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Patient Derek Kraus Earns Second Rain-Delayed Victory With South Boston Win

The extra day was worth the wait for Derek Kraus.

After being postponed to Sunday due to rain at South Boston Speedway, the second WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100 belonged to the 17-year-old from Wisconsin.

Kraus took the lead from Max McLaughlin at the halfway juncture and didn’t look back, claiming his seventh overall K&N Pro Series checkered flag.

“It was a really good day overall,” he said. “Today was. Yesterday we were pretty good, too, but we ran out of brakes early and kind of had to ride around and manage your day, which we did for those first 100 laps. But these second 100 laps, we got the first 20 laps in and I knew we were pretty good. Really happy with my Bill McAnally crew.”

The win was Kraus’ second overall in the K&N Pro Series East this season. His first came in the season opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, a race that was also postponed due to rain.

Chase Cabre came home in second-place for the second time in the last three races – sandwiching an eighth-place run in the first twin 100 Saturday night. The Rev Racing driver was catching Kraus’ No. 16 in the closing stages Sunday, but wound up running out of time.

“Just came up a little bit short” he said. “I think if we had a caution we might have had something. Really drove as hard as I could go there. It was a guessing game when it rains out like that and goes to the next day; not bad, but not what we wanted.”

Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Max McLaughlin scored his second third-place finish in a row after battling flu-like symptoms the night prior and led a handful of laps. Tanner Gray, winner of Saturday’s 100-lapper, finished fourth and Spencer Davis rounded out the top five.

Drew Dollar was sixth, followed by Rev Racing teammates Ruben Garcia Jr. and Nick Sanchez. Garcia’s car was piloted by Colin Garrett Sunday after Garcia had to depart for a race commitment in the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series. Garrett had wrecked out in the first 20 laps Saturday night, leaving him available to fill in for Garcia. Sanchez was on the pole for the second race by virtue of his fast lap Saturday, and was making his series’ debut. Travis Milburn and Justin Carroll rounded out the top 10.

Race No. 2 of the WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100s is scheduled to be broadcasted on NBCSN Thursday, May 9 at 6 p.m.

The next K&N Pro Series East events will take place on Saturday, June 1, at Memphis International Raceway.

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OBSERVATIONS: WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100s Race 1 at South Boston

As the fans continue to preach for more short tracks on the NASCAR National touring schedules moving forward, the NASCAR Home Tracks divisions are continuing to showcase why this needs to happen.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series has proven to be a great division for young stars to showcase why they should compete against the stars in the national tours. As they’re pushing those envelopes, they are continuing to put together stellar finishes.

A late caution set-up a green-white-checkered finish to the WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100 Race 1 for the K&N Pro Series East at South Boston Speedway, and it impressed every fan watching the free stream on FansChoice.tv.

After giving up the lead to Sam Mayer over the course of the long run, Tanner Gray took full advantage of the restart, with a well-timed bump to the back of the No. 21 Chevrolet, followed by some rubbing well alongside on the tight track to take over the lead. He then held on through the final lap for the victory.

It’s always been stated that “racecars have bumpers for a reason,” as well as the classic stories of the “chrome horn.” Gray perfected the move in that moment as he got the position on Mayer, however he didn’t go over the limit by wrecking his competitor. 

Gray’s transition into stock cars has been interesting to watch thus far as Saturday’s event only marked his third career series in the start. He also does not have an asphalt oval background like many of his competitors, coming from the drag racing world into NASCAR. His quick ability to adapt to stock cars could prove critical moving forward.

If the caution does not fly, Mayer easily had the event in hand as he had been able to put a couple car lengths on Gray after taking the lead with a stronger car on the long run. Meyer has been equally as impressive as his counterpart, as evident by his dominating performance at Bristol Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago. 

Although everyone looked forward to seeing both of these young drivers go head-to-head once again in the second event starting up front, they also showed why they still have things to learn. Gray jumped the initial start, while Meyer made contact with the outside wall. With both being in the title fight, being able to gain ground when the race does go back green on Sunday could be a pivotal part of the season.

Certainly the youth and needing to learn showed through with other drivers, as well.

Drew Dollar gave up a top-five run in the first 100-lapper following contact with Chase Cabre as they both fought for the same piece of real estate.

Hailie Deegan may be applauded for her aggressive ability, but she showed the need to learn patience in driving over Colin Garrett in the first 18 laps of the second event before it was postponed to Sunday due to weather. Garrett showcased his frustration to his fellow competitor, resulting in shock from the fans in not being able to see a replay of the incident despite FansChoice.tv using that feature for other previous incidents. 

Garrett is not totally done for the weekend, as the rain will see him jump behind the wheel of Ruben Garcia‘s entry when the field goes back green as Garcia travels to Mexico to race in the NASCAR Mexico Series. With some time to think over what happened and running for a different team than his own, does revenge happen?

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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Tanner Gray Breaks Through For First Win At South Boston

SOUTH BOSTON, Va. — Tanner Gray wasn’t leaving South Boston without a trophy.

He made sure of it in race No. 1 of the WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100s, as he nudged Bristol winner Sam Mayer out of the way in overtime to win his first career K&N Pro Series race.

In race No. 2 on the date of his first career series start, Nick Sanchez led the field to green by virtue of his quick lap in race No. 1. He led the first 18 laps after Gray was black flagged for jumping the initial start. Then, unfortunately, the rain came.

And it stayed, forcing the postponement of the remainder of the second WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100 to Sunday.

For Gray, though, getting that inital checkered flag in NASCAR was the thing. The 2018 NHRA Pro Stock Champion has already shown to be a quick study to stock cars and oval tracks.

“It feels really good to get that first win,” Gray said, exhausted after the first twin 100. “I tried to screw it up throughout the race the whole time. I just kept getting loose, chasing it up the race track and made some adjustments there under caution before the green/white/checkered.”

The overtime finish didn’t disappoint, as Gray and eventual second-place finisher Sam Mayer were beating and banging around the entire track.

“We took off and I was hoping I could get a little better jump, hold him tight down there to the bottom,” the DGR-Crosley driver said. “But I missed it a little bit. Tried to follow behind him and got into him, and in (Turn) 3 just moved him, got underneath him, side-by-side going on the frontstretch. After that I’m not too sure what happened to him.”

Gray had come up just .030 seconds short on March 30 at California’s Irwindale Speedway, losing out on a drag race off Turn 4 to Trevor Huddleston. This time, it was Gray who was .32 seconds faster than the runner-up.

Following Gray and Mayer across the finish line was another rookie, Max McLaughlin, in third. Spencer Davis and Ruben Garcia Jr. where fourth and fifth, respectively.

Colin Garrett, Travis Milburn, Chase Cabre, Derek Kraus and Hailie Deegan rounded out the top 10.

WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100 Race No. 1 Results

The field for the second twin 100 was set by fastest lap time per driver in the first 100. That allowed Sanchez, who was 14th in his series’ debut, to assume the point alongside — albeit temporarily — Gray.

Twin No. 1 will be broadcast Wednesday, May 8 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Twin No. 2 will be streamed live on FansChoice.TV on Sunday and air on NBCSN on Thursday, May 9 at 6 p.m.

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Home Tracks News

Dillon Bassett Fighting for K&N East Success

Dillon Bassett, who may be one of the most underrated drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, is fighting for everything he can get.

The 20-year-old driver from Winston Salem, North Carolina is a former champion in the now-defunct UARA Late Model Series and has one career win to date on the K&N East tour. Now, Bassett is hoping for more success with hopes of moving up the ranks.

“We can only be focused on what we’re doing right now,” Bassett told POPULAR SPEED. “We have a lot on our plate right now with trying to run the East series. Always looking for sponsorship. That’s one of the main things to move up nowadays. Just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got and, if an opportunity presents itself, then we would be more than willing to take it. Just trying to focus on what we’ve got now.”

Bassett scored his first and, to date, only K&N East Series win at Motordrome Speedway in Pennsylvania back in 2015. The following year, he had a strong start in the K&N East Series, but his family owned and operated team suffered a devastating setback in May 2016 when a fire ripped through their Winston Salem race shop.

“Yeah, it happened about halfway through the season last year, and we lost a lot of our stuff, but the good Lord was good to us, and we bounced back,” Bassett said. “We’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

This season, luck has not been on Bassett’s side with only two top-five finishes in the K&N East Series. Most recently, Bassett led the most laps at Langley Speedway in Virginia, but faded late in the race before being involved in an accident.

Bassett won’t let bad luck keep him down. He’s still determined to show that he has the talent to win races and possibly compete in NASCAR’s upper echelons one day.

“All I can do is I can place 110 percent of my trust in the guys that work in my car in the shop,” Bassett remarked. “Be there when I can. I’m in school full-time as well. Just put my trust in them and when we show up to the racetrack, be as much prepared as we can and give our best effort week in and week out and never give up. That’s where we’ve been at this year. We’ve had a lot of bad luck but we still just been fighting away at it trying to get the best finishes that we can even though things haven’t gone our way a lot.

“All we can do is keep fighting and hope that somebody sees and is willing to give me a shot.”

Bassett credits some of his success in the K&N East Series to what he learned racing Late Model Stock Cars in the Carolinas and Virginia. However, the younger of the two Bassett brothers also sees a difference – primarily in the advantage gained through technology and resources by the well-funded teams.

“We learned a lot,” Bassett explained. “A lot of stuff transfers. It seems to me like Late Model racing is a lot different than these things. It seems to me that even the guys with a lot of money in late models don’t always run as good but, if you have a lot of money in this series or so on, it seems to benefit them more. I don’t really understand (why), but all we can do is keep fighting for what we’ve got and just try to compete with these guys on a weekly basis and try to win races.”

While Bassett is looking ahead in his career, there is still one thing he would like in Late Model Stock Car racing – redemption in one of the biggest races, the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.

In 2013, Bassett was involved in a thrilling duel for the win with Lee Pulliam, Deac McCaskill, Matt Waltz and Tommy Lemons, Jr., but a series of late cautions changed the complexion of the race. Bassett had the lead coming to a green-white-checkered restart, but Lemons ended up taking the top spot in the most controversial restart in the event’s history and scoring the victory, while Bassett came away with a heartbreaking runner-up finish.

Feeling like he is owed one, Bassett would love to compete in this year’s race, which will be held on September 23rd – the first event under Martinsville Speedway’s new permanent LED lighting system.

“I don’t know if Martinsville owes me one but NASCAR sure as hell owes me one,” Bassett stated. “I’d love to man. I’ve been talking about it all year. Under the lights, that’s just something that any driver would want to experience. Especially since it’s new and the Late Model race is going to be the first one to do it. Don’t really have a car or ride set for that race but with it being this close, it probably won’t happen, but I would love to do it.”

This weekend, Bassett will turn his attention to the twists and turns of the 2.25-mile Thunderbolt Raceway road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Saturday’s JustDrive.com 125.  It will be Bassett’s first start at the New Jersey track.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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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Intensity Level Rising in K&N Title Fight

HAMPTON, VA – Two of NASCAR racing’s hottest prospects are locked in a tight championship battle in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in what could be a preview of future title fights in NASCAR’s upper echelons.

After picking up a win at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia on Monday, 16-year-old Todd Gilliland took over the K&N East points lead. Gilliland has a six marker advantage over his main championship rival, 15-year-old Harrison Burton, and both drivers have been relatively evenly matched.

On Monday, Gilliland, the son of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitor David Gilliland, made a late race pass on Dillon Bassett and pulled away from the Chase Purdy in the final laps to score his fourth K&N East victory of the year – tying Burton in number of wins in the eastern tour.

“This is a crucial part of the season overall,” Gilliland said afterward. “With there only being 14 races, all of them are very important. This one is huge for us, taking the lead. We had some bad luck to start the year off but, man, we’ve come on strong in these summer months. We’ve just got two more races to go get it.”

While Gilliland lavished in victory lane, Burton languished.

Burton, son of NBC Sports broadcaster and former MENCS racer Jeff Burton, struggled throughout much of the day. During the race, Burton fought valiantly, but was only able to come away with a seventh place finish and, as a result, watched his four point lead become a six point deficit.

“It was a tough race for us,” Burton remarked. “We didn’t have the handle on the car all week. We’ve got to win the next two, that’s what we have to do. It’s something we’re really capable of. We’ve got to go to the road course and win and I know I’m capable of it. I believe in my team, and we’re going to have a great car. Then we’ve got to go to Dover and take care of business there.”

With two races remaining, the K&N Series standouts will now turn their attention to the 2.25-mile road course at New Jersey Motorsports Park on September 16th, and both drivers are confident entering the event.

Todd Gilliland has fared well at the road courses so far in 2017. In the most recent road course race at Watkins Glen International, Gilliland finished second to Will Rodgers. Heading to New Jersey, Gilliland is already looking to gain an advantage.

“We’re driving all night after this race to go test at New Jersey,” Gilliland said. “We’re going to try to give ourselves the best chance we’ve got. That’s all we can do.”

Harrison Burton, who finished third at Watkins Glen, is equally optimistic about the New Jersey race.

“That’s my best road course I run at,” Burton remarked. “Really excited to get going to New Jersey. It’s a great racetrack, a lot of fun. We get tires at the halfway break, so that plays into my favor. I’ve never been too good at saving tires. I like going 100 percent, but, we’ve got to go and do what we’ve got to do.”

Both drivers come from NASCAR pedigree and have had plenty of success in short track racing – Burton in Super Late Models and Gilliland in Late Model Stock Cars.

Burton recently won the New Smyrna World Series of Asphalt championship as well as the Speedfest 200 Super Late Model race in Georgia.  Gilliland, who won last year’s K&N West championship and is poised to defend that title, won the inaugural race for the CARS Late Model Stock Tour in North Carolina back in 2015 before moving up the ladder and into the K&N Series. Both drivers have also made starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and are members of the 2017-18 NASCAR NEXT class.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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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The Future Stars of NASCAR Announced

The 2017-18 class of the NASCAR Next program, was announced on Tuesday and includes some familiar second-generation names, as well as drivers whom you may never heard of.

The program was established to help develop and highlight young drivers who aspire to compete at NASCAR’S top levels. Alumni include current stars Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

“The NASCAR Next program identifies emerging talent in our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president, and chief marketing officer. “Drivers in this year’s class have already achieved success on the track or shown potential, and this program will help them further develop their skills. We look forward to watching these young stars connect with our fans and continue their climb up the NASCAR ladder.”

The selection process includes consulting industry executives, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Drivers Council and media members. The candidates are chosen from a pool of drivers between the ages of 15-25, who are actively racing at local tracks or lower-tier NASCAR series.

Here is a breakdown of the 2017-18 class.

Harrison Burton from Huntersville, North Carolina is in his second year of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition, with two wins to his credit. The 16-year-old is the son of former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Jeff Burton.

Chase Cabre is a rookie in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, driving for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for the Diversity program. The 16-year-old picked up his first two pole awards in twin features at South Boston, before scoring a best-career finish of fourth.

Hailie Deegan has made a name for herself in the Lucas Oil Off Road Series, becoming the first female to score a podium in series history last season. The daughter of FMX legend Brian Degan won the Lucas Oil Off Road Modified Kart Championship last season.

Todd Gilliland from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina is running both NASCAR K&N Pro Series divisions in 2017, along with a limited NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The son of former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver David Gilliland won the Pro Series East Championship last year.

Riley Herbst raced in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West last season, scoring seven top-fives in 14 races. The Joe Gibbs Racing development driver is competing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for 2017.

Cayden Lapcevich was a Canadian stand-out last year, winning three events en route to being crowned the 2016 NASCAR Pinty’s Series Champion in his rookie season.

Tj Majeski recently signed a development contract with Roush Fenway Racing to run a select number of NASCAR XFINITY Series events in 2017. The 22-year-old kicked off last year by winning the Super Late Model championship at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway, followed by a third-place finish in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings.

Chase Purdy from Meridan, Mississippi took home NASCAR Whelen All-American Series rookie honors last year with a track championship at Greenville Pickens Speedway. The 17-year-old is racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East this year.

Zane Smith put himself on the scene  by winning the Super Late Model championship at New Smyrna’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in 2015. He finished off the year with a runner-up to Elliott at the Snowball Derby.

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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Amber Balcaen Ready to Make the Jump to K&N Series in 2017

Amber Balcaen feels she is ready to make the jump from Late Models to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2017, racing for Martin-McClure Racing full-time.

The move to the K&N Series is a big leap for Balcaen.  The 24-year-old from the province of Manitoba in Canada has only been racing on asphalt for a little over a year.  In spite of her inexperience, Balcaen is confident and looks forward to a challenge.

“I mean, I definitely lack experience,” Balcaen said.  “This is only my second year on pavement.  I am more confident knowing I have good people with me and knowledgeable people and they can help me the best they can.”

Balcaen was a championship driver in dirt racing up in Manitoba before making the transition to asphalt in 2015.  Her asphalt career started at Myrtle Beach Speedway in a Southeast Limited Late Model Series preliminary, racing for Troy Carnes and CM Driver Development.  In 2016, Balcaen made the decision to run full-time on asphalt, driving in the Limited Sportsman division at Motor Mile Speedway for Late Model Stock Car great Lee Pulliam – the same driver who coached Julia Landauer in 2015 before she moved to K&N.

Working with and learning from Pulliam, a three-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion, Balcaen quickly gained an understanding of asphalt racing and how the cars drive.  Balcaen had success with Pulliam, scoring one win in August 2016 as well as seven podium finishes and 12 top-five finishes in 13 races.

“He taught us everything, he’s a really good coach and a great driver as well,” Balcaen remarked, talking about her relationship with Pulliam.  “Another successful driver be able to coach me and teach me the ropes of pavement racing was beneficial.  He was really good with constructive criticism.  I like being told when I do things wrong.  I already know when I do something wrong, but he would let me know.  He was very honest with me and never sugarcoated things and that’s what made us successful.”

Having coached Landauer and Balcaen, as well as Dalton Sargeant and Kaz Grala, Pulliam has an eye for talent and a natural ability to help racers mature and develop into contenders, not just in Late Models, but in ARCA and NASCAR as well.

“Our development deal is really good,” Pulliam said in victory lane after a win at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina.  “You know, we moved Julia Landauer up a couple years ago and Amber Balcaen, she’s going to run some this year in the K&N Series.  So, we’ve had a lot of success.  Dalton Sargeant, Kaz Grala, a lot of people have come through here.  It’s just really fun when you can work with great drivers like that and help them move up the ranks.  It says a lot about my guys and the program I have here so hopefully we can continue that on.”

Moving from a Late Model at Motor Mile Speedway to a full-size K&N car is a big jump, but one Balcaen feels she can make.  After all, Landauer did the same thing after winning a championship at Motor Mile racing for Pulliam.

“I feel like I am ready,” Balcaen explained.  “I’m going to try to race for Lee in some Late Model races in our offseason because I don’t think I’m 100 percent there yet but I want to put myself in circumstances that I’m not 100 percent ready for, but I want to make them work.  I proved it last year racing with Lee and, with zero pavement experience, got seven top-three finishes and a win.

“So, I’m used to putting myself in circumstances I might not be ready for but I like the challenge and I’m a pretty adaptable driver and with the right people, I’m going to be laser focused this year. It’s definitely going to be a big learning curve but I’m ready for the challenge.”

Balcaen made NASCAR history with her lone victory at Motor Mile Speedway on August 27, 2016.  When she picked up the win, she became the first Canadian woman to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the United States.  The triumph was a breakthrough win for Balcaen, but it was also a win that was somewhat overdue because she was already knocking on the door.

“The week before, I had half a lap lead over second place and I thought for sure that was my night and my time and I had other spotters congratulating my spotter before the checkered flag flew,” Balcaen recalled.  “I thought that was for sure going to by my first win and then a restart came out and I got shuffled and finished in second and it was such a disheartening race.  To not win after having a half lap lead is just really, felt like I got punched in the face.”

When she finally did score her first win, it was relief more than anything.

“I went back the next week and knew it was redemption time and was able to secure the win,” Balcaen continued.  “It was a feeling of relief more than anything.  I needed to win to prove to everyone that I made the right choice switching to pavement and deserved to be here.  The following race, I almost won but lost by six inches.”

Because of her success in Canada and her marketability in the United States, Balcaen has amassed a large social media following, with over 7,000 followers on Twitter and close to 12,000 likes on her Facebook page.  Like many racers in the modern age, Balcaen has become very active on social media and engages with her fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

“Initially, the reason I was so active on social media is being from Canada it’s hard to be noticed, everyone is looking for the next big thing is either looking in North Carolina or California,” Balcaen explained.  “For me, it was a way to reach out to the rest of North America like, hey I’m here and I’m winning races, look at me.  Once I grew a pretty big fan base, I realized it’s a really great tool to keep connected to my fans.

“I feel like have some the best fans in the world and they want to know what’s going on.  They like to see my races and finishes but they like to see what I do during the week, whether it’s getting my seat fitted or working out.  They like that stuff.  It also lets people in on who I am as a racer and how hard I’ve had to work.  I don’t come from any financial backing and I’ve had to work really hard to get to this point.”

While Balcaen stands out as one of the few women in the sport, she has not seen gender as an obstacle.  In fact, she feels being a woman is something she can use to her advantage.  However, she does not want to be seen as just a pretty face, but also as a serious competitor who has as much desire to win races as the rest of her competition.

“Being a female has its advantages and disadvantage I’m still paying the same price to be in the racecar and I’m trying to win races,” Balcaen commented.  “The biggest obstacle is the financial aspect.  I’ve had to deal with it since racing Mini Sprints.  I’ve had to fund my own stuff.  Being a female, I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to it.  I pay the same price to race and want to win just as bad or more as my male competitors.  I’m going to try to use it to my advantage as much as possible.”

Like Landauer last season, Balcaen is hoping for a successful season and to represent the growing female contingent in NASCAR racing for years to come.

Balcaen’s first K&N Series race will be in the season opener for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at New Smyrna Speedway on Sunday night, February 19th.

E-MAIL ANDY AT  andymarquis@gmail.com

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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Kaz Grala Gaining NASCAR Education Both On and Off Track

By Matt Weaver — There is no such thing as a perfect prospect in stock car racing. NASCAR is a sport in which the game drivers play in their youth looks very little like the one conducted on Sunday by the professionals of the Sprint Cup Series.

Young drivers are continually tasked with refining and redefining their approach and image as they advance through the ladder system. Some rise to the challenge and become stars while others flounder into obscurity.

That is the daunting challenge that now lies before 15-year-old Pro Series East prospect @KazGrala — to establish himself into a potential superstar under the NASCAR spotlight over the next several years.

Grala — the youngest driver in the series — is a force of pure raw talent, one that has displayed both signs of inexperience and untapped great potential during his brief foray into the K&N Series this season. Grala advanced from Legends and Late Models but has quickly adapted to his No. 31 Pro Series East entry for Turner Scott Motorsports this season, posting seven top-10s in 12 starts and counting.

He says his biggest challenge has been adapting to the increased competition more than his machines thus far.

“The transition between each type of car has been somewhat difficult,” Grala told Popular Speed. “But it is the increased competition level that has really made each step a challenge. It’s about learning how to be a better racer against the competition. That is what’s needed to better your own results.

“With each step up, it forces me to raise my own game.”

Grala went through a rough patch in the summer months, posting four finishes of 14th or worse in six events at Bristol, Richmond, Iowa and Pensacola. But a turnaround eventually followed as the Boston-native overcame and posted four consecutive top-10s at Hampton, Loudon, Columbus and Iowa.

He partially attributed the success to his increased confidence but also the drastic swing of luck that typically comes with short track racing.

“I’ve gotten much better as I’ve gained experience and just learned in the series,” Grala said. “We had a streak of bad luck earlier in the season but it seems to have turned around. The lack of bad luck and increased experience has led to improved results.”

Grala also recognizes that he has much to learn both on and off the track before he can graduate to the Truck Series and beyond. To the fact, he says that he and his father, Darius, often discuss managing the so-called “little things” in racing that require consideration, planning and strategy when not on the track.

“Social media, interviews and just walking around the garage — it’s all important to your future and just your speed and results,” Grala said. “I’m constantly working on improving my marketability as well as my driving and racing.”

Again, there’s no such thing as a perfect prospect but Grala understands all the nuances of working his way to the top. It is those facts in addition to his increasing pace and speed that is establishing Grala as one of the more fascinating prospects to watch in the coming seasons.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East next competes at the Watkins Glen International road course in the Bully Hill 125. Green flag  is scheduled for Friday evening and will be televised on tape-delay by Fox Sports 1.