Niece Motorsports announced Thursday that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2020.
The Eagle River, Wisconsin, native will drive the No. 44 Chevrolet Silverado. It’s expected that Decker will run at least eight Truck races, with the possibility of adding more as the season plays out. Decker’s first race will be the season-opening NextEra 250 on Feb. 14 at Daytona International Speedway.
“Change is inevitable, change is expected and exciting, and change is also frightening,” Decker said in a media release. “But this year is a year I’m ready for! I have never felt so prepared with my health, in the gym, and mentally.
“There are so many things to be excited about working with Niece Motorsports, starting with my teammates Ross (Chastain) and Ty (fellow Wisconsin native Ty Majeski). I’m ready to learn from them and be 100% open minded going into the season!”
The 22-year-old Decker will also have Carson Hocevar as a Niece Motorsports teammate.
“We are excited to have Natalie join the team,” said team owner Al Niece. “Natalie has shown a lot of talent, and we are excited to see her continue to develop that at Niece Motorsports. We are certain we will put her in competitive equipment that will really give her a chance to shine.”
Decker, who spent the 2015 season as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program with Rev Racing, joins Niece Motorsports after making 19 starts last season for DGR-Crosley and finishing 19th in the overall standings.
Her best finish last season was 13th at Las Vegas. It was a difficult first year in the Truck Series for her, recording nine DNFs, including eight early exits due to crashes.
She previously raced full-time in the ARCA Menards Series in 2018, including earning the pole and finishing fifth in the season opener at Daytona. She went on to finish seventh overall in the season standings.
Decker also announced that in addition to her part-time Truck Series slate with Niece Motorsports, she’ll run a full six-race schedule in the SGT-Trans Am West Coast Series for AVE Motorsports. She’ll be behind the wheel of a GT-4. The season begins March 14 at Sonoma Raceway.
Decker, who raced for DGR-Crosley in 2019, posted on Instagram Wednesday about what led to the surgery, including problems with her gallbladder the kept her from taking arthritis medication.
“Hi everyone now that I have had the surgery to remove my gallbladder I will share the whole story!” Decker said. “I have been not being able to eat much food and have been in so much pain every time I eat we went through lots of testing like upper endoscopy and gallbladder function test! They finally figured it out and my gallbladder wasn’t functioning right! I had to get my gallbladder removed before I could go back on my Arthritis medication. I’m so thankful everything went very well!”
Decker, 22, made 19 starts in 2019. Her best finish was 13th in the spring Las Vegas race.
Thirty-four trucks are entered. Two trucks will not qualify for the race.
John Hunter Nemechek is entered in NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.
Derek Kraus, the current K&N Pro Series West points leader, is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota.
Ty Majeski is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet for his first career Truck Series start and his first NASCAR start of the season. He will also make his K&N Pro Series West debut Saturday night.
Who had a good race: In just his third career series start, 17-year-old Chandler Smith finished a career-high second for Kyle Busch Motorsports. … Ross Chastain won a stage and finished third, overcoming a pit road penalty.
Who had a bad race: Natalie Decker got spun by the tow truck as her truck was being pushed away during a caution. She finished 25th. … Johnny Sauter was involved in multiple cautions and finished 11th. … Tyler Ankrum finished 20th, worst among the eight playoff drivers.
Next: The series races Aug. 25 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.
While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.
A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.
While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.
There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.
Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.
Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.
All this over an exhibition race.
Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.
Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.
But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.
The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.
While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.
Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.
Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.
Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.
Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.
That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.
Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.
While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.
Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.
Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.
If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.
Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.
The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.
Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.
Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.
“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”
As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas.
While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.
“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”
It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.
Saturday night, there were no mistakes.
“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.
“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races. I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.
“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”