1. Johnny Sauter No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet The move to GMS Racing last season paid off big time for Sauter. Not only did he win three races and collect 19 Top-10 finishes, but he finally captured the elusive Camping World Truck Series championship. After several seasons of near-misses at ThorSport Racing, Sauter was able to hoist the trophy at Homestead last November. With that accomplishment, Sauter and GMS have ascended to the throne of NASCAR's truck series. They will be the team to beat week-in and week-out for the championship in 2017. With the return of Sauter and crew chief, Joe Shear, the team is set to defend this title well this season. There has been a changing of the guard atop this division of NASCAR, and Sauter is now its leader.
2. Matt Crafton No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota The two-time series champion lost out in a winner-take-all finale with former teammate, Johnny Sauter, at Homestead last season. Even though Crafton didn't win the title, he still had a tremendous season and one that is in line with his recent level of performance. The veteran Toyota driver claimed two wins early last season, but cooled off as the season progressed. Crafton still forged a 16 Top-10 campaign and that was good enough to advance into the final race of the Chase. He's been a Top-3 finisher in the driver standings for the last four consecutive seasons, and we don't see that changing in 2017. In fact, if there is any driver best-equipped and positioned to overtake Sauter in the quest for the championship, it's Crafton.
3. Christopher Bell No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota With the departure of William Byron, Bell now becomes the focus of KBM's efforts in the truck series. Bell had a pretty good campaign last season with one victory and 17 Top-10 finishes. Not bad at all for his first full season of racing in the Camping World Truck Series. Bell will look to improve even more this season. He'll be paired with Rudy Fugle at crew chief. He's the brilliant strategist that led Byron to a seven-win campaign at KBM last season. The combination of Fugle and Bell should pay immediate dividends. We expect to see Bell pick up the pace in victories, laps led and Top 10s. That could propel the young driver to his first championship in the coming season.
4. Timothy Peters No. 17 Red Horse Racing Toyota At 36-years-old Peters is one of the grizzled veterans of the Camping World Truck Series. At the completion of last season, he crossed the 230-start plateau which places him among the most seasoned drivers in the series. Of the full-time drivers, only Matt Crafton has more starts. Peters posted no victories last season, which snapped a seven-season winning streak for the Red Horse Racing driver. However, his consistency was spot on with eight Top-5 and 16 Top-10 finishes. That's in line with levels of performance over the bulk of his career. RHR is expected to pair Peters with a new crew chief in 2017, possibly Chad Kendrick. It's a move that is hoped to spur Peters back into victory lane and into possible championship contention. We'll have to see how it all plays out, but we tend to think of Peters' 2016 numbers as the floor level going forward.
5. Brett Moffitt/TBD No. 11 Red Horse Racing Toyota As of mid-January it's not been announced that Moffitt is taking over the No. 11 RHR Toyota, but it is expected. Moffitt filled in brilliantly for Matt Tifft in this truck last year when he was sidelined with a brain tumor. In just six starts he picked up a victory (Michigan) and four Top-10 finishes. That certainly got our attention and the attention of the owners at Red Horse Racing. Moffitt has become a journeyman driver in NASCAR, with starts across all three top touring divisions the last four seasons. He'd love a full-time gig with this well-equipped race team. It would seem to be a marriage made in heaven, and we expect it to happen. If so, the potential for wins and Top-10 finishes is obvious.
6. Kyle Busch/Todd Gilliland/Harrison Burton No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Once again one of the most dominant trucks in this division of NASCAR will take the track in 2017. However, Busch's involvement will remain minimal as it has the past two seasons. The owner/driver will saddle-up in the No. 51 Toyota for five events this season. Busch boasts a near-50-percent win rate in this truck, so he'll be good for two or three victories in those starts. Gilliland will drive in four events, and that leaves Burton to clean up with the remaining 14 events. Gilliland has had tremendous success between two division of the K&N Pro Series, including last year's championship in the West. He also is a seasoned late model stock racer at just 16-years-old. Burton is also 16-years-old, but doesn't boast the experience or success of Gilliland. It's going to be a bit of mixed bag each week with this team, but with tremendous upside based on youth and the strength of this team.
7. John Hunter Nemechek No. 8 Eddie Sharp Racing Chevrolet Nemechek will return to the Camping World Truck Series once again in 2017. He'll pilot the same No. 8 Chevrolet that he has the past two seasons. Nemechek posted great numbers last year with two victories and 11 Top-10 finishes. The performance was good enough to grab eighth-place in the final driver standings. The 19-year-old should have learned a few new tricks now with over 50 starts under his belt, and should be ready to move the bar higher in the coming season. Nemechek will once again be paired with crew chief, Gere Kennon, and the two should continue to surprise the larger teams in the truck series. This young driver and team have a lot of growth left, so don't be surprised to see them win more races and qualify for this division of NASCAR's Chase for the Cup playoff.
8. Chase Briscoe No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford Briscoe was named a Ford development driver and named to the No. 29 BKR Ford truck in mid-January. He'll replace the departed Tyler Reddick in the driver's seat of the team's truck. Briscoe got a taste of success last year as he piloted Cunningham Motorsports' No. 77 Ford to six victories and a championship in the ARCA Series. The 22-year-old driver from Indiana has never raced a competitive lap in a Camping World Truck Series truck. However, it's abundantly clear that he has the gift of wheeling a stock car around an oval. Briscoe will not only take over a strong team, but he'll be paired with one of the veteran crew chiefs in this garage area. Mike Hillman Jr. will be calling the shots from atop the team's war wagon. If the variables fall into the right slots, Briscoe could push this team into the Top 5 of the driver rankings.
9. Noah Gragson No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota The next up-and-coming prodigy for KBM and Toyota is Gragson. He'll take over the No. 18 Toyota Tundra this season. Gragson replaces the now-departed William Byron as this stable's new budding star. This young driver has been tearing up the K&N Pro Series East and West the last two years. With a combined six victories and 32 Top-10 finishes in just 42 starts, Gragson has been opening eyes at this level of NASCAR. The 18-year-old Las Vegas native also sneaked in a couple truck series starts last year for KBM in this truck, so he's not completely unfamiliar with these chassis. Gragson will face a sharp learning curve, but it appears he'll be a quick study. Teaming him with crew chief Marcus Richmond should yield pretty good results. Gragson will be a top contender for Rookie of the Year in the truck series.
10. Ben Rhodes No. 41 ThorSport Racing Toyota The Louisville, Kentucky native had by some measures a disappointing 2016 season. It was Rhodes' first full-season in the truck series and it didn't quite net the results anyone expected. The 19-year-old labored to just five Top 10s in 2016 and wound up a discouraging 14th in the final driver standings. Rhodes is expected back with this ThorSport Racing team this season. If so, he'll be once again paired with crew chief Kevin Bellicourt and a very solid set of corporate sponsors on the No. 41 Toyota Tundra. We've seen Rhodes impress in the K&N Pro Series East and for brief stretches in the truck series, now it's time to put it all together in 2017. The young driver enters a make-or-break year in terms of his career, but the good news is that he'll have the team and support to succeed greatly.
11. Austin Cindric No. 19 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford Cindric replaces Daniel Hemric in the No. 19 Ford F-150 this season. The 18-year-old from Columbus, Ohio has just six-combined truck series starts over the last two years. Cindric's NASCAR experience is limited and spread all over the lower divisions of the sport. So this will be a baptism by fire as he takes on his first full schedule in a national touring series. Veteran crew chief Doug Randolph will help ease this transition and bend this sharp learning curve just a bit. Hemric posted 11 Top-5 and 17 Top-10 finishes in this truck last season en route to a strong sixth-place finish in the driver standings. We don't believe Cindric will have this ability right out of the gate, but he could grow to that level of performance in time.
12. Kaz Grala No. 33 GMS Racing Chevrolet Grala has climbed the NASCAR ranks pretty quickly. In just three short years he's gone from relative obscurity to having his first full-time ride in the Camping World Truck Series. The 18-year-old takes over the driver's seat of the strong No. 33 Chevrolet of GMS Racing. Grala competed part-time last season for GMSR and picked up three Top-10 finishes in just nine starts. Most of those good efforts were on the smaller ovals of Dover, Gateway and Loudon. Grala will now get a full 23-race slate to show what he can do with this very capable team. He'll be paired with crew chief Jerry Baxter who comes over from Kyle Busch Motorsports. There's some exciting potential possible in this team-driver-crew chief combination.
13. Ryan Truex No. 81 Hattori Motorsports Toyota In a bit of a surprise it was announced in January that Truex's ride in the truck series was turning from part to full-time. Hattori Motorsports will field the No. 81 Toyota for the full 23-race schedule. Truex claimed four Top 10s last season in 15 starts for this same race team. Sponsorship and crew chief are not certain at this point, but it looks like the team is committed to run the full schedule. Truex is talented and he can take this growing race team to new heights. However, we expect they'll be a few bumps in the road along the way. The larger and intermediate ovals were where this team really shined last season.
14. TBD No. 13 ThorSport Racing Toyota Right now this is an empty seat, however, it is for one of the stronger multi-truck teams in the series. ThorSport Racing had Canadian Cameron Hayley in this ride the last two seasons, and they achieved some reasonable success. Hayley combined to post 10 Top-5 and 24 Top-10 finishes over the past two campaigns and he collected finishes of sixth- and 11th-place in the driver standings. Hayley and ThorSport parted ways over the off-season so this is a pretty prime ride without a driver. It's difficult to forecast who will end up in this truck as many seats are filling up with free agents and young prospects. Whoever ends up in the No. 13 Toyota will have a potential shot at winning a race and making the Chase for the Cup.
15. Justin Haley No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet GMSR brought on talented youngster Haley to pilot the team's No. 24 truck this season. Haley is the 2016 K&N Pro Series East champion. He's spent the last two season's dominating that lower division of NASCAR. Haley has also made a fair number of ARCA Series starts over the last three seasons with one victory and nine Top-10 finishes in those 13 starts. Now he'll get his shot at Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series. With such a talented crop of rookies this year, it will be a tough task. However, veteran ThorSport crew chief, Kevin Bellicourt, should help tremendously in this effort. This could be one of the sleeper teams and drivers among the rookie ranks in 2017.
16. TBD No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet Spencer Gallagher parted ways with the GMS Racing team over the off-season. That leaves the No. 23 Chevrolet Silverado empty heading into the final days of January. This team raced to reasonable success under Gallagher the past two years. He claimed two pole positions and 14 Top-10 finishes, which were good enough for 10th- and 12th-place finishes in the driver points respectively. GMSR is an up-and-coming stable and they have the current Camping World Truck Series champion in their ranks. This team has loads of potential if the right driver can be signed. If a driver can't be found, there's just an outside chance that GMS Racing may close this particular team.
17. TBD No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota Unfortunately, due to a lack of sponsorship, the Rico Abreu experiment ended at the No. 98 ThorSport Racing team. It could have been slightly affected by lack of performance. The rookie driver struggled to just five Top-10 finishes in his debut in the truck series and wound up a somewhat disappointing 13th in the final driver standings. Now, one of the premiere stables in the Camping World Truck Series has two vacancies to fill. With the lack of sponsorship, the No. 98 team could fall under the axe. However, if a driver and sponsor could be found, this is a team that could break into the tail end of the Top 10 of the driver rankings. The silly season days of late January and early February will determine the fate of this team, so be watching closely.
18. Parker Kligerman/Caleb Holman No. 75 Henderson Motorsports Chevrolet This part-time team will be going full-time in 2017. Veteran Kligerman will race in 8-to-10 events with journeyman driver Holman making many of the rest of the starts. Henderson has been slowly growing this team over the past couple seasons, and with the signing of Kligerman they appear ready to take the next steps. He claimed three Top-10 finishes in 11 starts last season for owner Ricky Benton. With both Kligerman and Holman sharing this ride the 8-to-10 Top 10 plateau is well within reach. We expect Chris Carrier to return to this race team has crew chief for this season, and under his veteran guidance good things are possible.
19. Austin Wayne Self/TBD No. 22 AM Racing Toyota Self started most of the season in the No. 22 Toyota but was relieved by a couple different drivers down the stretch. Self piloted the AM Racing team to just one Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes with an average finish around 20.4 for the campaign. It all added up to a respectable 15th-place finish in the driver standings for a brand new, untested race team. We expect to see AMR return in 2017, although after some mergers and acquisitions. Even Self's return may be in doubt. As we enter into February we hope to hear more details about this team and who will be piloting their trucks in the coming year. There's weekly potential here to post Top-15 and Top-20 finishes.
20. Tyler Young No. 02 Young's Motorsports Chevrolet Plans have not been announced as of late January, but it's expected that Young will return to the driver's seat of the No. 02 Chevrolet. Although Young did split the ride with Austin Hill over the season, we're not certain that will be the case in 2017. This driver and team's recent history have shown that they usually grab a couple Top 10s per season and slot somewhere around the middle teens in the final driver standings. That should be the case again this season. Andrew Abbott has been the crew chief for this team and we would expect he'll return, and keep this driver and team racing at a competitive level in the Camping World Truck Series.
21. Travis Kvapil No. 50 MAKE Motorsports Chevrolet The 40-year-old veteran is fast-approaching the 200-start plateau in the truck series. Kvapil should cross that mark this season. He'll return to MAKE Motorsports, where's he spent much of the last two seasons racing. Kvapil has helped to elevate this growing truck series team in his time there. The veteran driver grabbed one Top-5 finish last year in the season-opener at Daytona and also eight Top-20 finishes. By most standards this is a very challenged race team in equipment and personnel, but they have improved. Should Kvapil race the full schedule for them in 2017, he should grab a Top 10 or two and slot around 16th in the final driver standings.
22. Jordan Anderson No. 66 Bolen Motorsports Chevrolet Anderson has spent much of the last two seasons racing in the Camping World Truck Series, although it's been just a tad short of a full schedule. He did not qualify for a couple of events last year, and then split the ride with four other drivers in a handful of events. However, Anderson by-in-large is expected to be the main driver once again this season. The team's biggest problem right now seems to be finishing races. Anderson's five DNF's last year took a toll on his average finish. Despite posting eight Top-20 finishes his average finish was dragged down to the 21.3 mark due to those DNF's. With all the same faces returning and same sponsors, we expect Anderson to post similar numbers this season.
23. Stewart Friesen No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet The Canadian got his big break into NASCAR last year. Friesen made six starts for the No. 16 team of owner Chris Larsen in the truck series. He debuted in the high profile dirt track race at Eldora Speedway, and made five additional starts after that. It was a mixed bag in the results department. Friesen managed 13th- and 18th-place finishes at Loudon and Phoenix but fell short of the Top 20 in half his starts. This new race team will experience some growing pains with this inexperienced driver. However, they do plan to pull the full 23-event schedule. Trip Bruce is going to be the crew chief, and he's one of the longest-serving and most experienced bosses in the truck series garage. That will certainly help Friesen to a great extent.
24. Tommy Joe Martins No. 44 Martins Motorsports Chevrolet The owner/driver is expected to embark on his second full season of racing in the Camping World Truck Series this season. Martins had to suffer through a tough inaugural 2016 schedule that saw him DNQ a couple times and DNF a lofty eight times. It led to a lot of wrinkled fenders, tore up trucks and an average finish around 24.4. Martins did manage one Top 15 and a handful of Top 20 efforts during 2016, so all wasn't bad, but it was far from a consistent performance. Hopefully, Martins can work on that aspect this season. If the same sponsors and personnel return, we expect to see some marginal improvement in this driver and team.
25. Jennifer Jo Cobb No. 1 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Chevrolet The last seven seasons have been a labor of love for Cobb. She's spent much of those years racing in the truck series. Although lack of funding, lack of sponsors and second-tier equipment have limited her growth. MAKE Motorsports merged with JJCR in 2016, so plans for this season aren't completely clear. However, we expect her to attempt a near-full schedule as she has in the recent past. Last year's tally was 16 starts, 4 DNQ's and 4 DNF's. That led a lofty 25.9 average finish. Certainly Cobb is capable of posting better numbers than this, but that will depend on the team's situation as we start the season, how much sponsorship she has, and how this merger with MAKE sorts out. Those are a lot of variables that will dictate Cobb's potential this season.