018. Nemechek, who has brilliantly piloted this single-truck team the last couple seasons, will move full-time to the Xfinity Series this season. That development means he might only make some select starts in this truck. If the team runs just a part-time schedule or full-time schedule is not known at the time of this writing. The best case scenario is that the team runs the full slate with Nemechek and a rotation of other talented young drivers. Nemechek piloted this team to a combined five victories and 32 Top-10 finishes over the last three seasons, so the potential here is pretty tremendous. Any preseason news that locks this team into a full slate moves them up these rankings. If they only run a part-time schedule, we can't see them being much higher than this.

19. Jordan Anderson – No. 3 Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet/Toyota – Anderson has acquired four trucks. They are a mix of Chevrolets and Toyotas. He will race the full season with his own race team. Anderson started most of the schedule last year, and battled all kinds of struggles during the campaign. Anderson would race to just four Top-15 finishes in the No. 1 Chevy Silverado, but pile up seven DNF's as the team had many mechanical issues. That will hopefully improve this season. Now with 57-career series starts under his belt, Anderson has the experience to make this team work, but much of their potential will rely on better equipment and funding to make that happen.

20. Wendell Chavous – No. 49 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet – The team has acquired a full-season primary sponsor and they're gearing up to race the full slate with Georgian Chavous. Brian Keselowski will continue in 2018 as the team's crew chief, and they'll look to improve on their previous campaign. Chavous raced 21 of the 23 events last season with this team to mixed results. He grabbed 12 Top-20 finishes and five DNF's. The team lacked the speed to race towards the front and challenge the lead pack each week. It resulted in a 20.4 average finish for Chavous. This race team faces some challenges to improve this season, but the equipment seems to be fairly sound and durable. They just need to find more speed in order to be more competitive.

21. Travis Kvapil/Cody Ware/Josh Reaume – No. 50 Beaver Motorsports Chevrolet – This team has not announced plans as of this writing, but it's expected that the No. 50 truck and their multi-driver lineup are returning in 2018. They raced the entire season last year, split amongst eight different drivers. We could see something similar this season. Kvapil is the most experienced of the rotation, however, he may only get a couple starts. Ware made two starts and collected one Top-20 finish. Reaume drove the majority of last season with 13 starts and nine Top-20 finishes. The team didn't seem to have equipment deficiencies, but the lack of continuity behind the wheel limits their upside.

22. Parker Kligerman / Caleb Holman – No. 75 Henderson Motorsports Chevrolet – The No. 75 Chevy Silverado of Henderson Motorsports will return this season. This small race team made big waves when veteran Kligerman was behind the wheel last year. In his seven starts, Kligerman nabbed five Top-10 finishes, including one surprising victory in the fall at Talladega. Holman managed just two starts with the team and brought their total participation to just nine starts. That's less than half the schedule. While the results were strong with Kligerman piloted the team's truck, Holman was a bit of a downgrade. Henderson Motorsports should run about the same schedule in 2018, and that really curtails their overall value.

23. Regan Smith – No. 92 Ricky Benton Racing Ford – It's really a shame that Ricky Benton Racing doesn't run the entire schedule. They have a pretty solid Camping World Truck Series team. In 13 starts last season, veteran driver Smith nabbed two Top-10 and 11 Top-15 finishes. While the No. 92 team didn't have the speed to lead laps and win races, Smith was able to race his way forward most weeks and finish better than he started. His 14.1 average finish was really not a bad mark at all for a driver this deep in the rankings. Smith should race a similar schedule this season with the exact same team and leadership calling the shots.

24. Norm Benning – No. 6 Norm Benning Racing Chevrolet – Benning raced his busiest schedule in the last three seasons in 2017. The 66-year-old veteran made 20 of the 23 events and raced to a 19th-place final standings finish. There were multiple DNF's in that 20-start slate, in fact, there were 12 DNF's total. That made the team almost resemble a start-and-park effort, but they were not that. Benning's operation is just so small and cash-strapped that it really limits their capabilities. No plans have been announced as of late January, but we imagine he'd like to run as many races as possible this season. Although we doubt it would be quite as many as last year's 20 starts.

25. Robby Lyons – No. 15 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet – The team made just six starts last season, split among three different drivers. At the time of this writing Lyons has been tabbed to be pilot for the first four events of 2018. They have sponsorship for those events and the possibility for more funding is there. This team's participation and potential will be directly tied to that money materializing and allowing the No. 15 Chevy truck to appear more. Although Lyons is 29-years-old, he only made his first two-career starts in the truck series last year. Those were 12th- and 24th-place finishes in Premium's other truck, the No. 49. There are too many variables keeping this team from being higher in our rankings.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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