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“They Said What?” NASCAR Home Tracks Edition

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the 2019 season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

I think the biggest thing is – I don’t want to sound negative, but just be prepared that it might not work out. I think it’s easy for all of us, whether you’re a dad, you’re a friend of a racer or a competitor of a racer and look at people and say, “Oh, they’ll make it. They have plenty of talent. They’ll be in Cup one day, or they remind me of Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon.”

But there’s no model there anymore. So I think young guys that growing up in racing, whether quarter midgets, bandalero, late model, or even the K&N division, is just take advantage of every single opportunity that you can. Don’t waste it, because it cost way too much money to be out there and there’s jobs on the line for a lot of crew guys that are working on those cars. But don’t waste your opportunity, and be prepared that you can go out there and do everything right – you can win races, and you can win championships, and there’s still a really big chance that due to the business, you’re not going to make it on Sundays and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I work with Noah Gragson and I tell him this all the time – just don’t waste your opportunity because if you go out there and win five races over the year and do everything you can, and you’re prepared, and you’re preparing your body to battle, and you’re communicating with your team – if you come up short and you can’t make it to the Cup Series, then you can still lay your head down at night and say you gave it your all. But don’t be the kid that wastes the opportunity and doesn’t take advantage of it, because then you’re going to be feeling a lot of regrets.

So I think it’s about being mentally prepared of the challenge to work your way up through the sport in today’s atmosphere to where it’s not just about talent, but the funding you have in place and what you do with that and whether you take advantage of it.

Brandon McReynolds

BILL MCANALLY RACING

It’s a really cool position I’m being putting in this year. I’ve raced for the past 15 years and I’ve always kind of been one of the very few girls in the midwest for the up-and-coming drivers to admire and to learn off of. Now that you’re getting into the higher NASCAR series, your platform gets bigger and bigger.

 

My role for that is to go out there and do what I love; go out there and win and show that it really doesn’t matter, boy or girl, you can go out there and do whatever sport you want. So if they’re looking for inspiration to gout there and race against all the guys, that’s great; but if they can use what I am doing on the race track to help them pursue their dreams, whether racing or another sport, that’s a really cool spot for me to be  in and I hope to do that for them.

Brittney Zamora

JAGGER JONES RACING

It definitely helps being involved and having a racing family. I mean, my dad is always there and my grandpa – I can always go to them and ask. But it’s also what they know, their experience, in putting me in the right position and just being involved with a lot of other people in the NASCAR world has really been a help for us. It’s good to know that I can go to my dad and ask for advice, really, for anything about the cars, or anything really around racing.

Jagger Jones

RUSTY JARRETT | NKP

The K&N and ARCA car are really similar, so going back and forth between those two isn’t too drastic; it’s really just horsepower. But when we go super late model racing and TransAm Racing, that’s completely different and that’s just more or less for experience. So I don’t really take those for competitive, but rather just for learning, like road courses and stuff like that in the bigger cars. The Super Late Model is more so for the competitiveness of the series.

Sam Mayer

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

Really, just how to race these cars. These cars have 650 horsepower, but they’re so heavy and really tall; it’s kind of like racing a school bus with a jet engine. It’s just a really big bulky car so you have to learn how to drive it, especially on these short tracks. It’s all about who has the most speed through the center; it’s a big long drag race down the straightaway with whoever can get the power down.

We ran several short track races and we qualified third at Thompson, but we ended up having a really loose car. I think just from everything I learned from that will help for New Smyrna. For the big tracks, I’ve been to the big tracks now so I can be able to use that knowledge with how the air works, how not to use much brake, and that stuff, and going to these tracks for the second time is going to help a lot.

First time I went to New Hampshire, we qualified 13th or something like that. But the next time we went, I qualified sixth, a tenth off the pole. So it definitely helps going to these tracks for a second time.

Colin Garrett

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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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News

Sam Mayer Dominates Dover To Close Championship Season

DOVER, Del. — Friday was his day, and 2019 was his season.

All Sam Mayer had to do to clinch the 2019 K&N Pro Series East championship was take the green flag. But after being quickest in practice and qualifying on the pole, he led all but two laps to close the season with a win and celebrate in style.

“I can’t thank everyone at GMS enough for all they do for me,” Mayer said. “I mean, they had a rocket ship for me, I can’t thank them enough for that. Drivers Edge Development, Chevrolet, Chevrolet Accessories for being on the car and bringing me out here in the first place, and giving me this opportunity to go win a K&N East championship.It means so much and I’m going to celebrate even more, for sure.”

Mayer is the youngest NASCAR champion at 16 years, 3 months and 8 days, eclipsing mark set in 2016 by current Todd Gilliland (16 years, 5 months). Mayer also bettered the East record that was set in 2017 Harrison Burton (16 years, 11 months, 20 days).

In total, Mayer won four races and finished outside the top 10 only once in 12 races (South Boston Twin No. 2, where he left early due to a prior commitment). His average finish for 2019 wound up being an impressive 3.2.

The championship is also GMS Racing’s first in the series, coming in their first full-time season of competition in the K&N Pro Series.

The DGR-Crosley trio of Tanner Gray, who led two laps, Todd Gilliland and Drew Dollar finished second, third and fourth, respectively, with Chase Cabre rounding out the top five.

Max McLaughlin, Spencer Davis, Ruben Garcia Jr., Brandon McReynolds and Justin S. Carroll completed the top 10.

Cabre finished a career-best second in the standings, 38 points behind Mayer. Davis (-42) finished third, with Tanner Gray (-48) and Max McLaughlin (-61) completing the top five.

The General Tire 125 is scheduled to be broadcast on NBCSN on Friday, October 11 at 6 p.m.

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Home Tracks

Ty Gibbs, David Gilliland Suspended Three K&N Pro Series East Races

Even before the first green flag of the season has been flown, NASCAR is cracking down on teams with the first suspension of 2019 already handed out. DGR-Crosley Racing was the unlucky recipient, in relation to their NASCAR K&N Pro Series East program.

DGR-Crosley Racing was found in violation of section 12-5.3.7.1.5 of the NASCAR rulebook, which pertains to the series’ testing policy. According to the sanctioning body, the team conducted a private test with a NASCAR K&N Pro Series vehicle at a sanctioned track on the 2019 K&N Pro East Series Schedule, specifically New Smyrna Speedway.

The rule states that “private race vehicle testing by any NASCAR K&N Pro Series race team, contractor, affiliate, associate, subsidiary, or surrogate at any facility that appears on the Series schedule or that has been granted a Touring Series sanction will be prohibited regardless of rookie or veteran status.”

As a result, car owner David Gilliland and driver Ty Gibbs were both fined $5,000, and suspended from the first three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events; they were also assessed a 100 driver and owner point penalty. Additionally, car chief Chad Walters was fined $5,000 and suspended indefinitely. 

DGR-Crosley Racing has stated that they will appeal the penalty.

“This afternoon, NASCAR made us aware of a penalty they are imposing for actions that occurred during an ARCA Racing Series test at New Smyrna Speedway on January 14,” the team statement reads. “We strongly believe that we did not violate any rules and will therefore appeal the penalty immediately. While the appeals process runs its course, we will move forward and keep our focus on the upcoming season.”

Later in the afternoon, a NASCAR spokesperson released a statement in regards to why the penalty was given.

es

Notably, NASCAR owns both the K&N Pro Series and ARCA, but agreed to continue to run ARCA independently through 2020.

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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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ASHLEY ASKS…… Derek Thorn

With two wins and no finishes worse than eighth all year long, Derek Thorn put together an impressive campaign en route to taking home his second NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship in 2018.

The California native spoke about his success, as well as his Late Model experience recently with POPULAR SPEED.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts on the championship?

DEREK THORN: Pretty excited about it. Bob has been running full-time since I last drove for him in 2013, my first year back with him. Obviously at the beginning of the year, we sat down and came up with a plan and everything came together. We didn’t get as many wins as I hoped for, but we were in contention for wins each and every week. It’s pretty cool to be champions for 2018.

PS: What was the most memorable moment for you from the season?

THORN: I think the wins are always nice, but really stands out for me and what I was most excited about was the couple races that we ran at Iowa and Gateway. In years past whenever I went to a track of that size, three-quarter of a mile range, I struggled back in 2013. We were able to come back this year and we ended up second at Iowa, and third at Gateway. So I was just really proud of the team for hunkering down and getting our big track up to speed. It was nice to go to those bigger tracks and be competitive.

PS: You were consistent all season long. How much work goes on behind the scenes that fans don’t realize?

Meg Oliphant | NASCAR via Getty Images

THORN: It all starts with the team. Bob Bruncati has a great couple of guys that have been with them for a long time in the shop. Obviously the equipment needs to stay underneath you to be running at the finish, and I think that’s the root of that consistency. They’re just there each and every week. I feel the guys did a great job in the shop and consistency is hard to come by.

I think a lot of lady luck is involved, as well. There are random things that happen throughout the season that if not for a little luck on our side, we could’ve ended up on the flip side of where we ended up. So I guess you have to take that in account, but just a fortunate season that all the races came together and the car stayed in one piece and things worked themselves out.

PS: You mentioned 2013. This year, or 2013 – which championship was harder for you?

THORN: I feel like this one would’ve been considered more difficult. 2013, we had a season under our belt – Bill Sedgwick and I; in 2012, we kind of had a warm-up so to speak. Obviously, we were shooting for the championship then, as well, but able to regroup and come into 2013 and swallowed the learning curve. We then had a five-year hiatus where Bill McAnally Racing won three or four of the last years, championship-wise. So going into this year, that was the team to beat and I felt like we had a lot of ground to make up ourselves to just compete with them.

The three crew chiefs that were on this program, which was Bill Segwick, Jeff Schrader, and Clinton Cram – having those guys work together and share notes. There were some practices where we didn’t end up as happy as we needed to be, and between all of them and our teammates, we borrowed some of their stuff as it was working for them. I feel that dynamic kind of helped, catapult our team up to where Bill McAnally was. Being that we started off the year trying to play catch-up, it was pretty cool that we were able to take the ball and run with it just being our first year back together.

PS: I know we just got done 2018, but the discussions have already begun about 2019. What can you share?

THORN: 2019 and beyond as far this program, I don’t think I’m a puzzle piece as to what they’ve got going on. I’m not sure they have everything figured out yet. It was a one year deal with Bob and he gave me a great opportunity. I have a great opportunity here in Bakersfield to run with Brian Campbell Motorsports, racing Super Lates. So I’m hoping 2019 is more super late model racing, racing here in the southwest portion of the States and getting to run races like the Snowball Derby, All American 400, Winchester 400, the Winter Showdown. I may not be in NASCAR, but hopefully 2019 is still a lot of racing, just super late model stuff versus K&N Pro Series.

PS: You mentioned the Snowball Derby. Is this year in the cards for that?

THORN: That’s what we’re working on right now, as we speak. We are running the Snowball race which is a 300-lapper, and then going to the Snowflake 100 as well with another car. I’m excited to go back there and run against what I consider some of the best teams in the country, and kind of like a big finale – sort of like the Daytona 500 so to speak. It’s great to go down there and size yourself up against the best in the country.

PS: When it comes to Late Models, what’s your favorite track to run across the country?

Meg Oliphant | NASCAR via Getty Images

THORN: I think the Music City Motorplex has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the first tracks I’ve been to that was a little bigger and suited my driving style. But Nashville, and then Kern County here in Bakersfield. They’re both similar in size and shape, but those two tracks and the way they drive, they definitely top the list.

PS: How did you get started in racing?

THORN: My dad got me a go-kart when I was eight.

PS: Who would you consider your racing hero?

THORN: My dad. I think just growing up, looking back and the times that we got to share together at the track and everything he put in to allow us to go to the track each and every week. It’s a financial strain, emotional strain, and a physical strain, and I feel like he and my mom both always stand out as being there for me regardless of the situation. They’re always there to make it happen.

PS: If you offer one piece of advice to kids coming up through the ranks right now, what would that advice be?

THORN: Find your stride. As drivers get older – some don’t, but some do get wiser and well-rounded. Just make sure yourself with good people. Racing, just like any other sport, if you don’t have good coaches or mentors, it makes it tough to progress. Some young drivers have the talent and ability, but don’t have the people around them that are promoting and progressing them as a driver. It’s one of thing that you see young drivers that are green and kind of hot heads, and maybe a little quick to draw. But surrounding yourself with good people is something that some people overlook.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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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Trucks

Todd Gilliland Relishing Truck Opportunity

With success in the K&N Pro Series, Todd Gilliland has shown he can get the job done behind the wheel. It’s why later on this season, he will get the chance to run some NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“It’s going to be great because every time you show up to a Camping World Truck Series race you see Kyle Busch Motorsports running up front,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to be a part of, especially walking into their shop and seeing the nice facility. I think it’s going to be a good opportunity for me as everybody over there works super hard on their trucks. Hopefully, we have a couple of good runs.”

Gilliland will make his series debut at Dover International Speedway, followed by Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway. The second-generation racer’s success to date gives him enough confidence to have high expectations.

“I feel we have a good chance to finish in the top-10, perhaps even take advantage of a situation and get a top-five,” he said. “You can never really have too good of expectation. The trucks are a lot different than anything that I’ve ever driven, so it’ll be a big learning curve.”

With Dover not until June, the focus remains on the K&N Pro Series East & West for now. On the East side, he finished eighth in the only race so far this year, while he has scored three straight wins in the west to lead the standings.

“I’m really glad that we’ve been able to come out of the gate really good,” he said. “It shows how good and well-prepared everyone was over there.

Two of those victories came on the same night, with the first ever K&N Pro Series West 100-lap double feature event at Irwindale Speedway.

“I think K&N did a really good job of being prepared for all the challenges that come with having two races in one night,” he said. “I think it was a little rushed, but that’s how it’s going to be, and I think everyone handled it really well. Nothing got too torn up in the first race as everyone, but one car was able to continue into the next race. I think everything went very well.”

Going back and forth, he admits it will be “hard to manage,” but feels he can handle them well with keeping “two different mindsets.”

The success this year with Bill McAnally Racing is a continuation of 2016 for Gilliland, after winning the K&N Pro Series West Championship with six wins and 13 top-10’s in 14 races. The North Carolina native feels he took to the cars easily due to suiting his driving style, of being able to slide around a lot and run side-by-side really hard but clean.

His next race will be Greenville-Pickens Speedway for the second race on the K&N Pro Series East schedule on April 8.

“They just repaved from the center of the corner out to the wall, so it’s going to be about a second faster, so I’m excited to get out there and check it out,” he said.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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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Home Tracks News

K&N Pro Series East & West Schedules Released

Over the past several years, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series has become known for helping foster the next generation of stars, from Joey Logano and Chase Elliott to Daniel Suarez and William Byron. The next group of drivers will get to show their talent across the United States as NASCAR has revealed the schedules for both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

“The NASCAR K&N Pro Series have been an exceptional proving ground for our sport’s up-and-coming drivers,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of touring & weekly series. “The 2017 schedules for the East and West feature an assortment of tracks that will test the drivers and provide a platform to showcase their talents.”

Combined together, the schedules will comprise of 27 total races, with the main event being a combination race at Iowa Speedway in July. The combination event is uniquely parnered alongside the XFINITY Series.

“The 2017 schedules are a perfect blend of short tracks, road courses and national series companion events, that really bring out the best in the competitors in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series,” said Jesse Spungin, chief marketing officer of K&N Engineering, Inc. “We are excited to be involved in the series and are looking forward to what the new year brings and seeing NASCAR’s next generation of drivers battling it out across the country.”

The K&N Pro Series East will open their season at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on February 19, as part of the 51st Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. The World Series features seven days of racing with multiple series involved, ranging from late models to modifieds to the K&N Pro Series. As we go into the season, there are events of interest for fans from top to bottom.

One of the highlights includes the twin 100-lap event on May 6 at South Boston Speedway. The Virginia track looks towards showing off their multi-million dollar improvement process, including a track repave this off-season. Other highlights include first trips to Memphis International Raceway and Berlin Raceway, as well as being included in Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park’s throwback weekend on July 8.

As per the same with previous seasons, some of the dates will run as companion weekends with NASCAR’s National Series. This year includes three races – Watkins Glen International, Bristol Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the season finale at Dover International Speedway. The 2017 Champion will be crowned at Dover on September 29.

Meanwhile, the K&N Pro Series West will kick off it’s season on March 18 at Tucson Speedway in Arizona. A unique factor for the West is their first two races will be run at short tracks close by to where the XFINITY Series is racing the same weekend. The series also has their own highlights, including the 54th trip to Evergreen Speedway, as well as a return to Spokane Country Raceway on May 13.

Like their counterpart, one of their races will run as companion to NASCAR’s National Series – Sonomal Raceway on June 24. The 2017 Champion will be crowned at Kern County Raceway Park on November 4.

 

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series television broadcast schedule on NBCSN will be announced at a later date.

2017 NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES EAST SCHEDULE
Date Track Location
19-Feb New Smyrna Speedway New Smyrna, Fla.
8-Apr Greenville Pickens Speedway Greenville, S.C.
22-Apr Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, Tenn.
6-May South Boston Speedway* South Boston, Virginia
6-May South Boston Speedway* South Boston, Virginia
3-Jun Memphis International Raceway Millington, Tenn.
1-Jul Berlin Raceway Marne, Mich.
8-Jul Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Thompson, Conn.
15-Jul New Hampshire Motor Speedway Loudon, N.H.
28-Jul Iowa Speedway Newton, Iowa
4-Aug Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, N.Y.
2-Sep TBA TBA
16-Sep New Jersey Motorsports Park Millville, N.J.
29-Sep Dover International Speedway Dover, Del.
*100-lap twin features
 
2017 NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST SCHEDULE
Date Track Location
18-Mar Tucson Speedway Tucson, Ariz.
23-Mar Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
25-Mar Irwindale Speedway* Irwindale, Calif.
25-Mar Irwindale Speedway* Irwindale, Calif.
13-May Spokane County Raceway Airway Heights, Wash.
20-May Orange Show Speedway San Bernardino, Calif.
10-Jun Colorado National Speedway Dacono, Colo.
24-Jun Sonoma Raceway Sonoma, Calif.
28-Jul Iowa Speedway Newton, Iowa
12-Aug Evergreen Speedway Monroe, Wash.
26-Aug Douglas County Speedway Roseburg, Ore.
30-Sep Meridian Speedway Meridian, Idaho
14-Oct All American Speedway Roseville, Calif.
4-Nov Kern County Raceway Park Bakersfield, Calif.
*100-lap twin features
SCHEDULE SUBJECT TO CHANGE

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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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Top Prospect Kyle Benjamin Endured Mixed Results in 2015

Kyle Benjamin endured both peaks and valleys last season en route to a ninth-place finish in the NASCAR K&N East championship standings.

But it was a far cry from what he and his family team imagined when they reunited top-tier ARCA crew chief Kevin Reed with a driver he took to Victory Lane twice on that tour with Venturini Motorsports back in 2013.

It started well enough with Benjamin winning the third race of the season at Bristol, and holding on to second-place in the rankings through the mid-point of the campaign at Columbus — but that’s when everything started to fall apart.

Benjamin says keeping up with the high-funded HScott Motorsport cars took both a financial and emotional toll on the team, and they simply couldn’t keep up as the season progressed. After posting four top-10s in the first seven races of the season, they could only post one more in the final seven.

It dropped them from second to ninth in the final results and left them largely dissatisfied.

“A lot of things happened,” Benjamin said of the second half of the season. “We just got caught up in trying to chase down the HScott cars more than anything else. We experimented with a lot of things in the second half, trial and error, and just couldn’t come back from it.

“We probably just tuned on it a little too much.”

Despite the second-half, Benjamin says he’s proud of what he and his team were able to do in the first half, especially his victory at Bristol. Growing up on short tracks in the Southeast, Benjamin always dreamed of competing at Thunder Valley and called his victory there a major career milestone.

“That meant a lot,” Benjamin said. “It’s arguably the biggest race on the K&N schedule with Dover so it was a big deal to even race there, much less win it. But in hindsight, that win means even more to me now, because if we hadn’t won early, we wouldn’t have won all season.”

Benjamin also made his big track debut in 2015, with an ARCA start at Pocono for VMS. While the 18-year-old hasn’t announced his 2016 plans yet, he says they are focused on running as many speedways as possible to prepare him for a potential NASCAR career.

“If we’re lucky enough to be able to make it to NASCAR, those guys are racing on big tracks so that’s our focus, more so than running for a championship somewhere,” Benjamin said. “Short track racing has been fun and it’s taught me a lot of things and I’m hoping we can apply that to the big track stuff.

“Running Pocono was like learning to drive all over again. You have to teach yourself how to drive in the dirty air and a lot of work goes into it — a lot of watching videos too. Differing stuff goes into being successful there.”

Formerly associated with Roush Fenway Racing as a development driver, Benjamin said he has no such affiliations this year. He said he learned a lot from spending time in that system and hopes it pays dividends in his future endeavors.

“A lot of it was wanting things you can’t have yet,” Benjamin said of the promises of national touring. “I was able to drive their pit car and get practice doing that too. You can win and lose a lot of races on pit road and they really helped me out there.
“But the most important thing was just seeing how a big team like that is run. I learned a lot of things on the business side. I don’t think people understand just how massive these teams are.”

Ultimately, despite the set-backs, Benjamin said he’s anxious for 2016 to start. Still considered a top prospect, he knows he has much to prove, and he’s prepared to meet the challenge.

“I thought we were going to take off there (after Bristol,) but it just didn’t happen. But I’m excited for what comes next.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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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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Home Tracks

Industry Insiders Tab K&N Champion William Byron as NASCAR’s Top Prospect

Newly crowned NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion William Byron is one of the most fascinating prospects to come through the development ladder in quite some time — and according to some of the smartest insiders within the industry, Byron has the potential and tools to become a superstar for years to come.

This would have been an outlandish statement a year ago as Byron was merely in his third season behind the wheel of anything. Remarkably, Byron had only started racing in 2012, at 14-years-old, after dabbling in iRacing and attending NASCAR races with his father.

But once the Charlotte native caught the racing bug, he committed to it wholeheartedly, placing his entire focus into mastering the discipline. In order to do some, he surrounded himself with some of the best in the business, including Legends ace Doug Stevens and NASCAR Truck Series star Daniel Hemric, who both guided the youngster in his formative seasons.

What both of them discovered was a naturally talented and disciplined youngster who carried himself far beyond his years. Hemric raced wheel-to-wheel with Byron in Legends and even fielded a Pro Late Model for him in 2014 and immediately saw the potential for excellence.

“As soon as I first saw him make a lap, I knew the potential was there,” Hemric said. “But then to see him study the sport, and really apply himself the way he does, I knew then that he had what it takes to get it done.”

Byron zoomed through the ranks over the next four years, driving Legends, Pro Late Models and Super Late Models during that time span before announcing a full K&N campaign for 2015. At the time he unveiled his HScott NASCAR ride, many in the industry felt the learning curve would be steep, especially against a field that contained tour veteran Scott Heckert, Chili Bowl Nationals champion Rico Abreu and fellow Late Model standouts Kyle Benjamin, Dalton Sargeant and Kaz Grala.

And once again, Byron exceeded expectations — winning in just his second start at Greenville Pickens Speedway. He would take over the championship lead the next week at Bristol and never looked back. While Byron has always placed high expectations on himself, he never thought the accolades would pile up this quickly.

He entered the season simply wanting to win a single race and earn the respect of his peers. He did that and then some, sweeping the championship, Rookie of the Year honors and the Most Popular Driver award in his debut season.

Despite the hardware, Byron has remained humble and quick to praise his fellow competitors.

“It really means a lot to win the championship,” Byron said. “I knew this had the potential to be a challenging season just because of the driver lineup that joined the series — from Dalton who came off finishing second at the Snowball Derby to Rico, who had won the Chili Bowl. There were so many championship possibilities.

“I made some mistakes (in the season opener) at New Smyrna and thought we could have at least finished third. So we were only a little surprised when we won at Greenville, but we didn’t start thinking about the championship until later in the season because there were so many talented people here.”

Byron has also immersed himself in ARCA, making two starts this season at IRP and Kentucky in order to prepare for a future in NASCAR once he turns 18 in November. While there, he drove for Venturini Motorsports, arguably the most notable development program in the sport.

Team manager Billy Venturini has coached a wide range of prospects, including Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Brennan Poole but believes time and experience could prove Byron to be the best of them all.

“I would say that Will is at the top of that list, right there with Logano,” Venturini said. “I’ve always said that Joey was the best that I’ve ever come across and Will is right there. Erik Jones was good when I got him but he wasn’t as naturally prepared, but has improved at an incredible rate. What makes Will so remarkable is just how naturally talented he is.

“All he needs is experience at this point. Look, he’s going to make some mistakes. He spun out at Kentucky in his first (intermediate) start but he’s not going to make them twice. He’s so intelligent. He’s just smooth and smart and works so hard to make sure that he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He has the potential to be as flawless as they come.”

Venturini doesn’t issue praise easily, adding to the credibility of the top prospect.

When told of the acclaim given to him by Venturini, Byron simply said to tell him ‘thank you’ and went on to credit Billy for all the advice and perspective given to him over the past several months. Even as the industry has lionized him since winning the championship last month, Byron is always quick to commend those around him, part of the reason he’s been so successful.

Byron is a sponge and is a blended byproduct of Hemric, Venturini, Stevens and K&N owner Harry Scott whom echoed the sentiments shared by Venturini.

“He’s just a tremendous talent,” Scott said. “He obviously started later than many of his peers but he has such a sharp mind for it. He’s smart and he gets it. He’s very suave in how he races and he’s always willing to listen to and learn from the veterans.

“He takes their advice to heart and that’s how these guys grow.”

Having enjoyed success in both K&N and ARCA, the next stage of growth for Byron is in Trucks and XFINITY where the popular teenager expects to spend 2016.

“We’re close to announcing our plans,” Byron said. “I don’t know the timetable for sure but I feel like we’re making the right steps. It’s something where I feel like we can grow and still be competitive — that’s important to me. I’ve got a lot of good people around me and I’m fortunate that I can kind of hand-pick the best situation.”

No matter where Byron lands, expect him to stay true to himself. Even though the industry is expecting greatness, Byron plans to remain humble, stay focused and continue learning, because after all, it’s already taken him further than he could have ever imagined.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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ARCA Champ Mason Mitchell To Make K&N Debut at The Stadium

Much like Clark Kent leaving Smallville for the bright lights and big opportunities in Metropolis, “Superman” Mason Mitchell has arrived in NASCAR.

While the defending ARCA Racing Series champion has made one previous start in the Camping World Truck Series back in November at Homestead, Mitchell has been given an opportunity to win his first NASCAR race, joining Hattori Racing Enterprises for a one-off start this Saturday night in the K&N Pro Series East race at Bowman Gray Stadium.

The move reunites him with crew chief Jamie Jones, whom Mitchell worked with in the second half of last season, defeating Grant Enfinger for the ARCA championship. It was his relationship with Jones, dating back to their pairing at Empire Racing in 2013, that led him to Shigeaki Hattori who employs Jones as the crew chief of his NASCAR Pro Series efforts.

“We’ve known Jamie for a long time,” Mitchell told Popular Speed on Thursday morning. “So he’s over there with ‘Shige,’ trying to rebuild their program and we’ve been talking about doing things together for a while. It got serious about a week ago and Shige gave me this opportunity to go race at The Stadium.

“I don’t know if this is the perfect place for me to make my debut, but I’m excited to go down there and chase a NASCAR win.”

His hesitation is due to the combustible and random nature of competing at the Winston Salem football stadium that happens to have a flat quarter-mile racing surface circling the circumference of the gridiron.

The bump and run, spin to win and cars sliding across the field are just a normal day at the park for those racing at “The Madhouse,” which has seen stock car racing since 1946.

Despite driving the same equipment that Brett Moffitt drove to five wins in 2011 and 2012, Mitchell knows he has his work cut out for him — not because of the equipment but due to the nature of racing at this specific circuit.

“This equipment is solid,” Mitchell said. “Shige and Jamie are working really hard to get their program back to where it was not too long ago and these are good cars. But anyone has a shot at The Stadium with people getting moved out of the way or turned around. But we’ve had a lot of success with Jamie and we hope to do it again.”

If all goes well, Mitchell said it’s not unlikely that they could team up for additional races this season. Despite winning the ultra-competitive ARCA championship, Mitchell knows it’s equally important for him to excel in the NASCAR spotlight.

He’s also pursuing the funding and partners to make additional Truck and XFINITY starts. Success in the K&N Series could go a long way towards that goal.

“I think so,” Mitchell said of remaining in the K&N Series for additional races this season. “Shige wants to be successful and have the best possible people in place. This is a one-race deal but we could do more if this works out.

“I’m really excited.”

While BGS is a unique track by every measurable standard, it is a short track where Mitchell has enjoyed the majority of his success, dating back to the ARCA Racing Series. The 20-year-old has made 22 short track starts and has accumulated 17 top-10s and nine top-5s.

To win on Saturday night, he knows he has to start up front and control the pace of the race.

“Qualifying is going to be a key component for the race,” Mitchell said. “A winner has never started outside the top-10 so we need to start up front. I really enjoyed the track during the test and am looking forward to a successful race.”

NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 Notebook

  • This is the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East’s fifth visit to Bowman Gray Stadium.
  • The K&N Pro Series East made its debut at Bowman Gray on June 4, 2011. Coleman Pressley was the inaugural pole sitter and Matt DiBenedetto the race winner.
  • The NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. ET.
  • Ben Rhodes was the first driver in the five years at Bowman Gray to win from the pole position.
  • The most cautions in a K&N Pro Series East event at “The Stadium” was 15 in the inaugural 2011 event and the fewest was 10 in 2012.
  • The average starting position for the winner is 3.75 while the pole sitter has an average finish of 10.25.
  • The 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 was the only one of the first of four Bowman Gray events not to be extended to a green-white-checkered finish.
  • Chevrolet (2), Ford (1) and Toyota (1) have all gone to Victory Lane at Bowman Gray.

Championship Standings

  1. William Byron Ldr.
  2. Austin Hill -14
  3. Kyle Benjamin -19
  4. Scott Heckert -37
  5. Gray Gaulding -37
  6. Nick Drake -39
  7. Ronnie Bassett, Jr. -41
  8. Dalton Sargeant -45
  9. Kaz Grala -45
  10. David Garbo, Jr. -46
  11. J. Haley -52
  12. Rico Abreu -54
  13. Dillon Bassett -60
  14. Kenzie Ruston -66
  15. Collin Cabre -67
The NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 will be not air live. Instead it will be televised on the NBC Sports Network on Thursday, June 4th at 6 p.m. ET.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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K&N Iowa: Brandon McReynolds Scores Big Win On Big Stage

NEWTON, Iowa — Brandon McReynolds will celebrate his 24th birthday next week. But it will be hard to top the celebration he had at Iowa Speedway.

McReynolds earned his first NASCAR victory in the Casey’s General Store 150, the first of two annual combination races between the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West. He joins a list that includes defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones as drivers who have won their first NASCAR race in the K&N Pro Series on their way up to the national series at the Midwest track whose slogan proclaims, appropriately, “Stars Are Made Here.”

McReynolds, driving the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing, became the second West driver in 12 races to win the combination race at Iowa. He led twice for 22 laps, including the final eight.

William Byron led a race-high 128 laps and finished second and will be credited with a victory as the highest finishing NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driver. It is the second win in four races for the 17-year-old, who won his first career 21 Means 21 Pole Award earlier in the day and is the series points leader.

Ronnie Bassett Jr. finished third, followed by Jesse Little and McReynolds’ BMR rookie teammate Christopher Bell. JJ Haley was sixth overall, followed by Noah Gragson, Scott Heckert, Kyle Benjamin and Austin Hill.

Byron extended his K&N Pro Series East points lead to 14 over Hill and 19 over Benjamin. In the K&N Pro Series West, Gragson leads Chris Eggleston by four points and Gracin Raz by nine.

ARCA: Toledo Preview and Storylines | Starting Lineup

It was the 34th career series start for the Mooresville, North Carolina, driver. McReynolds, the son of NASCAR on FOX announcer Larry McReynolds, is an alum of the NASCAR Next program — an industry initiative designed to spotlight the sport’s rising stars. Four of the top 10 at Iowa — Byron, Little, Benjamin and Hill — were recently named to the 2015-16 NASCAR Next class.

In his first full season last year, McReynolds finished fourth in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West on the strength of five top three runs in 14 races.

Saturday night, he finally got the win that eluded him.

The race will air on NBCSN on Friday, May 22 at midnight ET, following the NHL playoff game between Chicago and Anaheim.

  1. Brandon McReynolds
  2. William Byron *
  3. Ronnie Bassett, Jr.
  4. Jesse Little
  5. Christopher Bell *
  6. JJ Haley *
  7. Noah Gragson *
  8. Scott Heckert
  9. Kyle Benjamin *
  10. Austin Hill
  11. David Mayhew
  12. Jay Beasley
  13. David Garbo, Jr. *
  14. Trey Hutchens
  15. Chris Eggleston
  16. Alex Schutte *
  17. Gracin Raz *
  18. Nick Drake
  19. Eddie MacDonald
  20. Ryan Partridge *
  21. Nicole Behar *
  22. Collin Cabre *
  23. Dalton Sargeant *
  24. James Bickford
  25. Kenzie Ruston
  26. Brett Thompson
  27. Christian Celaya *
  28. Matt Levin *
  29. Kaz Grala
  30. Rico Abreu *
  31. Devon Amos *
  32. Ron Norman *
  33. John Wood
  34. Dillon Bassett *
  35. Johnny White *
  36. Gray Gaulding
  37. Travis Miller
  38. Rob Powers *
  39. Rich DeLong, III