By Cole Cusumano
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — There were an abundance of headlines at the conclusion of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Round of 8 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. People will be quick to mention the chaos among playoff drivers, Christian Eckes‘ first win, Carson Hocevar’s spin-gate, or ThorSport Racing’s historic top-four finish.
But what about a win for the underdogs?
Austin Wayne Self may not have the flash other competitors have in the Truck Series and that’s fine; he gets results. The 25-year-old is silently having a career-year, which hit new heights with a season-best eighth-place finish in ‘Sin City.’
This not only extended a four-race top-15 stretch, but added to the most successful season yet for AM Racing. Self and the single-truck team earned their fourth top-10 of 2021, something that’s never been done in the organization’s five-year history.
“We kind of expect [results],” Self told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We feel like we put in the work and when we sat down at the beginning of the year, we expected ourselves on an average night to run eighth-to-12th.
“Sometimes it can be harder to get there, being a single-truck team, but we feel like we’ve definitely earned the positions. The field’s been so stacked this year — I mean, the top-15’s a big deal nowadays — but, we just hold ourselves at a standard and we try to reach it every week.”
Self and the No. 22 team are coming off a down year in which he only scored two top-10s, but there’s more than meets the eye. Both quality finishes came within the final four races of 2020, when Ryan Salomon took over as crew chief.
In 23 starts with Salomon calling the shots, Self has secured six top-10s for his teams. The Texas native believes he has his new crew chief to thank for the recent string of success, and only expects it to get better as they develop more of a rapport.
“This year we’re just kind of trying to build on what we knew and getting to know each other,” Self said. “We’ve tried some things that have worked and didn’t work, and I feel like throughout the season we’ve had good speed. I think the past few weeks we’ve just been able to put it together.”
Something the statistics won’t show you – the 25-year-old was able to stay in contention for a playoff spot down to the regular-season finale, but ultimately came up short. Self admits the pressure of the postseason weighed heavily on the team but since failing to advance, there’s been a much looser atmosphere surrounding them, and that’s also led to results.
“It wasn’t happening for a little bit, but now we’re starting to get there and for a top-10 for a team like us — regardless of what it might do outside of the race truck — it just builds momentum,” Self said. “We definitely have some confidence going into Martinsville (Speedway) and we’re heading in the right direction for the last few races of the season into 2022.”