By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – The fast-paced UNOH 200 from Bristol Motor Speedway proved to be a challenge for most teams throughout the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series field under the lights on Thursday night. But for 21-year-old rookie Rajah Caruth, he emulated qualities of a seasoned-veteran.
Beginning with practice, Caruth posted the seventh-fastest overall time along with the fourth-best five, 10 and 15-lap averages before qualifying fifth – a precursor for what was to follow in the main event.
After running where he started for a bulk of the opening stage, Caruth attempted to set up a pass on Chase Purdy in fourth with an evidently faster truck on Lap 42. Unfortunately for the GMS Racing driver, Zane Smith showcased why he’s the reigning series champion by instinctively maneuvering around the No. 24 as he was trying to navigate lapped traffic.
Having to settle for sixth-place in Stage One, Caruth acknowledged his error and regrouped before restarting 12th for the second segment. In a race where passing was difficult to come by courtesy of the PJ1 traction compound application to the lower groove of the 0.533-mile track, he picked up three spots to finish ninth in Stage Two.
It wasn’t until the closing 80 laps Caruth and his team got it figured out and consistently started clicking off top-three lap times. Ultimately, the rookie would rally for his third top-10 of the season to match his career-best finish of sixth set at Darlington Raceway earlier this year.
Additionally, this would end up being Caruth’s statistically most successful outing of 2023 after maintaining a season-best average running position of seventh throughout the night.
“Overall, just a solid and complete night,” Caruth said. “It sucked there at the end, because everyone’s running the same speed and the tires are so hard you can’t really do anything. Just slot cars in dirty air with this hard tire and the PJ1 on the bottom.
“I felt like I was better than the three in front of me (but) I just couldn’t get around them. Nonetheless, great night for our Wendell Scott Foundation Silverado and we’ll just keep on digging. This definitely helps the job search I feel like for next year.”
While Nick Sanchez already locked up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors by qualifying for the playoffs, Caruth has a chance to end his first Truck Series campaign as the second-best newcomer with three races remaining.
He currently sits fourth in the rookie standings behind Taylor Gray by 20 points and Jake Garcia by a 65-point margin. Caruth’s next task will be navigating Talladega Superspeedway in his first national series start on September 30. He made one ARCA Menards Series start last year at the 2.66-mile track, where he finished sixth.