Best Of 2013: K&N Pro Series East
Kwasniewski Doubles Up; Multiple Marks And Records Set
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.
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.
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.
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.
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