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Rico Abreu Makes NASCAR Debut in K&N East Opener

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — The results did not necessarily reflect it but Rico Abreu had a very productive NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut on Sunday night but admitted he still has much to learn during his transition from open-wheels to full-bodied stock cars.

In just his fourth career Stock Car start, Abreu qualified sixth and finished 17th. While he quickly dropped down the running order during the opening 80-lap green flag run, Abreu was able to keep his nose clean and log laps throughout the duration of the event. A career midget and sprint car driver, the 4’4 defending Chili Bowl Nationals champion admitted that he had never shifted a car in his life until he started racing Late Models at New Smyrna in January.

“I’m really struggling with shifting on restarts,” Abreu told Popular Speed after the race. “I’m really working on getting better at that. I’ve never shifted a car in my life.

“This is just a different learning process, having to get after it on a restart and knowing where your car is and how good it is. It’s just a different learning process. It’s a different form of racing than what I’m used to. This is something you have to understand. You have to stay out of the wrecks because after all, you’re not learning if you’re not finishing the race.”

The K&N race at New Smyrna was the longest of his career at 150 laps and Abreu was noticeably exhausted upon climbing out his Chevrolet. Abreu admitted that the length of races was something else he struggled with and that he will not be able to make that adjustment until his next K&N race at Greenville Pickens Speedway on April 4.

His first three Super Late Model races were a pair of 35-lappers and his 100-lap debut back in January.

“This is definitely the early stages of the process,” Abreu said. “This is just my fourth race. We have a lot more to do and I’m really looking forward to Greenville in a couple of weeks.”

Lastly, Abreu says he’s having fun. He has quickly established a positive relationship with HScott Motorsports  and crew chief Mardy Lindley and that sort of synergy will be the key to his continued success.

“I don’t get too stressed,” Abreu said. “I have a great group of guys behind me that I love working with and love being around. That really helps me out more than I can say. It’s about making every moment count and I’m going to keep working at it.”



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Kenzie Ruston Is Taking Names, Kicking Butt and Making History

By Unique Hiram (NEWTON, Ia.) – “Taking names and kicking butt” is an age old phrase that has been used to describe the tenacity of an individual to excel at something they’ve placed their time and energy into and become successful.

@KenzieRuston was the epitome of this phrase when she competed in the Autolite 150 at Iowa Speedway on Friday night. She rolled off the grid in 16th position and finished the race second, which was a record-setting moment. Granted, the young driver had already held the record for highest finishing female (third) prior to the race.

If there were a few more laps in the race, Ruston feels that she could have capitalized and beat race winner @BrandonJonesRac to the checkered flag.

“Yeah, well, I really thought that we were just a little bit better than Brandon, and we were catching him there at the end. Cole, I definitely feel like he had us beat there if we didn’t mess up a little at the end. I spun my tires at the last restart, or I would have been right there with the 33 – maybe would have been able to do a little something with him with those last five laps.”

Although the Ben Kennedy Racing driver came up one spot short of victory, she feels extremely proud of the gains that the team has been making throughout the 2014 season.

“We’ve improved week end and week out with Ben Kennedy racing. I’m just happy that we came out of here with a second. Just had to start 16th, so that’s kind of a win in our book. I knew that we were going to be good in practice, I knew that we would be top five and we would be right there and fight for that win at the end.”

In 26 career starts, she has seven top-fives with 12 top 10s and four laps led. Currently ranked sixth overall in the K&N Pro Series East drivers standings, Ruston is sitting 103 points behind leader @BenRhodes.

Her career highlights include K&N Pro Series Highest Finishing Female (2nd), K&N Pro Series Highest Points Standings (6th), Legends Car National Championship and ARCA/CRA Super Series Feature Winner.

Sara Christian, Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson & @DanicaPatrick – those names sound familiar? They are just a few of the women who have made an impact in motorsports by accomplishing a number of firsts in their respective careers. Kenzie Ruston is well on her way to adding her name to that list of history making female competitors.

With four races left, there is a huge opportunity for her to put the No. 96 Chevrolet Impala in Victory Lane. The K&N Pro Series East heads to Watkins Glen International for the Bully Hill Vineyards 125 on August 8th.



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Harvard Graduate Staropoli Looks to Make a Name for Himself

By Chris Owens – Hardly, if ever do you see a Harvard graduate turn racecar driver. It’s not normal for a NASCAR driver to be enrolled in medical school either. Throw in a summa cum laude graduate and now you’re really talking about something unheard of in racing.

Enter Patrick Staropoli, a native of South Florida, who before the Peak Dream Challenge was just a kid with a dream of racing professionally one day. A Harvard graduate and current student enrolled at the University of Miami medical school, Staropoli is looking to make a name for himself in the racing world.

Staropoli was the winner of the inaugural Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge that was put on in 2013. With the help of Michael Waltrip Racing, Peak set out to find the next up and coming driver.  Staropoli won the competition and in turn has become a Michael Waltrip Racing development driver.

It’s something the south Florida native has always dreamed of. Now he finally has the opportunity to show the world what he’s got.

“Being able to have this opportunity to race is something I’ve always wanted but never dreamed in a million years I would have gotten it. I’m definitely trying to take full advantage of it,” Staropoli told Popular Speed.

“Honestly, I’ve always dreamed it. I’ve been really realistic about my career from day one and I think that’s why I focused so hard on school. I’ve always taken school seriously because you can’t replace your education and that’s what will hold you down like a rock.”

Becoming a Michael Waltrip Racing Development Driver came with winning the Peak Stock Car Dream Challenge.  For Staropoli, it’s something that means a lot to him. To be able to go to a guy like Michael Waltrip for advance is huge he says.

“Michael (Waltrip) has been great since the competition. Anytime I need advice or any kind of support that I need, whether it’s racing related or have to navigate things on the sponsorship side, he’s there.”

For Staropoli, his school has been his primary focus.  Living in Florida his whole life, Staropoli moved north for college at Harvard University. Not only did he graduate from Harvard, but he did so summa cum laude.

Now living back in Florida, he’s enrolled at the University of Miami full-time in their medical program. While he originally wanted to be an engineer, Staropoli says that a racing accident with his dad played a part in changing majors.

“When I was younger my dad was involved in a bad racing accident. He was taken to the hospital and we were there for several months. I remember as a kid watching that and saying, that’s amazing that they were able to fix him and be completely healthy now. That kind of just stuck in the back of my head and as I went to college, I took the classes that I need,” said Staropoli.

“I was originally interested in engineering actually and taking those classes where the same type of classes I needed for medical school. So putting those altogether and adding experience was kind of what get me interested in it so I started moving in that direction.”

Being a full-time student is no easy task in and of itself. Add in trying to be a racecar driver and you quickly have to learn how to manage your time. Staropoli knows this and does the best he can when it comes to managing his studies while trying to pursue his dream of being a racecar driver.

“It’s just – kind of cramming a lot of stuff into a short amount of time really. I remember doing the races last semester – I grew up in Florida my entire life and Harvard was in Boston, so I never left the eastern time zone until we went to Washington for the first race last year,” he said. “So that was a journey in itself. I had a big exam the day we came back from that race.”

A lot of it, he says, is just preparing far enough in advance that things don’t sneak up on him. When he’s not in a racecar or at a racetrack, he’ll find time to study or do schoolwork.

“Studying on the airplane, studying at night at the hotel, doing whatever I had to do to get the job done.”

Staropoli will turn his attention away from the books this weekend as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East runs its third race of the season on Saturday afternoon. Bristol is a tough racetrack for any driver, but going there for the first time is a completely different experience.

While he’s looking forward to the experience, Staropoli says he wants to keep the momentum going from the first two races of the seasons at New Smyrna and Daytona. Both events saw the newcomer finish in the top 15.

“Bristol is such an iconic track in our sport, but my hope for my team is to really put all the piece of the puzzle together,” he said. “We had two really great races down at Speedweeks. Qualifying well and running up front would be great, but just having a solid performance across the board would be good.”

After Bristol, he’ll head west to California for the K&N Pro Series West race before heading back home to Florida.  While there, he’ll continue with his medical degree at Miami, but says he’ll get back in his family owned Super Late Model and run some races.

“I’ve been spending time up in North Carolina to work on the K&N stuff, so once we get a break in between Irwindale and Iowa is the next one in May, I’ll be back home in Florida so we’re going to try and get that running again and compete at all the short tracks in Florida.”

He’s quick to say however, that the K&N Pro Series deal with Bill McAnnaley is his primary focus, as it should be.

“We’ll definitely be doing these five K&N Pro Series races. We’re full court press on trying to do what we can to run more of those.”