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OBSERVATIONS: New Smyrna 175 (and World Series Night 4)

The cleanest race for NASCAR during Speedweeks is in the books, and it didn’t even happen on the biggest stage. While the restrictor plate events at Daytona International Speedway will be mired with crashes, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East took center stage at New Smyrna Speedway.

And frankly, they put on the better show with what they delivered.

Although it appeared as though Colin Garrett and Drew Dollar were going to battle it out for the win, neither of them accepted the accolades in victory lane as Derek Kraus took those honors instead.

The 27-years-old has raced in the K&N Pro Series ranks for the past two years with top-five points finishes, and the experience showed. Despite starting 16th on the grid, he conserved his tires while slowly making his way to the front, choosing to ride just inside the top-five. 

Then when the opportunity presented itself with the youthfulness of Garrett and Dollar getting together on a restart with 44 laps to go, Kraus did what he had to do, splitting the middle between the pair to drive by and cruise away en route to victory. Arguably, it was probably one of the best textbook restart passes that you will probably see all season. As he said post-race, “I might’ve gotten in the grass, but I got it done.”

While the pass highlighted the night, the field was arguably calm throughout without any serious wrecks, except for Brittney Zamora collecting Tanner Gray in her second spin on debut night. However, that doesn’t mean that the fans were not delivered a show. The drivers raced for positions door-to-door all night long within and outside of the top-five, sometimes making light contact along the way – but hey, rubbin’ is racing on the short tracks. 

There have been concerns about the state of NASCAR with some of the rule changes and an array of talented, experienced drivers stepping away over the past couple seasons. However, the next generation is there ready to take their place, and that was on display Monday night.

There are several drivers in the field that could easily make an impression in NASCAR’s top-three ranks down the road. Ty Gibbs proved himself with a runner-up in his K&N Pro Series debut, while Sam Meyer placed fourth in just his seventh start. 

– Although some of NASCAR’s rule changes recently haven’t gone over well, the decision to go to competition cautions with five minute breaks is very welcoming.

Essentially, when the caution comes out and if you choose to pit, you can take your time with your service, before returning on the track. If you chose to stay out, you get to start ahead of those who pitted; the cars that pitted then follow behind, in the order they were in entering pit road for service.

As a result, you keep the balance of strategy onto whether to pit or not, while not having to worry about possible consequences of a bad green flag pit stop. 

Kraus was one of the several drivers who elected to pit under the first caution, while four other drivers stayed out. Dollar and Garrett were among those who did not get service under either yellow flag, and it showed with the handling going away as laps were ran. Meanwhile, Kraus’ adjustments kept the No. 16 Toyota underneath him so he could make the move when it counted.

– Can we also applaud NASCAR for their cost-saving measure in only allowing one single set of General Tires for the event? On top of the money not being spent, it also teaches the drivers about conserving equipment – something we know can come in handy when they move up the ranks. 

Hailie Deegan has been regarded as one of the top up-and-coming female drivers, with plenty of media shined her way. She has also backed up the talk by winning a K&N Pro Series West event last year, too. Unfortunately after starting on pole, mechanical issues plagued her night all the way to a 16th-place finish.

Her evening continued to get worse, as she also wrecked out of the Pro Late Model event at New Smyrna following the K&N Pro Series race after getting loose off of the corner. Look for her to bounce back and prove herself in the upcoming races.

While the focus for many is the action at Daytona International Speedway, February in Florida is busy with racing events. Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway have something for dirt fans each night, while New Smyrna Speedway hosts their World Series.

If you want to get a glance at the next generation, checking out any of these events is a must as they always put on a good show. The best part? Fanschoice.tv is live streaming each night for free for your viewing pleasure. 

– Deegan wasn’t the only driver to find trouble during the Pro Late Model event. The Mike Skinner-owned team saw both of their drivers black-flagged for jumping the restart, with the second call being gut-wrenching as it saw Jamie Skinner go from victory lane to last car on the lead lap. 

The Pro Late Models have been putting impressive side-by-side racing together on-track, while stealing the headlines. The restart controversy follows up the first night where Colin Kravil and Derek Griffith wrecked racing for the lead, and Deegan called out Jeremy Miller for a motor advantage. For the record, while Deegan wrecked out, Miller drove from the back to third after blowing his engine in practice; for Kvapil and Griffith, neither was able to rebound as they would have hoped on Monday.

– The Florida based modifieds are causing fans to talk for all the wrong reasons. The racing was pretty much strung out single-file, with the race experiencing a lengthy delay at the end to clean up fluid. It would’ve been better to call a time limit on the end of the event, and move on. Thankfully Bob Dillner eased some of the pain with his interviews and commentary for those at home.

Doug Coby may say that he is just down there testing, but he’s doing a fine job in the process as he put together a dominating performance in pacing every single lap en route to victory. Despite the races getting longer in the coming days, he’ll be a threat to sweep them all – but don’t start engraving the trophy yet.

Patrick Emerling and Matt Hirschman put together an impressive battle for second through the final 10 laps, with Hirschman looking for every way possible around for second. While it seems worth nothing now after Emerling was disqualified for a left-side weight violation, they could easily give Coby a run for his money over the next couple nights.

Ryan Preece is another name that can’t be forgotten. He had the speed to race up through the pack and could’ve been right there with the top-five, but an unscheduled pit stop for the car being stuck in gear put him behind. 

– The Super Late Models didn’t have the smoothest night of competition, with a couple big accidents eliminating drivers from the event. The frustration was echoed by the drivers, with Ryan Moore saying, “They have enough trouble lining up. You can’t expect them to know how to race.” 

At the front of the field, talent was the name of the game with arguably the best Super Late Model driver across the country Bubba Pollard conserving his equipment through the first half, before scoring the victory. Despite having won practically every big event across the United States – well, except the Snowball Derby, this marks his first win down at the World Series. 

He isn’t driving his own car, though, as he was asked to drive Dave Rogers’ entry with Rogers having surgery. The first night it seemed that Pollard was out of place, scoring a fourth-place finish by mere luck after the leaders got together. Now that he has the No. 11 driving as he wants, this may be the start of a dominating run from here on out.

Dan Frederickson led the first half of the event, and appeared set for a strong podium performance. However, with Pollard closing in, he made a mistake and got up into the wall. Ultimately, that caused him to drop through the running order. Heartbreaking.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Derek Kraus Uses Patience to Win at New Smyrna

NEW SMYRNA, Fla. — It was worth the wait for Derek Kraus in more ways than one.

After being postponed to Monday night due to rain, Kraus emerged victorious in the New Smyrna 175 at New Smyrna Speedway, using tire conservation en route to his second career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory.

The Stratford, Wisconsin, native made his move with about 40 laps to go as the leaders, Colin Garrett and Ty Gibbs, made contact while battling for the top spot.

“They were racing each other pretty hard,” Kraus said in Victory Lane following his season-opening win. “I had to stay on my toes for them to make contact and that’s exactly what they did. They drifted up in (Turns) 3 and 4 and I saw an opening so that’s when I took it. I might’ve gotten in the grass, but I got it done.”

He was able to hold off a hard-charging Ty Gibbs and Brandon McReynolds, who finished second and third respectively. Sam Mayer and Anthony Sergi rounded out the top five.

For most of the 175-lap event, Kraus’ No. 16 Bill McAnally Racing Toyota was mired in the middle of the field. But it was all part of the plan: They were playing the waiting game.

Tires were of the utmost importance, as teams only used the one set they qualified on for the entirety of the race. Kraus started 16th and slowly made his way inside the top 10. Then the top five, and when the opportunity presented itself, he pounced.

“What really helped me (save tires) was running with Todd (Gilliland) for three years,” he said. “He was really good at saving tires. I just tried to remember back then and that’s what I felt like I did. I probably didn’t save the right front as well as I needed to because I was driving it in pretty deep, but I felt like I saved as well as I could. Brandon (McReynolds) and Hailie (Deegan) I know dropped way back, I didn’t feel comfortable dropping that far back, because track position is huge here.”

Although Kraus was the one celebrating in Victory Lane, Gibbs, making his first career K&N Pro Series start, was satisfied with his runner-up result for DGR Crosley.

“That was just me getting all I could get,” Gibbs said of his contact while racing for the lead. “I’m sorry to the No. 18 (Garrett). I hit him down there one time. He was crowding me so that didn’t help much but it was a blast and a lot of fun. I gained a lot of experience and we’re going to come back and win the next one.”

Spencer Davis, Ruben Garcia Jr., Drew Dollar and Connor Hall completed the top 10. After starting from the pole, Hailie Deegan finished 16th and was forced to retire early due to electrical issues for the second year in a row at New Smyrna.

The next event for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will be the Zombie Auto 150 on Saturday, April 6 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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ASHLEY ASKS…… Derek Kraus

Competing in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, Derek Kraus is off to a solid start with five top-fives in eight races, including a victory at Kern County Raceway. The Bill McAnally Racing driver recently spoke with POPULAR SPEED about his thoughts on the campaign thus far, and more.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on how your season has gone so far?

DEREK KRAUS: So far, this year has been definitely been – well, the win at Kern gave us some momentum, but we struggled at Tuscon and Orange County a little bit so hopefully we turn that around this weekend.

PS: What are your goals overall for the season?

DEREK: For sure, you wanna win as many races as you possibly can. Then if you do that, the championship will play into your favor and you’ll most likely win the championship at the end of the year. So that’s the main goal at the end of the year, but right now it’s just taking it race-by-race each weekend and trying to win races.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

DEREK: I look forward to Gateway, and Iowa. I like higher speed, bigger race tracks just because of the adrenaline rush that you get.

PS: What does it mean for you to be part of the NASCAR Next Program?

DEREK: It’s my opportunity to follow in the footsteps of drivers like Darrell Wallace Jr. and Chase Elliott, just because those two they were once in the NASCAR Next Program and got to the top-two series in NASCAR and they’re fan base is big. So this is my opportunity to follow in their footsteps and that’s what I want to do.

PS: What would it mean for you one day to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series alongside those guys?

DEREK: It’d mean a lot, just like at Kern when we were side-by-side with Kevin Harvick on the front row. That was crazy – just 16-years-old and I got to race against Kevin Harvick. It’d definitely be a big accomplishment for me just to make it up to the top level in NASCAR.

PS: How did you get your start in racing?

DEREK: My dad. He raced and then he put in a go-kart, and I really liked it, and I told him this is what I want to do, and here we are now.

PS: What’s been the most memorable moment of your career to date?

DEREK: Probably the win at Bakersfield. That was a really big win just because of how good the field was, and how big the race was just because of being the first time for 175 laps at Kern. That was a big win for sure, and got our season off to a good start.

PS: Who is your racing hero?

DEREK: I really like Carl Edwards. He seems like he’s really good with the friends, and was a really good driver behind the wheel and never got really mad, so I look up to him.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.