Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series East

Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series East

Kwasniewski Doubles Up; Multiple Marks And Records Set

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2013 season left numerous marks on the historical timeline of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East as a host of drivers went further than those before them.

Dylan Kwasniewski, an 18-year-old standout from Las Vegas, Nev., became the first driver to ever win both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East championships after he followed up his 2012 West title with the East crown this season. Likewise, Kwasniewski became just the sixth driver in NASCAR history to earn back-to-back championships in different series, and the first since 1997-98.

Kwasniewski wasn’t the only history maker in 2013 though. Gray Gaulding established the mark for the youngest pole winner in series history at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in April and Cole Custer became the series’ youngest race winner in August at Newton, Iowa’s Iowa Speedway.

The K&N Pro Series East’s diversity was on full display in record-breaking fashion as well. Kenzie Ruston established new marks for highest race and championship finishes for a female competitor while Daniel Suàrez became the series’ highest-ranking international driver in the final standings.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES EAST

Top Driver
Dylan Kwasniewski:
  Championship aside, the statistical results proved that Kwasniewski was without a doubt the K&N Pro Series East’s top driver in 2013. The NASCAR Next standout’s six wins were not only triple the total of other multiple-race victors, but it tied the mark for the second-highest single-season total in series history. He also had the most poles (3), top fives (8), top 10s (tied, 10) and laps led (394). Additionally, Kwasniewski was tops among the 17 full-time competitors in average finish (7.7) and tied for the best average start (6.2).

Daniel Suàrez (Honorable Mention):  After two years of part-time competition, Suàrez showed what he was capable of with a full schedule in 2013. Despite a slow start to the season, the Drive for Diversity competitor recorded the second-most top fives (6) and top 10s (9) and registered his first career victory at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Next driver led the series with four runner-up finishes, completed more laps than anybody (1,779), ranked third in average finish (8.9) and fourth in laps led (209).

Comeback Driver of the Year
Daniel Suàrez:
  It was a comeback within the season itself for Suàrez. Had the 21-year-old started the season the way he finished it, who knows what the championship picture may have looked like. Six races into the campaign Suàrez was 12th in points with an average finish of 15th, but things took a dramatic turn in the second half of the season, when he became the series’ hottest driver. The last eight races saw Suàrez post six podium finishes, highlighted by that Columbus victory, and he went on to finish third in points.

Mackena Bell (Honorable Mention):  Bell’s first stint in the K&N Pro Series East came in 2010 when she competed in the first six races of the season. It was a tough introduction for the Drive for Diversity competitor, who posted an average finish of 22.7, but it was a completely different story when she returned to the series this season. A teammate to Suàrez at Rev Racing, Bell became just the second female driver in series history to post a top-five finish when she crossed the line fifth at Richmond and backed that up with a sixth-place effort at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. Bell ended up with four top 10s, an average finish of 14th and ranked 13th in the final season standings.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Ben Kennedy:
  It all came together for Kennedy in his third K&N Pro Series East campaign. Although Kennedy – who turned 22 following the season – matched his top fives (3) and top 10s (9) totals from 2012, the big difference in 2013 was that he found Victory Lane, twice. The NASCAR Next driver turned in a dominant performance in his home state in April when he sat on the pole and led all 150 laps for his first career triumph in the inaugural event at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. Kennedy then stole the show at Bowman Gray in June when he got the lead with just 27 laps to go and held off a hard-charging field for another historic victory.

Kenzie Ruston (Honorable Mention):  There were a number of remarkable seasons for rookies in 2013, but Ruston’s accomplishments rank near the top of the list. A true rookie with no K&N Pro Series East starts prior to the season, Ruston made an immediate impact. After just missing a top-10 finish (11th) in her debut at the challenging Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Next driver crossed the line third at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway in the season’s second race to record the highest finish in the series’ 27-year history for a female driver, then turned in a fifth-place effort at Five Flags. All told the 22-year-old registered six top 10s to finish sixth in the final standings and once again set a mark for the highest ranking by a female in series history.

Top Team
Turner Scott Motorsports:
  TSM made quite a first impression in 2013 – its first season of competition in the K&N Pro Series East. The organization fielded three full-time cars and two part-time efforts in its first foray in NASCAR’s top development series, and found plenty of success. Not only did Kwasniewski deliver a championship in the TSM No. 98, but Ruston recorded four top-five finishes in the No. 34 to rank sixth in the final standings and Ben Rhodes finished 19th in points despite running only half of the schedule in the No. 41 thanks to five top 10s. All told TSM cars compiled six wins (all by Kwasniewski), 14 top fives and 26 top 10s across the 14-race schedule.

Ben Kennedy Racing (Honorable Mention): After two seasons of technical and at-track support from Hendrick Motorsports as a teammate to Chase Elliott, Ben Kennedy Racing stood on its own and achieved substantial success in 2013. BKR, with Kennedy himself behind the wheel, was one of three teams to register multiple victories across the 14-race slate. BKR put a car under Kennedy that ranked fourth in average start (7.1) and average finish (9.8) as well as finished fourth in the overall championship standings – up five spots from the previous season.

Top Races
Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway, April 25:
  It was an event full of twists and turns that saw Ryan Gifford come out on top with a popular victory in the season’s fourth event. Gaulding set the K&N Pro Series East mark for the youngest pole winner prior to the event, and led the first 53 circuits before fellow 15-year-old Custer took point after Gaulding was clipped by Corey LaJoie battling for the lead on a restart. Custer held the lead until 23 to go when Gifford – a veteran of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative – made the decisive pass. It got interesting with five laps to go as an 11-car pile-up brought out the red flag, but Gifford held off Brandon Gdovic and Custer for his first career victory.

Drive Sober 150 pres. by Delaware Office of Highway Safety at Dover International Speedway, Sept. 27 (Honorable Mention):  The series’ annual trip to the “Monster Mile” proved to be a showcase event for some of the sport’s top emerging talent. Twenty-year-old CJ Faison, from nearby Felton, led the first half of the event before giving way to 19-year-old part-timer Austin Hill. With a pair of 15-year-olds Gaulding and Kyle Benjamin also in the mix down the stretch, it was Hill that emerged from a three-wide battle for the lead with four laps to go following a caution to reach Victory Lane in just his seventh series start.

NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 at Bowman Gray Stadium, June 1 (Honorable Mention):  In general, a 150-lap race with 13 cautions would likely not make a list of the season’s best events, but we’re talking about Bowman Gray here. The compact quarter-mile produces fender-rubbing action each and every lap and a lack of real estate makes it hard to pass, but every now and then a driver can put on a show coming up through the field, and that’s what Kwasniewski did. After getting involved in an accident on Lap 108, Kwasniewski deftly maneuvered back up to the front in an attempt to track down Kennedy, who had assumed the lead on Lap 124 when Brett Moffitt lost power. Kennedy was ultimately able to hold the top position over Kwasniewski and the field through three late restarts to secure the victory. It was a popular and historic win for Kennedy, the great grandson of the late NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who is also credited with starting auto racing at the famed Bowman Gray grounds.

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Ben Kennedy’s win over Dylan Kwasniewski at Bowman Gray Stadium was one of the best races of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. Getty Images for NASCAR

Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series West

Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series West

One Of Closest Four-Way Championship Battles In Series History

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2013 season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West featured one of the closest four-way battles for the championship in the history of the series, with Derek Thorn capturing the title by six points over Cameron Hayley, Greg Pursley and Michael Self.

In his final year of a two-year stint driving car owner Bob Bruncati’s No. 6 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford, Thorn had a textbook season in winning his first NASCAR championship.

The 27-year-old Californian jumped out front in the championship standings early and built on that lead with consistent finishes. Thorn – who was originally from Lakeport, but now resides in Bakersfield – carried that margin through the season to clinch the title in the final race of the year.

As a side note, the final points for the top two drivers in 2013 mirrored the points of the top two drivers the previous year. Thorn won the 2013 series championship by six points over Hayley – 622 to 616. In 2012, Dylan Kwasniewski had won the championship by six points over Pursley – 622 to 616.

The 2013 season also marked another year of records being set. Gray Gaulding, who raced the full schedule in the K&N East, set a couple of records while competing in three K&N West races. He won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award by Coors Brewing Co., at Kern County Raceway Park to become the youngest pole winner in series history at the age of 15 years 8 months 16 days. And he won the season finale at Phoenix International Raceway to become the youngest race winner in the series at 15 years 8 months 30 days of age.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST

Top Driver
Derek Thorn: In winning the series championship, Thorn relied on a consistent performance throughout the season. He registered three wins, three poles, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s. In addition to his victories, he finished as the runner-up in four races. He was out front in nine of the 15 events, leading 627 laps for the year. Thorn scored his first career road course win with a victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. He also had wins on two short tracks – Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway and Colorado National Speedway in Dacono.

Greg Pursley (Honorable Mention): For the third consecutive year, Pursley had the most wins during the season – with five. In his fifth season of driving the No. 26 Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford, Pursley opened the 2013 campaign with a win at Phoenix and then came on strong late in the season, with four wins in seven events. With 18 wins, Pursley ranks eighth on the list of career series victories.

Comback Driver of the Year
Daryl Harr:  In his 13th year of competing in the series, Daryl Harr had one of his best seasons. He finished seventh in the championship standings, matching his career-best ranking of 2004 – which was his first full season in the series. He also had a career-best finish, with a second-place finish at Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway.

Carl Harr (Honorable Mention): Like his son, Daryl, Carl Harr experienced similar career marks in 2013. He finished eighth in the championship standings, which matched his career-best ranking of 2004. He also had a career-best finish, fifth at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. And for the first time, he was the lap leader – at NAPA Speedway near Albuquerque, N.M.

Top Team
Gene Price Motorsports:
Gene Price Motorsports drivers had another big year in 2013, scoring six wins collectively. They also dominated series qualifying for a second straight season. They accounted for eight of the 14 pole awards. On six occasions, Hayley won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award by Coors Brewing Co. Pursley, meanwhile, won the Coors Light Pole Award in two events.

Sunrise Ford Racing (Honorable Mention): The two-car effort of the Sunrise Ford Racing team of Bob Bruncati took home two big prizes in 2013 – with Thorn winning the series championship and Dylan Lupton winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. In the overall championship standings, they finished first and fifth, respectively.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Cameron Hayley: Hayley had 15 top-10 finishes in 15 starts in 2013. He was the only driver in the series to finish in the top 10 in every one of the 15 races, including his overall finish in the two combination races with the K&N East at Iowa Speedway. After five runner-up finishes, the 17-year-old finally scored his first win – driving the No. 24 Cabinets by Hayley Ford for Gene Price Motorsports to victory at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. Hayley, a member of the NASCAR Next program, kicked off his year by winning the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Dylan Lupton (Honorable Mention): After three series starts in 2011 that resulted in lackluster finishes, Lupton returned to the series in 2013 to score his first win and capture the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. In addition to a victory at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., he registered four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes driving the No. 9 Vadio/Lupton Excavating/Sunrise Ford Ford.

Top Races
NAPA Auto Parts 150, Kern County Raceway Park, Oct. 26:
The inaugural series visit to Kern County Raceway Park marked the much-anticipated return of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to Bakersfield, Calif. The first series victory on the new high-banked, half-mile track went to Greg Pursley – who early in his stock car career was a regular competitor in the late model division at Bakersfield’s Mesa Marin Raceway before its closure in 2005.

Casey’s General Stores 150, Iowa Speedway, June 7: Michael Self went to Victory Lane at Iowa Speedway in June, becoming the first K&N West driver to take the overall win in the East-West combination race. Self held off K&N East drivers Dylan Kwasniewski and Brett Moffitt in a green-white-checkered finish. It was one of three consecutive wins for Self early in the season.

Carneros 200, Sonoma Raceway, June 22: In one of the most dramatic series races at Sonoma Raceway, Thorn moved past Hayley and Self late in the event to capture his first career road course win. Hayley and Self, who had staged a classic battle for the lead, had to settle for second and third, respectively.

Casino Arizona 50, Phoenix International Raceway, Nov. 9: A season finale that included a four-way battle to decide the series championship also featured a scuffle between two 15-year-old drivers for the win. Cole Custer won the pole and led 49 of the 50 laps. But Gray Gaulding, who started sixth, caught Custer going into Turn 3 on the final lap and contact between the two resulted in Custer spinning and Gaulding becoming the youngest race winner in series history.

http://motorsportsunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/racing_nknps-west_kern_102613_700_01.jpg

The 2013 season featured the inaugural visit by the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to the beautiful new Kern County Raceway Park and the much-anticipated return of the series to Bakersfield, Calif. Getty Images for NASCAR

Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series West

Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series West

One Of Closest Four-Way Championship Battles In Series History

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 2013 season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West featured one of the closest four-way battles for the championship in the history of the series, with Derek Thorn capturing the title by six points over Cameron Hayley, Greg Pursley and Michael Self.

In his final year of a two-year stint driving car owner Bob Bruncati’s No. 6 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford, Thorn had a textbook season in winning his first NASCAR championship.

The 27-year-old Californian jumped out front in the championship standings early and built on that lead with consistent finishes. Thorn – who was originally from Lakeport, but now resides in Bakersfield – carried that margin through the season to clinch the title in the final race of the year.

As a side note, the final points for the top two drivers in 2013 mirrored the points of the top two drivers the previous year. Thorn won the 2013 series championship by six points over Hayley – 622 to 616. In 2012, Dylan Kwasniewski had won the championship by six points over Pursley – 622 to 616.

The 2013 season also marked another year of records being set. Gray Gaulding, who raced the full schedule in the K&N East, set a couple of records while competing in three K&N West races. He won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award by Coors Brewing Co., at Kern County Raceway Park to become the youngest pole winner in series history at the age of 15 years 8 months 16 days. And he won the season finale at Phoenix International Raceway to become the youngest race winner in the series at 15 years 8 months 30 days of age.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST

Top Driver
Derek Thorn: In winning the series championship, Thorn relied on a consistent performance throughout the season. He registered three wins, three poles, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s. In addition to his victories, he finished as the runner-up in four races. He was out front in nine of the 15 events, leading 627 laps for the year. Thorn scored his first career road course win with a victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. He also had wins on two short tracks – Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway and Colorado National Speedway in Dacono.

Greg Pursley (Honorable Mention): For the third consecutive year, Pursley had the most wins during the season – with five. In his fifth season of driving the No. 26 Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford, Pursley opened the 2013 campaign with a win at Phoenix and then came on strong late in the season, with four wins in seven events. With 18 wins, Pursley ranks eighth on the list of career series victories.

Comback Driver of the Year
Daryl Harr:  In his 13th year of competing in the series, Daryl Harr had one of his best seasons. He finished seventh in the championship standings, matching his career-best ranking of 2004 – which was his first full season in the series. He also had a career-best finish, with a second-place finish at Lebanon (Mo.) I-44 Speedway.

Carl Harr (Honorable Mention): Like his son, Daryl, Carl Harr experienced similar career marks in 2013. He finished eighth in the championship standings, which matched his career-best ranking of 2004. He also had a career-best finish, fifth at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash. And for the first time, he was the lap leader – at NAPA Speedway near Albuquerque, N.M.

Top Team
Gene Price Motorsports:
Gene Price Motorsports drivers had another big year in 2013, scoring six wins collectively. They also dominated series qualifying for a second straight season. They accounted for eight of the 14 pole awards. On six occasions, Hayley won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award by Coors Brewing Co. Pursley, meanwhile, won the Coors Light Pole Award in two events.

Sunrise Ford Racing (Honorable Mention): The two-car effort of the Sunrise Ford Racing team of Bob Bruncati took home two big prizes in 2013 – with Thorn winning the series championship and Dylan Lupton winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. In the overall championship standings, they finished first and fifth, respectively.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Cameron Hayley: Hayley had 15 top-10 finishes in 15 starts in 2013. He was the only driver in the series to finish in the top 10 in every one of the 15 races, including his overall finish in the two combination races with the K&N East at Iowa Speedway. After five runner-up finishes, the 17-year-old finally scored his first win – driving the No. 24 Cabinets by Hayley Ford for Gene Price Motorsports to victory at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. Hayley, a member of the NASCAR Next program, kicked off his year by winning the UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Dylan Lupton (Honorable Mention): After three series starts in 2011 that resulted in lackluster finishes, Lupton returned to the series in 2013 to score his first win and capture the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. In addition to a victory at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Wash., he registered four top-five and 12 top-10 finishes driving the No. 9 Vadio/Lupton Excavating/Sunrise Ford Ford.

Top Races
NAPA Auto Parts 150, Kern County Raceway Park, Oct. 26:
The inaugural series visit to Kern County Raceway Park marked the much-anticipated return of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to Bakersfield, Calif. The first series victory on the new high-banked, half-mile track went to Greg Pursley – who early in his stock car career was a regular competitor in the late model division at Bakersfield’s Mesa Marin Raceway before its closure in 2005.

Casey’s General Stores 150, Iowa Speedway, June 7: Michael Self went to Victory Lane at Iowa Speedway in June, becoming the first K&N West driver to take the overall win in the East-West combination race. Self held off K&N East drivers Dylan Kwasniewski and Brett Moffitt in a green-white-checkered finish. It was one of three consecutive wins for Self early in the season.

Carneros 200, Sonoma Raceway, June 22: In one of the most dramatic series races at Sonoma Raceway, Thorn moved past Hayley and Self late in the event to capture his first career road course win. Hayley and Self, who had staged a classic battle for the lead, had to settle for second and third, respectively.

Casino Arizona 50, Phoenix International Raceway, Nov. 9: A season finale that included a four-way battle to decide the series championship also featured a scuffle between two 15-year-old drivers for the win. Cole Custer won the pole and led 49 of the 50 laps. But Gray Gaulding, who started sixth, caught Custer going into Turn 3 on the final lap and contact between the two resulted in Custer spinning and Gaulding becoming the youngest race winner in series history.

http://motorsportsunplugged.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/racing_nknps-west_kern_102613_700_0.jpg

The 2013 season featured the inaugural visit by the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to the beautiful new Kern County Raceway Park and the much-anticipated return of the series to Bakersfield, Calif. Getty Images for NASCAR

Best of 2013: Toyota Series

Best of 2013: Toyota Series

Peralta Championship Highlights Season of Firsts For Series

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new champion, five first-time race winners, an historic visit to the United States, and a new five-race playoff format are just a few of the highlights from the 2013 NASCAR Toyota Series season.

Rodrigo Peralta, the 24-year-old driver from Queretaro, Mexico, became just the fifth different driver to win the Toyota Series crown since it came under the NASCAR banner in 2007. He overcame missing the season opening event at Phoenix International Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz., to win the title by leading all drivers in top-10 finishes, picking up his first career victory in the process. Peralta held off another strong campaign from Daniel Suárez, who led the series in pole awards (four) and tied for the lead in wins (three).

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR TOYOTA SERIES

A new addition to the Toyota Series in 2013 was the Desafío, a five-race playoff sprint to the championship. After the 10th race of the campaign in Mexico City, the top 10 drivers had their points reset to 1000, with three points awarded to any of the top eight drivers who picked up a win during the first part of the year. A pair of Canel’s racing drivers, Rafael Martínez  and Rubén Garcia Jr., looked like the drivers to beat, but a combination of bad luck, tough finishes and a very good stretch by Peralta left the duo in eighth and fourth-place respectively.

The 2013 season was a season of firsts, from the moment the green flag dropped on the Toyota 120 in Phoenix, to the final green-white-checkered attempt in the Mexico City Finale. The series heads into 2014 as the number one racing series in Latin America and will look to build on its memorable seventh year under the NASCAR banner.

Top Driver
Rodrigo Peralta:
After missing the opening race of the season, Peralta put together a string of three top-five and seven top-10 finishes over a nine race span to earn entry into the Desafío, the new playoff format that would decide the 2013 championship. With driver points reset for the top 10 drivers, Peralta shifted his season into high gear, picking up his first career victory, three top-five and four top-10 finishes to hold off Daniel Suárez and earn his first championship in just his first complete season in the series.

Daniel Suárez (Honorable Mention): Racing full-time in two NASCAR series in two countries is no easy task. Earning a podium finish in both is even more difficult, but that is exactly what Suárez did in 2013. In addition to his third-place points finish in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the 21-year-old NASCAR Next driver from Monterrey, Mexico, led the Toyota Series in pole awards (four) and tied for the series lead in wins (three). He finished the campaign eight points behind Peralta and second in the championship standings, with a clear eye on even greater accolades in 2014.

Comeback Driver of the Year
José Luis Ramírez:
Ramírez returned to Victory Lane in 2013 for the first time since 2010, winning the penultimate race of the season at Súper Óvalo Chiapas in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico. In addition to his top 10 finish in the final standings, he set a career high with six top-five finishes a year after recording none. Ramírez’s six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 2013 were career bests in both categories for the series veteran.

Top Team
Canal’s Racing:
A year removed from winning the Toyota Series championship behind Jorge Goeters, Canal’s Racing remained the team to beat in 2013. Teammates Rafael Martínez and Rubén Garcia Jr. combined for four wins, three and one respectively, to lead all teams in wins. Crew chiefs Cuauhtémoc González and Martin Bautista helped give their drivers cars capable of winning on any given Sunday, placing the team amongst the series leaders in top 10 finishes. 

Top Breakthrough Performance
Rodrigo Peralta:
2013 was the textbook definition of a breakthrough campaign for the 24-year-old Queretaro, Mexico, native. In his first full-time season with the series, Peralta earned his first career victory, led all drivers in top-10 finishes and finished the year in Charlotte, N.C., receiving a championship ring from NASCAR President Mike Helton at the NASCAR Touring Series Night of Champions Awards Banquet. Not bad for a driver who started his season one race behind the rest of the field in the standings.

Rubén Garcia Jr. (Honorable Mention): The 2012 Toyota Series Rookie of the Year continued to turn heads in 2013. At 17 years of age, Garcia Jr. picked up his first career victory, three top-five and 11 top-10 finishes en route to a fourth place finish in the final standings.

Top Races
Toyota 120, Phoenix International Raceway, March 1:
The 2013 season kicked off in historic fashion with the first international series to hold a points race in the United States. Running under the lights at Phoenix International Raceway, Abraham Calderón held off 2008 champion Antonio Pérez in the closing laps, surviving a late restart en route to his first career victory.

Mexico Final 200, Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, Nov. 10: Eight drivers entered the final weekend of 2013 with a shot at the championship. Trailing Peralta by 15-points heading into the event, Suárez knew he had to win the race and hope for Peralta to finish no better than 10th for a shot at his first title. The top-two championship contenders spent the afternoon battling for the lead and the series crown, treating the fans to an exciting afternoon of racing in the nation’s capital. In the end, Peralta survived three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish and a victory by Suárez to win his first championship.

Aguascalientes 240, Autódromo Internacional de Aguascalientes, Oct. 13: 2013 was filled with many late-lap lead changes, but none affected the championship battle quite like the third race of the Desafío and 13th race of the Toyota Series season.  Suárez entered the afternoon looking to capture his third win of the season and take control of the chase for the series crown. Three laps away from his fifth career checkered flag, a late accident brought out the caution and opened the door for the rest of the field. As Suárez battled Martínez for the lead after the restart, Peralta made a strong move to overtake both drivers, holding off for his first career victory. The win catapulted Peralta to the top of the standings, a spot he would not relinquish the rest of the season.

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The inaugural race at Phoenix International Raceway featured exciting three- and four-wide racing. Getty Images

Driving Career Over, Maybe, Mark Martin Has Place In NASCAR Lore

Mark Martin has become one of NASCAR’s most popular and enduring drivers. The plan is for him to quit competition to become a coach and test driver at Stewart Haas Racing.

The first time the NASCAR motorsports media encountered Mark Martin was in 1981. He was just 22 years old.

He was going to run in five Winston Cup races for team owner Bud Reeder. Unlike most rookies at that time, Martin was not a complete unknown. His reputation as a titan on the short tracks of the Midwest – such as those on the American Speed Association – had spread to the South.

Martin’s strategy for 1981 was sound. He was going to compete only on short tracks. His schedule would consist of North Wilkesboro, Nashville twice, Richmond and Martinsville.

Martin was convinced he could earn at least one top-five finish. Most observers agreed, especially after Martin did not qualify outside the top six in any race and actually won two pole positions, at Nashville and Richmond.

Mechanical failures spoiled his efforts in his first two races at North Wilkesboro and Nashville. He finished 11th in the second Nashville event and then was seventh at Richmond.

At Martinsville, Martin’s last race of the 1981 season, the weather on that September day was extremely hot. Many drivers did not savor the notion of racing 500 laps on the tightest and shortest track in NASCAR.

When it was over a sweaty, red-faced, gasping Martin sat down in his pit, amid stacks of tires, wiping perspiration from his face.

He had finished third, his best performance of the year – and one achieved in physically grueling conditions.

I approached him. A raw rookie who earns two poles and a third place in just five races is news.

But I stopped. Looking at him I thought he was too physically drained to talk, much less give an interview.

Martin started his NASCAR career in 1981 in the 02 car in which he ran five races. He won two poles and had a top-five finish in his debut.

I started to turn away. Martin saw me. He waved at me, urging me to come back.

I did.

“I got it,” Martin gasped. “I got my top five.”

If anything, in 1981 Martin displayed his potential. No one would be surprised if he became a NASCAR star in a matter of just a few years.

It didn’t turn out that way. Martin was mediocre at best the next season. He finished among the top five only twice and had just eight finishes among the top 10. He compiled 12 DNFs.

Things didn’t improve much after the 18th race of 1982, at Pocono, when a guy named Larry McReynolds became Martin’s crew chief.

Then the money ran out.

Martin became something of a vagabond. In 1983 he ran in 16 races with owners Jim Stacy, Emanuel Zervakis, D.K. Ulrich and Larry McClure.

He finished among the top five only once and three times among the top 10.

Martin was no longer hot property. He was gone from NASCAR for three years.

In 1986, he ran in just five races with owner Jerry Gunderman. However, his crew chief was Jimmy Fennig, a man who would play a big role in Martin’s future.

Martin competed only once in 1987 with owner Roger Hamby, a former independent, low-sponsored driver.

Again, Martin was gone.

But then came the Cinderella story. Jack Roush, already involved in more than one form of motorsports, decided to make a foray into NASCAR.

Roush already had the savvy to be a more than competent team owner. He had all the technology he needed at his fingertips – he had sustained a long business relationship with Ford. And he had the money.

He had no intention of fielding anything less than a winning team.

Roush knew Martin was available. Martin knew Roush needed a driver. They talked.

Roush realized Martin’s talent. He also recognized his flaws. He told Martin that his drinking would have to stop if he had any hope of remaining employed.

Martin agreed. He gave up drinking for bodybuilding, which he has sustained over the years. The driver from Batesville, Ark., has a body that is like a slab of concrete.

With Roush from 1988-2006, Martin made his career. He became one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers, aided by such crew chiefs as Robin Pemberton, Steve Hmiel, Pat Tryson and Fennig.

Martin won 34 races and finished second in the final point standings four times with Roush.

By 2007 there were rumblings that Martin would retire. It was even announced that he would participate in a “farewell tour.”

But he never did. Instead he spent two seasons running a limited schedule with Bobby Ginn and then Dale Earnhardt Inc.

In 2009, Martin joined Hendrick Motorsports. He was back in competition, full-bore. He won five times and finished second in points for the fifth time.

Since then Martin has opted to race only a limited schedule. He has said more than once that’s what he likes.

Now, at age 54 and after 31 years of competition, Martin seems to have finally called it quits. Notice I said, “seems.”

In 2014, he is scheduled to be a coach and test driver at Stewart Haas Racing. I can’t think of any other man who would be better at either position.

But then, there is this: A situation could arise, more than once in fact, that Martin could be pressed into driving once again.

It’s not that far-fetched, not at all.

And will he do it? Of course he will.

But it doesn’t really matter. Mark Martin’s long and distinguished career is already a part of NASCAR lore.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Of 2013: Canadian Tire Series

Best Of 2013: Canadian Tire Series

Steckly First To Three; Hathaway Ends Drought

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tight competition has been the name of the game since NASCAR moved into Canada in 2007 and the 2013 campaign was as hotly contested as any in the sport.

Scott Steckly continued his ping-pong match with D.J. Kennington by winning his third NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 title. Steckly has won titles in 2008, 2011 and 2013 while Kennington, who narrowly missed his chance at a third this year, claimed crowns in 2010 and 2012.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF NASCAR CANADIAN TIRE SERIES

However, the season was not just the Steckly-Kennington show. The rookie-of-the-year battle between Alex Guenette and Ryley Seibert was decided by a single point and went down to the final lap of the season. Jason Hathaway returned to Victory Lane after a 59-race drought. And Louis-Philippe Dumoulin proved he had the capacity to win races.

The remarkable consistency of Steckly and Kennington, though, remains a high hurdle to clear for championship contenders, but the 2013 season presented multiple candidates who were ready, willing and able to make a run in 2014.

Top Driver
Scott Steckly:
After starting the season with a pair of finishes outside the top 20, Steckly returned to form with a three-race win streak, behind the wheel of his No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge, to get back into the championship conversation. But work remained heading into the season finale at Kawartha Speedway. Trailing Kennington by five points, Steckly needed to win the race and lead the most laps to render any Kennington result moot which was the end result. The Milverton, Ont., driver won four times this season to go along with eight top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

D.J. Kennington (Honorable Mention): With less than a handful of slight changes to the season, then these two entries would be reversed. That’s how close it was. Four points is all that separated Kennington from his third championship. The wins didn’t come as frequently, but the ability of the St. Thomas, Ont., driver to maximize point totals each and every race is uncanny. The No. 17 Castrol Edge/Mahindra Tractors Dodge picked up a series-best 11 top-10 finishes and even though it won just once it came in dramatic style against a stacked field at the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres. 

Comeback Driver of the Year
Jason Hathaway:
The difference between a top-10 driver and a top-five driver can sometimes be miniscule – a bobble here; a slip there – but more often than not it comes down to winning races, and not, which is huge. At Riverside International Speedway, Hathaway won for the first time since the 2008 season finale this year to end a 59-race winless streak. And to prove it wasn’t a fluke the driver of the No. 3 Snap-on Tools/Rockstar Energy Drink Dodge emerged victorious at Barrie Speedway just two races later. Consequently, the Dutton, Ont., driver improved his career-best finish in the point standings from sixth (2010) to third. 

Top Team
22 Racing:
A third Canadian Tire Series championship in the last six seasons is probably enough to garner this accolade, but the team also fielded a car for Louis-Philippe Dumoulin, who finished fifth in the final point standings. All told, the team went to Victory Lane five times in 12 races this season. The 22 Racing team also prepared entries for former Formula One and Indy 500 champion Jacques Villeneuve and 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher. 

DJK Racing (Honorable Mention): The bell cow of the team is the No. 17 of Kennington, but it’s the star power of its No. 28 entry that makes the difference here. The likes of IZOD IndyCar Series star Alex Tagliani, two-time Canadian Tire Series champion Andrew Ranger and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series’ Cameron Hayley, who is a member of the selective NASCAR Next program, drove DJK’s second car this season. In the end, seven different drivers wheeled the No. 28 Dodge out of the championship-winning DJK stable.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Louis-Philippe Dumoulin:
Being a driving instructor and getting tagged with the ‘road-course ace’ label isn’t enough to win races in the Canadian Tire Series – road course or otherwise. Dumoulin, of Trois-Rivieres, Que., got over the hump in the season opener at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and duplicated that effort at the same track in September as 36 cars lined up to start the race. For the season the driver of the No. 47 WeatherTech Canada/Bellemare Dodge picked up two wins and four top-five and six top-10 finishes.

Alex Guenette (Honorable Mention): The 17-year-old from Terrebonne, Que., was a Canadian Tire Series rookie in every sense of the word this season. With little or no prior exposure to the series’ cars or tracks, Guenette proved to be a quick study and earned series rookie-of-the-year honors. All told, he drove his No. 39 Motos Illimitées/DLGL Dodge to a 10th-place finish in points with a season-best finish of second in July at Autodrome St. Eustache.

Top Races
Pinty’s 250, Kawartha Speedway, Sept. 22:
With the series championship in the balance, seven drivers led a lap, but it was pole sitter Steckly with the most to gain. In order to erase a five-point deficit and control his own destiny in the title hunt, Steckly needed to win the race and lead the most laps. After wrestling the lead from Pete Shepherd III on Lap 225, Steckly was able to complete his mission and edge out Kennington for the series crown by just four tallies.

JuliaWine.com 100, Circuit de Trois-Rivieres, Aug. 11: In front of a capacity crowd in excess of 30,000 fans and a field that included many of Canada’s best road racers, Kennington got around Jacques Villeneuve on Lap 38 and survived a green-white-checkered finish to extend his all-time series record for career wins to 19.

Hudco Electric Supply 300, Barrie Speedway, Sept. 8: Few tracks provide as much excitement as the cozy .333-mile tri-oval in Barrie, Ont., and the 2013 installment for the series was no exception. The lead changed hands 10 times among seven drivers with four of them – Hathaway (80), Steckly (79), J.R. Fitzpatrick (68) and Kennington (62) – leading more than 50 laps. Hathaway paced the final 20 circuits to capture his second win of the season.

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Jason Hathaway drove to Victory Lane on Aug. 17 at Riverside International Speedway to snap a 59-race winless streak. Matthew Manor/NASCAR

Best Of 2013: Whelen Euro Series

Best Of 2013: Whelen Euro Series

Second Title For Vilariño; Gabillon Narrows Gap

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ander Vilariño continues to dominate the NASCAR scene in Europe.

He won the first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series a season ago by leading the point standings from beginning to end. The Spaniard replicated that feat in 2013 to claim his second straight series title. It looked easy on the surface, but a late charge from Frédéric Gabillon made things interesting down the stretch.

The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in a short time has distinguished itself from other European championships due to the concept of its events with American branding. Races at Brands Hatch in England with the American Speedfest and Tours in France with its American Tours Festival are built around American themes to highlight NASCAR competition. European racing fans have embraced the intensity of the competition and the availability of its competitors.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR WHELEN EURO SERIES

Competitors representing 13 countries – Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, India, Italy, Luxembourg, Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.S. – made race starts in 2013. NASCAR national series competitors Max Papis and Rick Crawford made series debuts this season to further validate the series’ success.

Top Driver
Ander Vilariño: The driver of the No. 2 TFT/Banco Santander Chevrolet was determined to repeat his 2012 success and sent a clear message to his opponents by sweeping the Nogaro, France events in the season-opening weekend. Four more wins followed at Dijon, France and Great Britain’s Brands Hatch circuit. The six-race winning streak established a modern era NASCAR touring series record for currently sanctioned series. Vilariño went to Victory Lane on more time at Monza, Italy and closed out the season with top fives at Le Mans in France.

Frédéric Gabillon (Honorable Mention): Had it not been for a slow start, the Frenchman possibly could have derailed the Vilariño juggernaut. Gabillon broke the ice with a pair of wins at Tours Speedway – the series only oval-track event and continued his strong performance through the playoffs at Monza and Le Mans before coming just four points shy of Vilariño in the final standings.

Comeback Driver of the Year
Yann Zimmer: After making 2012 starts at Tours and Valencia, Spain, Zimmer, 23, participated in his first full NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season this year. He nearly collected his first win in the season opener at Nogaro before final lap passes by Javier Villa and Vilariño. He, however, did earn his first win this season with a solid effort late in the year at the legendary Monza circuit. He finished third in points and led the series with 11 top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. The Swiss OverDrive driver also dominated Anthony Garbarino, Anthony Gandon and Freddy Nordström to win the Junior Trophy, reserved for drivers 25 or younger.

Romain Iannetta (Honorable Mention): Franck Violas, team owner at RDV Competition and driver of the No. 28 Chevrolet in both the Elite and Open divisions until last year, secured the services of the experienced Iannetta. The 2012 season’s fifth-place driver was without a seat until just a few days before the season got underway. The Frenchman quickly made his mark by scoring the first podium finish for the Chartes, France-based team at Nogaro. He followed that up with solid showings at Brands Hatch and Monza to finish the season with seven top fives and nine top 10s.

Top Team
Rapido Racing by Still: In the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, the team championship is determined by adding the results from both Elite and Open drivers, who compete in their own championships but share the car during race weekend. The team of Gabillon and Joaquin Gabarron topped the charts this season behind the wheel of their No. 5 Chevrolet.

TFT (Honoerable Mention): From his workshop located inside the Nogaro Circuit, in the Gers region of France, Tony Pereira pulls the strings for his TFT race team. In addition to Vilariño’s title, TFT also helped Anthony Gandon win his first championship in the Open division to bring the No. 7 TFT/Leclerc Chevrolet home in second place in the teams championship with the Frenchman racing in both categories.

Top Performances
Guillaume Rousseau: Reserved for non-professional drivers with a strong racing resume, the Challenger Trophy was part of an intense duel between Guillaume Rousseau (No. 13 Bull Racing Team) and Bruno Cosin (No. 55 Pole Position 81) – the reigning champion – this season. With the prize for the trophy winners a NASCAR race in the United States, Rousseau set aside his ambitions in the Open division to focus on this title, conquering it in the last race in Le Mans. With three top fives and seven top 10s, he also ranked eighth in the championship standings.

Anthony Gandon (Honorable Mention): Gandon came out on top over Josh Burdon in a stacked Open division field. Burdon topped the charts in wins, but Gandon’s consistency got the job done. Gandon also made a pair of NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio.

Top Races
Monza 2: The second race of the semifinals run at the legendary Autodromo di Monza, will be remembered as the most spectacular and hardest-fought races to date in Whelen Euro Series history. On this fast track, with speeds approaching 280 km/h, drafting is king and leads to numerous passing opportunities and leaving little margin for error. The mixed weather and a still damp track on this day forced the drivers, all starting with slick tires, to be constantly on the edge. During the 15-lap race, the fastest lap changed hands 17 times between four drivers – Zimmer, Gabillon, Vilariño and Iannetta – and those four officially exchanged the lead on six occasions. On the final lap, the first three cars were grouped less than a second and apart before Zimmer had the final say to collect his first NASCAR victory.

Nogaro 1: Changing weather conditions almost always leads to exciting race and this year’s opener on the Paul Armagnac circuit in Nogaro, France, is the perfect example. Starting from the second position on the grid, Gabillon beat the field through Turn 1, but tangled with Vilariño shortly after and ended up spinning out of contention. Vilariño was penalized for aggressive driving that left him in the sixth position, but was able to rebound for the win.

Tours Speedway 1: Europe’s first purpose-built oval track in Tours had banking added to the turns this season. Circle-track racing challenges the Euro Series drivers due to their lack of experience. The many passing opportunities along with the physical style of door-to-door excitement thrills both the fans and competitors. Italians Papis and David Amaduzzi used their American experience to their advantage, but were unable to get around pole sitter Gabillon even after a late caution led to a green-white-checkered finish.

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The oval-track events at Tours Speedway in July where the first held after the announcement of the long-term entitlement sponsorship deal with Whelen Engineering. NASCAR Whelen Euro Series

VIDEOS: 2013 NASCAR Champions

Best Of 2013: Whelen Modified Tour

Best Of 2013: Whelen Modified Tour

Preece Becomes Youngest Titlist; Two Times The Magic In Loudon

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Preece became the youngest champion in the 29-year history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2013, and in the process kept a remarkable run of title turnover going.

Preece, who turned 23 just five days after the season concluded, etched his name into the record books as the tour’s youngest titlist. He hoisted the championship trophy on Oct. 20 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway at 22 years, 11 months and 25 days, more than two years faster than previous record-holder Bobby Santos.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR WHELEN MODIFIED TOUR

The championship for Preece, a NASCAR Next driver from Berlin, Conn., continued a run of parity at the top of the Whelen Modified Tour ranks. Preece became the sixth different first-time champion in the last seven seasons, and fourth in a row. In all there have been eight different titlists in the last nine years, and nine of 11.

Preece’s championship campaign wasn’t the only story of 2013, however. The 14-race slate produced seven different winners – including four different multi-race victors – and for the sixth season in a row the points chase wasn’t decided until the finale.

Top Driver
Ryan Preece:
  With four victories, Preece led the points standings outright following the final 12 events on the 14-race schedule. The championship campaign was launched in earnest in the third race of the season when he took the checkered flag at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway, followed by victories the next two times out at Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl and Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway. A threat to win nearly every time out, Preece finished on the podium in half of the season’s events. Following that three-race winning streak in the season’s first half, Preece’s lead in the standings never got below 16 points.

Doug Coby (Honorable Mention):  The reigning champion put up a valiant title defense. Despite not competing in the first Riverhead race due to a qualifying accident, Coby ranked second in points the entire second half of the season and kept pressure on Preece until the campaign’s closing laps. In the end his bid to become the first back-to-back Whelen Modified Tour champion since 2004-05 came up 32 points short. Coby’s season was highlighted by wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July and Stafford in August, and he tied Preece for the tour lead with 10 top-10 finishes. In the last two seasons with the No. 52 Darling Racing team, Coby recorded seven wins and 21 top 10s in 28 events.

Comeback Driver of the Year
Mike Stefanik:
  After he finished 11th in the standings in 2011 and 2012, Stefanik turned in a bounce-back campaign in 2013. Stefanik’s season started off with a trip to Victory Lane at Thompson that ended a 28-race winless drought at “Big T.” In August Stefanik was able to add to his long list of career accomplishments when he took the checkered flag in the annual combination race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, which became the 17th different track he had won at. The two wins for the seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion marked the first time since 2002 he recorded multiple victories in a season. Stefanik ranked third in points as late as Race 12 of 14 and ended up fifth in the final standings.

Donny Lia (Honorable Mention):  It wasn’t so much a comeback season for Lia compared to the previous years as it was a comeback within the 2013 campaign itself. The two-time tour titlist had an average finish of 13th and ranked a distant eighth in points through the season’s first half, but Lia was arguably the hottest driver on the tour in the second half as he registered five podiums in seven events. A dominant winning performance in the Stafford Fall Final punctuated the turnaround that saw Lia wind up third in the season standings.

Top Team
Flamingo Motorsports:
No. 16 Flamingo Motorsports Ford was the team to beat in 2013. Car owner Eric Sanderson and crew chief Stan “Sly” Szaban put a car under Preece that had an average starting position of fifth, completed 99-percent of the season’s laps, led laps in nine of 14 events and recorded a tour-high 10 top-five finishes. The four victories were the most in a single season for Flamingo Motorsports since the organization joined the Whelen Modified Tour in 1995.

Tinio Racing (Honorable Mention): After entering Whelen Modified Tour competition with a part-time schedule in 2012, Tinio Racing intended to contend for the championship in 2013, and it could have been in the hunt had driver Bobby Santos not elected to skip two events. Team and driver were on-point in the 12 races they did compete in, however. Santos drove the No. 44 Chevrolet to dominant winning performances in the Stafford Spring Sizzler (led 197 of 200 laps) and at Thompson in August (led 135 of 158) – both from the pole. Car owner Sully Tinio and crew chief Steve Lemay fielded a car for Santos that recorded a tour-high five Coors Light Pole Awards and 451 laps led, which was 183 more than the nearest competitor.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Rowan Pennink:
  The 2013 season was more about breaking a drought than a breakthrough in general for the seven-year veteran Pennink. A winner at Riverhead during the 2010 season, Pennink had since come close to a return trip to Victory Lane on multiple occasions, but a variety of circumstances prevented him from closing the deal. The winless drought finally came to a close in the 2013 finale, however, and it fittingly took place at Thompson – the track where many of his close calls occurred. Pennink took the lead with 17 laps to go in the World Series – his 100th Whelen Modified Tour start – and held on for his second career triumph, his first in 48 races.

Woody Pitkat (Honorable Mention):  Pitkat is still searching for that elusive first victory on the Whelen Modified Tour, but 2013 was his best campaign to-date. After a slow start that included two DNFs in the first four races, Pitkat reeled off eight straight top-10 finishes to climb as high as fourth in the season standings with two races left on the schedule. Pitkat wound up ninth in the overall standings and recorded career-highs with two top-fives and nine top 10s.

Top Races
F.W. Webb 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sept. 21:
  Both Whelen Modified Tour events at the “Magic Mile” were magical in 2013, but it took all 100 circuits to decide a winner in the fall engagement. It was a fast and furious first half that saw 15 lead changes between polesitter Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece and Bobby Santos before the midway break. The second half had only eight lead changes, but the 23rd and final swap at the front was the most exciting as Todd Szegedy bumped then-leader Donny Lia out of the way in Turn 3 of the last lap and won a drag race to the finish line by a mere 0.084 seconds. The clean and competitive contest saw a season-low two accident cautions and the margin of victory was the closest of the year.

Town Fair Tire 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, July 13 (Honorable Mention):  It was a lead change bonanza in the season’s first trip to Loudon. Ted Christopher and Rowan Pennink swapped the lead 16 times in the first 42 circuits around the 1.058-mile oval, and a similar exchange between Ryan Preece and Doug Coby highlighted the last quarter of the tilt before Coby emerged with the checkers a car-length ahead of Christopher. All told there were 27 lead changes, the most since 2006, and the third-highest total in Whelen Modified Tour history.

Mr. Rooter 161 at Waterford Speedbowl, June 22 (Honorable Mention):  The Whelen Modified Tour’s annual visit to “The Bowl” may not have had the sustained suspense from start-to-finish of the two NHMS dates, but it did feature the most-exciting conclusion of the season. In a reprise of the 2012 Waterford finish, it once again came down to Coby and Preece vying for the checkered flag. Coby pulled it off the previous season and was cruising to a repeat, but two late cautions brought Preece back into contention. On the green-white-checkered flag finish restart, Coby bobbled ever so slightly to give Preece the opportunity he needed. The two drag-raced the final two laps around the .375-mile oval, but Preece emerged victorious by 0.110 seconds for the second of his three wins in a row.

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The wild and closely contested finishes made the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s stops at New Hampshire two of the best races of the season. Getty Images

Best of 2013: Whelen Southern Modified Tour

Best of 2013: Whelen Southern Modified Tour

Brunnhoelzl Steams Along; Burt Myers Bounces Back

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour for the past several seasons has been the playground of George Brunnhoelzl III, but the competition is closing in and aims to knock him from his perch.

Brunnhoelzl won his third straight tour title this year and fourth in five seasons dating back to 2009. The only miss was 2010 when the West Babylon, N.Y., driver competed for the NASCAR Whelen Modified tour championship and raced in just three Southern Tour events. Nineteen of his all-time tour-best 20 career wins have come in those four title seasons.

In 2013, though, Brunnhoelzl recorded just three victories and none after July 6. He collected five or more in his other three championship-winning seasons. Could this be signaling a change? Only time will tell, but it wasn’t as if his season was predicated on just those three events. His 11 top-five finishes in 12 starts led the tour, so while the trips to Victory Lane were down a tick, the consistency of running out front was still there.

YEAR IN PHOTOS: BEST OF 2013 NASCAR WHELEN SOUTHERN MODIFIED TOUR

Top Driver
George Brunnhoelzl III:
Other than following a runner-up finish in the season opener, Brunnhoelzl was atop the point standings with a lead as great as 32 markers following the penultimate race of the year and finished with a 31-point advantage over runner-up Kyle Ebersole. Of his 11 top fives, eight were either first or second-place efforts. His only blemish was a 14th-place showing in early August at Bowman Gray Stadium where he battled persistent mechanical problems in his No. 28 Epox-Z/Oval Speed Chevrolet. Not even an offseason switch from Ideal Racing back to his family-owned team slowed the tour’s winningest driver.

Kyle Ebersole (Honorable Mention): In just his second season of Southern Modified Tour competition, Ebersole was alongside the four-time champion Brunnhoelzl virtually every step of the way. His eight top-five finishes was the second-highest total on the tour and the Hummelstown, Pa., driver tied Burt Myers for second-best with 10 top 10s. A Lap 174 crash at Bowman Gray, resulting in an 11th-place finish, short-circuited a chance to make up some valuable ground on Brunnhoelzl, who had his own struggles in the event. Aside from just two finishes outside the top 10, the performance of the No. 5 Ebersole Excavating Ford team was as solid as any this season.

Comeback Driver of the Year
Burt Myers:
The 2010 Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion missed a total of three races in the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to injury, but the Walnut Cove, N.C., driver stayed on the track this season and registered three wins. That victory total equaled his career-best established in 2005 and eclipsed that of his title-winning 2010 season. With five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes, Myers piloted his No. 1 Citrusafe BBQ Grill Cleaner/Adam’s Towing and Recovery Ford to a third-place finish in the final point standings up from 10th in 2012.

Andy Seuss (Honorable Mention): While his improvement in the point standings went only from fifth in 2012 to fourth this season Seuss got to Victory Lane on multiple occasions for the first time since 2011. The Hampstead, N.H., driver has recorded at least one win in each of the last seven tour seasons including a total of nine from 2009-11. Three double-digit finishes in the season’s first eight outings unraveled any championship hopes this time around, but three victories in the year’s final four events sets the stage for a run at Brunnhoelzl in 2014. The driver of the No. 11 Tammie Davis/Phoenix Pre-Owned Chevrolet’s average finish of 6.8 and average starting position of 5.0 were below his career marks of 8.4 and 8.3, respectively, coming into the season.

Top Team
Brunnhoelzl Racing:
After dusting off their family-owned equipment after a pair of seasons with Ideal Racing, the Brunnhoelzl gang barely missed a beat with a championship season. Considering that their equipment had not spent appreciable time on or at the track since 2009 the feat should be given its proper due. The team confessed to an adjustment period early on, but with three wins and five top fives out of the gate; it surely wasn’t noticeable.

Meyers Racing (Honorable Mention): The team fielded by one of the most storied families in the sport’s history just keeps rolling along. This season, brothers – Jason and Burt – combined to add four more wins to the Myers Racing ledger. The two veterans also finished inside the top 10 in points for the eighth consecutive season and have combined for more than 200 career starts and over 160 top-10 finishes since the Southern Tour was established in 2005.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Kyle Ebersole:
In a veteran-laden tour victories are hard to get. There just aren’t that many to go around after the likes of Brunnhoelzl, Seuss and the Myers brothers gobble theirs up. Ebersole broke the ice on Aug. 31 at Langley Speedway in his 19th tour start. After starting seventh on the grid on the .395-mile Virginia oval, he led the final 15 laps of the race to edge Brunnhoelzl by a scant .181 of a second. He also posted eight top fives this season after recording three in his 2012 rookie season.

Gary Putnam (Honorable Mention): Despite being 43 years of age Putnam has just 31 career starts in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour. The Connecticut native moved to North Carolina 18 years ago and got his racing start as a crew member in the NASCAR Sprint Cup SeriesTM. As a 40-year-old rookie driver, Putnam collected just one top-10 finish in six starts. In 2013, the Concord, N.C., resident drove his No. 77 Stock Car Steel Chevrolet to nine top 10s in 11 outings including a career-best finish of fifth at Caraway Speedway in July.

Top Races
Charles Kepley Memorial 150, Caraway Speedway, March 16:
The 2013 season opener seemed to be in the hands of pole sitter Tim Brown after fending off an early challenge from then eight-time Caraway winner Brunnhoelzl, but the veteran’s No. 02 Hayes Jewelers/T&C Motorsports Chevrolet ran out of fuel with just six laps remaining. The subsequent caution set up a green-white-checkered finish in which Jason Myers was able to get the best of Brunnhoelzl to earn his third-career tour win.

Spring Fling 150, Caraway Speedway, April 20: Just as in the opener Brown seemed to be in command after leading every lap and into another green-white-checkered scenario. This time, Brown had enough gas in the tank to make it to the end, but a little contact from Brunnhoelzl on the white-flag lap sent Brown up the track and Brunnhoelzl to Victory Lane.

UNOH Southern Slam 150, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Oct. 10: On one of the Southern Tour’s biggest stages, eventual NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece was en route to his second southern win of the season before the engine on his machine soured. Reminiscent of his thrilling Charlotte win in 2010 to claim the season title, Burt Myers was right there to capitalize on Preece’s misfortune to snatch his third win of the season.

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Jason Myers (1) won the Charles Kepley Memorial 150 at Caraway Speedway on March 16 in one of the best races of the season. Jason Smith/pixelcrisp for NASCAR

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