NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Much like the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, the NASCAR K&N East Series opener at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night is overflowing with storylines worth following for fans of the top three national touring divisions.
Replete with numerous top prospects and some of the best short track drivers in the country, the Pro Series East has recently produced some of the current top stars in the sport today, including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.
In that spirit, the 2015 roster looks equally compelling as it includes the defending Chili Bowl Nationals winner, a Roush Fenway Racing top prospect and the defending NASCR Whelen Euro Series champion. With that in mind, here are a few of the top storylines worth following in the Pro Series Easr this season, starting at New Smyrna on Sunday night.
The most heralded figure on the tour this season figures to be Rico Abreu, the 4’4 midget (car) ace who was signed to a Chip Ganassi development deal following his victory in the Chili Bowl Nationals back in January.
The 24-year-old has a popularity that is only matched by his tenacity behind the wheel and any success he has will be a testament to the open-wheel community that bred him into a top prospect. Not to make Abreu a side show but it will be fascinating to follow how Abreu adjusts to full-bodied stock cars despite his height and open-wheel background.
With that said, when you come with a seal of approval from Ganassi and Kyle Larson, the questions tend to go away pretty quickly.
The most accomplished asphalt driver in the field is Kyle Benjamin — a three-time winner in the ARCA Racing Series and a multiple event winner in Super Late Model competition throughout the Southeast and Midwest. In addition, the author has also voted him as the Speed 51 Top Prospect in each of the past three “Short Track Drafts.”
Benjamin is a 17-year-old Roush Fenway Racing development driver and a successful season could see him start to work his way into national touring, especially given the youth movement that has been started by Jack Roush and Steve Newmark.
Paired with the uber talented Kevin Reed on the pit box, Benjamin has to be viewed as the favorite for the K&N Series championship — a title that carries both honor and immense pressure. Watching how he handles that distinction will be fascinating by itself, especially given his low key demeanor.
This feels like a make or break season for the wildly popular Kenzie Ruston.
A former winner in the CRA Super Late Model Series, Ruston entered the 2014 K&N Pro Series East season with high expectations — especially give a full year behind her and a new affiliation with Ben Kennedy Racing. Instead, she largely struggled. Her second place finish at Iowa remains the highest finish for a woman in NASCAR but she only posted three top-5s and finished a distant ninth in the championship standings.
Now aligned with Rev Racing and NASCAR Drive for Diversity, Ruston needs to win in order to maintain her career momentum into 2016 and beyond or risk falling into short track obscurity.
The rise and arrival or Dalton Sargeant has quickly fallen into short track legend.
The Boca Raton, Florida native spent several years in Europe chasing Formula 1 before returning home to race Stock Cars during the summer of 2014. In his first couple of Late Model Stock races with elite team Kiker Motorsports, Sargeant impressed and showed the flashes of brilliance that made him and his family believe that F1 was an obtainable dream.
But it was a series of starts in the Southern Super Series and CRA Super Series that quickly established the 16-year-old as a short track contender, posting top-10s in his first start at both Pensacola Five Flags Speedway and Mobile International Speedway respectively for Wauters Motorsports. He backed up the surprising performance by contending for the win the prestigious Winchester 400 at Indiana in his first start at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile before ending his season with an unpredictable runner-up finish in the Snowball Derby.
Simply put, Dalton Sargeant is the real deal and is a threat to win this championship.
Here is a starting lineup for the K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night.
- Austin Hill
- Kaz Grala
- William Byron
- Gray Gaulding
- Scott Heckert
- Rico Abreu
- Kyle Benjamin
- Nick Drake
- Dalton Sargeant
- Codie Rohrbaugh
- JJ Haley
- Dillon Bassett
- Ronnie Bassett
- Devon Amos
- Jared Irvan
- Collin Cabre
- David Garbo
- Sergio Pena
- JP Morgan
- Dalton Zehr
- Jay Beasley
- Kenzie Ruston
- Anthony Kumpen
- Travis Miller
- Christan Celaya