Rocco Rolls To Seventh Straight Conn. Crown

Rocco Rolls To Seventh Straight Conn. Crown

Also Took Home Fourth NASCAR Track Title At Waterford

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Keith Rocco is in the business of collecting checkered flags and championships, and for the seventh year in a row, business was good.

The 29-year-old wheelman from Wallingford, Connecticut, first captured the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship in The Nutmeg State in 2008. He has yet to relinquish the title.

Rocco’s seventh state title was earned with 16 wins, 35 top fives and an additional five top 10s in 46 starts between the Connecticut short-track triangle of Waterford Speedbowl, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Stafford Motor Speedway.

Those numbers were good enough to place him on the national championship podium for the sixth year in a row and the final margin of victory in the Connecticut standings was 65 points over Ryan Preece.

2014 NWAAS TRACK CHAMPIONS  |  STATE/PROVINCE CHAMPIONS  |  TOP 500 NATIONAL STANDINGS

“Connecticut has some of the fiercest competition around and to be able to pull this off that many years in a row is pretty amazing,” Rocco said.

En route to the latest Connecticut crown, Rocco also took home a fourth career track championship at the .375-mile oval in Waterford out of the SK Modified division. He went back-to-back there for the second time, having won his first two titles there in 2010-11.

Rocco registered 11 wins in 23 SK Modified starts at Waterford and breezed to the title by a whopping 250 points behind the wheel of his No. 88 Mr. Rooter/FMR/D&G Paving Chevrolet co-owned by Vin Beedle. He also earned Waterford’s Whelen All-American Series Division II late model division crown for the second year in a row with 11 victories in 21 races.

The accomplishments have accumulated enough that Rocco’s 65 career SK Modified wins are now a division record. He’s also on the verge of breaking the all-time feature wins record at Waterford, which has been in operation since 1951. Phil Rondeau holds the mark at 106 and Rocco will enter 2015 with 103.

“Waterford is just my kind of race track,” Rocco said. “It’s the smallest track in Connecticut. Its tight racing and it’s what really suits my style.”

Rocco now has 10 career track championships overall. Only 12 drivers in Whelen All-American Series history have more, and he narrowly missed an 11th this year at Thompson.

Rocco also ran a No. 88 Mr. Rooter Chevrolet in the Sunoco Modified division at Thompson, where he was bested by Preece by just six points – or three positions on the track at any point in the season – for what could have been a fifth title at the .625-mile oval.

“There’s always disappointment when you lose one by that small of a margin,” Rocco said. “We broke a motor there one night and it put us behind. We had a lot of ground to make up since we basically lost that race. I really can’t complain, we won four races, so overall to me it was a great year there.”

A two-time titlist at the Stafford half-mile, Rocco finished fourth in SK Modified points there this year with a pair of wins behind the wheel of the No. 88 Wheelers Auto/Mr. Rooter Chevrolet owned by John Rufano.

“Stafford is very, very tough to win at,” Rocco said. “The competition over there is unbelievable. Not only do you have top-notch SK drivers, but you’ve got the best [NASCAR Whelen Modified] Tour drivers there racing SKs as well. It makes it challenging.”

Between racing at the three Connecticut tracks on a weekly basis and a part-time touring series schedule, and maintaining the cars himself for all of those efforts, Rocco also had to balance being a new father this year. Keith Rocco Jr., who goes by K.J., was born last winter.

“My wife makes it pretty easy on me, but if anything, (fatherhood) makes me more relaxed,” Rocco said. “When you come home from the track you forget about all of the stress and aggravation. Racing isn’t always a success, there are downfalls, so when you go home at night you forget about all of that stuff.”

K.J. made plenty of trips to Victory Lane in 2014 for post-race pictures, but his father has no current road map for what would be a third generation of racing Roccos.

“I didn’t get my start in go-karts until I was 13, so if he’s anything like me, he’ll know how to build them before he knows how to drive them,” Rocco said.

Rocco will be recognized alongside each of the track and state champions from across North America at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 12 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

For Earnhardt Jr., Martinsville Victory Is Great Personal Achievement

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his fourth race of the season at Martinsville. It was also his first career victory at the historic speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his fourth race of the season at Martinsville. It was also his first career victory at the historic speedway.

Sometimes disappointment is overcome by achievement.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to be disappointed when he was eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup after six of 10 races.

It wasn’t a big surprise, really. Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports team had not really been on top of its game since the beginning of the 10-race “playoff.”

Earnhardt Jr. had only one top-10 finish in the first five races and it was that fifth event, at Kansas, that did him in.

Tire problems helped send him to a 39th-place finish. That tumbled him to the bottom of the pile of 12 drivers still in the Chase.

He had to win at either Charlotte or Talladega. He finished 20th at Charlotte, which did not help his cause.

And despite a noble effort at Talladega where he led 31 laps and remained at the front of the pack most of the time, he lost position late in the race and couldn’t make it up.

He finished 28th – and was eliminated from championship contention.

Earnhardt Jr. was having one of his best seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, but failed to make the Chase. The Martinsville victory was a tonic - and very personal.

Earnhardt Jr. was having one of his best seasons with Hendrick Motorsports, but failed to make the Chase. The Martinsville victory was a tonic – and very personal.

It must have been hard for Earnhardt Jr. to take. He was having a particularly good season. Before the Chase he won three races, including the Daytona 500.

He also won at Pocono twice. Earnhardt Jr. hadn’t won three races in a season since he joined Hendrick in 2008.

On top of that, he was third in points after Richmond, the last race before the Chase began. He was comfortably in title contention.

He had reason to be confident, for sure.

The only thing predictable about racing is that it is unpredictable. Given his record and momentum, I doubt there were many who thought Earnhardt Jr. would be out of the hunt after just six races.

Every driver in Earnhardt Jr.’s situation will say the same thing: If a championship can no longer be attained, the goal now is to win as many of the remaining races at possible.

Earnhardt Jr. was no different. One big reason he wanted to win was to prove that the Chase may have been one thing, but the season-long performance by his Hendrick team was quite another.

And there was only one way to prove it.

Earnhardt Jr. did just that in the next race after his disappointment at Talladega.

He won at Martinsville, a speedway steeped in history and tradition. By doing so, Earnhardt Jr. achieved a goal that was more personal that professional.

Simply put, he won at Martinsville – at last.

“You know, I love the history of the sport and just can’t get enough of like all the pictures on the wall at Martinsville,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I just know this place has a special meaning and a special place in the series and the sport.

“I’ve been coming here so many years, I’ve been coming here since the early ’80s, watching races here. Dad won and brought home several Grandfather Clocks. 

“I remember one in particular that set at the front door, in the hall by the stairs.  Had this little round rug right in that hallway that I’d run my Matchbox cars on, listening to the race on the Racing Motor Network.”

A combination of a strategic pit stop and Earnhardt Jr.’s ability to gain ground quickly was the reason for the victory at Martinsville.

“We just put tires on it, said Steve Letarte, Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief. “Luckily we had a lot of lap-down cars between us and fourth and fifth.  As long as we had a decent stop, we thought we would maintain some decent track position. 

“Then Dale went out and did what he did.  That makes the pit call look good, which I appreciate him doing.”

Earnhardt Jr. assumed the lead on lap 497 and led the final four circuits.

Earnhardt Jr. has won bigger, more prestigious races in his career. But he was notably ecstatic over the Martinsville victory.

It was one he had coveted for so long. Add to that it was one that, as far as Earnhardt Jr. was concerned, emphasized his Hendrick team’s solid, season-long performance.

“I think the win reminded the team and the guys what they’re capable of,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Yeah, we’ve had some bad breaks with the tire at Kansas and just some poor runs where we got outrun. 

“Everybody knew it was very disappointing where we were at in the Chase coming into Martinsville.

“But now, we know we can accomplish some really good things and win more races.”

As for Earnhardt Jr., the Martinsville victory is more than just another victory. It’s a personal milestone.

“I couldn’t believe I won,” he said. “I still really can’t believe it.  The clock seems so hard to get, so this is so special. 

“I try not to get too caught up in the emotion of it because it’s a team deal, but this is very personal and very special to me to be able to win at Martinsville.”

 

Solomito Headed To Flamingo

Solomito Headed To Flamingo

Top Whelen Modified Rookie To Join No. 16 Team

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Reigning Sunoco Rookie of the Year Timmy Solomito announced today that he has reached an agreement to drive with Flamingo Motorsports for the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.

Solomito, from Islip, New York, has been tabbed by team owner Eric Sanderson to replace Ryan Preece in the Massachusetts-based No. 16 Flamingo Motorsports Ford. Preece departed last week to join TS Haulers Racing.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Solomito said. “The 16 team seems real organized. They have a lot of experience on the tour and that’s really going to be beneficial. I’m excited to work with the guys, they seem like really nice people.

“[This] was kind of unexpected. I’m sure they had plenty of inquiries about the opening. I feel fortunate for the opportunity and I’m excited to start another chapter on the tour. Hopefully we can have some good runs next year and do really well.”

The 22-year-old Solomito posted six top 10s across 13 races in his first full-time season to take home top rookie honors on the Whelen Modified Tour in 2014 in the Long Island-based No. 75 Eastport Feeds Chevrolet owned by Wayne Anderson. He has a pole and eight top 10s in 20 career tour starts.

“I really want to thank Wayne Anderson for the opportunity this year, he really put my name on the map,” Solomito said. “Without Wayne this opportunity would have never come about, so I really have to thank him and Eastport Feeds for their support.”

Solomito will join a Flamingo team, under the direction of Sanderson and longtime crew chief Sly Szaban, that has earned two Whelen Modified Tour titles in the last decade: in 2006 with Mike Stefanik and again in 2013 with Preece.

“That puts a lot on the table for me,” Solomito said of expectations that joining a championship-caliber team presents. “I know the team can do it, and I know the equipment can do it, so the main ingredient left is for me to get the job done. It may not be the first year, but that’s the ultimate goal that we’re going to work towards and hopefully we can achieve that.”

Yackey Enters Motorsports Hall Of Fame

Yackey Enters Motorsports Hall Of Fame

Veteran five-time state champion honored in Colorado

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Bruce Yackey knew since he was in high school that he wanted to drive a race car. He and his uncle built a mini-stock car and the rest is history.

Yackey groomed his driving skills through the years and quickly moved up the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series ladder. He began racing Sportsman and eventually Late Models at Colorado National Speedway.

He went on to win his first track championship at the Dacono, Colorado, track in 1989 and after six Late Model Championships at his home track and five NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Colorado titles, he can add another honor to his resume: Hall of Famer.

Yackey was inducted in to the Colorado motorsports Hall of Fame along with nine other drivers last Wednesday night during ceremonies at the Lamar Street Center in Arvada, Colorado.

“I have been doing this for 31 years and all I really cared about was going out with my family and having fun,” Yackey said. “I certainly appreciate the honor that was given to me.”

Also among the group inducted was former racer and Colorado National Speedway manager Paul Garrison. Garrison began his career in drag racing but quickly fell in love with circle track racing and competed at Colorado during its first season in 1965 and won a track championship in 1968.

He managed the track from 1989 to 2007 and was responsible for helping bring the track back to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in 1990. Garrison has also been recognized by NASCAR winning the “National Promoters Award” and “Team Player of the Year” awards in 2007.

Yackey also competed in the former NASCAR Southwest Series starting in 1992 racing at tracks in Colorado as well as traveling to series races in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.

Some of the accolades Yackey has accumulated through the years include being named “Circle Track Driver of the Year” by the Rocky Mountain News, “Driver of the Year” by the Greeley Tribune and “Overall Sportsman of the Year” at Colorado National Speedway.

While he has received many honors for his performance on the race track, he said he didn’t start racing to earn honors like the one he got this week.

“I just raced to have fun and I am still having fun,” Yackey added. “But to be inducted in a hall of fame while I am still driving is really something special. Most of the time people don’t make it in to a hall of fame until after they have retired.”

Yackey won his most recent track and state titles at Colorado National Speedway in 2013 and finished second in both this past season. 

“We had a good year but we didn’t win the title and missing out on celebrating that is just making me want to get back racing as soon as we can,” he said. “I feel I am more driven now to come back next year and win another track and state championship.”

Although he has been racing over three decades, he doesn’t have any plans of slowing down.

“This past week was very special for me in that my family and many of my current and former crew members who were able to come to the ceremony and be a part of it,” Yackey said. “I am still having fun and as long as I am having fun I am going to keep driving.”

Bruce met his wife, Christi, at Big Country Speedway in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where her father, Butch Bailey was a competing driver. They have three children: Brian, Brett, and Heather.

“My family is very important to me and I am so happy that they were there as they have supported me throughout my racing career,” Yackey said. “Basically I get to work with great people and a strong supportive family.”

Yackey will be recognized for his runner-up performance this season on Dec. 12 during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

In addition to the 2014 national champion being recognized, track champions from 58 tracks across the United States and Canada, state and province champions, and top rookies will be recognized in the annual ceremony at the Grand Ballroom in the Charlotte Convention Center.

Pete Stringer (left) Bruce Yackey (center) and Paul Garrison were three of the 10 inductees to the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame. Rick Carpenter/bigwestracing.com

Born To Race: On Fast Track From Michigan

Born To Race: On Fast Track From Michigan

Jones’ Journey From Farm Town To NASCAR’s Next

A sleepy farm town of just over 500 people nestled between Detroit and the Great Lakes, Byron, Michigan, is quite the distance from the stock car racing hotbeds of the southeastern United States.

Against all odds, one of its own has risen through the motorsports ranks and is experiencing success on NASCAR’s national stage. Erik Jones, 18, with already three NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories to his credit, is considered one of the sport’s brightest young prospects.

Coming from a family with little-to-no roots in auto racing, as well as an area rabid about hockey and football, how did Jones even get into sport?

“It was always something I wanted to do,” Jones said. “I remember being 6-years-old just wishing I could drive on the street and be able to go places. It was always a love of cars and wanting to drive them.”

SATURDAY SCHEDULE AT MARTINSVILLE: 10:15 a.m. ET Keystone Light Pole Qualifying, FOX Sports 1 (Follow live) | 1:30 p.m. ET: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 (200 laps, 105.2 miles), FOX Sports 1 (Follow live)

Jones’ parents noticed his affinity for cars from the time he could talk. He was always playing with Matchbox cars or sitting in automobiles at the family business, Paragon Reproductions – a Corvette restoration shop. Jones could never stop thinking about cars. Even when he had to draw pictures at school, they were always of motor vehicles.

When Jones was 3, he told his uncle he was born to race –  a self-fulfilling prophecy the family laughed off at the time.

“I don’t remember it honestly, it was a story that was told to me,” Jones said. “Apparently I did say that to my uncle. I just told him I was born to race. It’s kind of funny looking back at it now, but it’s definitely a neat story.”

Unable to ignore her son’s love of cars, Jones’ mother, Carol, decided to take action and make it her goal to get him into motorsports at 7. The family’s only link to racing was through Carol’s father, Bert Eckert, who built some engines and drag raced in the 1960s, but he had passed away. With no experience in motorsports and the responsibility of running a business he had just purchased, Dave Jones, Erik’s father, was unsure about getting involved in racing. He knew it would take a major time commitment and didn’t even know where to start.

“(Carol’s) exact words to me were, ‘We’re going to do it with or without you,’ ” Dave Jones said. “She meant it too. She got involved, made some phone calls to some people that were involved in the sport and she did it.

“She led this madness.”

Dave Jones jumped on board and bought Erik a quarter-midget car that he first practiced with by himself and eventually raced. The elder Jones educated himself on racing with every book he could get his hands on and became his son’s first crew chief. As Erik moved up the motorsports ladder, Dave eventually stopped being the crew chief, but ran the family racing team and helped at the track fulfilling responsibilities ranging from tire changer to jack man.

“I took it and ran wild with it,” Dave Jones said. “I fell in love with it. I loved going to the track. I liked the camaraderie amongst the team. It was a lot of fun.”

Wanting to make sure their son gained a variety of experiences, Dave and Carol Jones had Erik try out other sports, but he always preferred racing.

“We had him try every sport, the only one I can think of he didn’t participate in was track,” Dave Jones said. “He played hockey, baseball, football, wrestling, he’s done them all. And didn’t like any of them.

“He was never interested. It was all racing all the time.”

Dave Jones credits Erik’s rise up the different levels of racing from Quarter Midgets to the ASA Late Model Series all the way to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to his natural talent and ability to listen.

“One thing he does, and people appreciate it, is he listens to people,” Dave said. “Even when he was 12, they could tell. A lot of these racers they want to share their knowledge, but they want to share it with people who appreciate it. Even if he didn’t think they were necessarily telling him the right things, he would listen. He would stare at them and listen.

“He was just a sponge and he still is to this day. He’d just focus on what a person was saying and go out there and do it.”

Jones’ ability to listen to a variety of people, test tips out on the track and implement the ones that work for him has been essential to his development as a driver.

“He hasn’t had this big sound team to propel him right to the top,” Dave Jones said. “We had a family team. We had (different) crew chiefs and things like that. He’s had some tough times as far as that goes, but I look back at it now and think, ‘Well, he learned something new from every crew chief. ‘”

Young drivers can have all the passion and talent in the world, but in order to move up in stock car racing, they must post results at the track – and it helps if someone important is watching…

Jones’ breakthrough victory came on Dec. 3, 2012 in the prestigious Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. The then-16-year-old, improbably held off NASCAR superstar Kyle Busch on the final 18 laps to win the race. The victory would lead to a relationship with Busch, which eventually developed into Jones sharing time with him in the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota Tundra in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Jones continued to open eye balls around the racing world when he became the youngest winner of a NASCAR national series event – at 17 years, nine months, four days – when he captured the checkered flag in just his fifth NCWTS start at Phoenix on Nov. 8, 2013. His record has since been broken by Cole Custer, but Jones has gone on to win two more truck races on a part-time schedule in less than a calendar year.

“It’s pretty exciting for me, being able to go out and win these races already while coming up through the ranks is pretty special,” Jones said. “I never really would’ve thought a few years back I’d have (three) truck race wins at this time, and racing a part-time truck series schedule, I never would’ve thought that.

“Just to be at this point in my career is pretty awesome, especially looking back at some of the races we’ve won the past couple years and just the opportunities I’ve had. It’s been pretty amazing. I just hope we can continue winning races and keep it going. I want to be in a race car as much as I can.”

A major obstacle on Erik’s journey to NASCAR was his desire to complete his high school education. Traveling throughout the country, he was missing days of class and needed a more flexible schedule. Following his freshman year, Jones enrolled in an online program through Swartz Creek (Mich.) Academy. Although he completed his classes from his laptop, the coursework was considered even harder than it would be in a typical school setting.

“It was all completely online, all on my own time,” Jones said. “I had a due date when I had to have the class completely done by. In ways it was more fun than regular school, but in other ways it was more challenging because you didn’t have a teacher you could ask questions to straight off the bat at any time.”

Jones balanced his schooling with his racing slate and his hard work paid off when he graduated from Swartz Creek. His one issue with obtaining his diploma was that he could not attend the formal graduation event because – you guessed it –  he was competing at a race track. Instead, he received his diploma prior to the June 6, 2014 Camping World Truck race at Texas Motor Speedway. Adorned in a scarlet red cap and gown, Jones marched across the stage at the Fort Worth track and received his graduation certificate from TMS President Eddie Gossage and got a congratulatory kiss on the cheek from a couple of the “Great American Sweethearts.”

 “I can’t think of a better way to go and get your high school diploma, being able to do that at Texas was pretty awesome.” Jones said. “Just the way it turned out, we all had a lot of fun. Graduating up on stage with the two Texas Motor Speedway girls, what more can you ask for?”

These days, Jones is living in North Carolina where he spends the majority of his time at the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop trying to help the No. 51 team win its second consecutive Camping World Truck Series owner title and further advance his racing career. He made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at Chicagoland in July, finishing eighth, and is slated to run his final truck and Nationwide races of the season at Phoenix next month.

Despite his success and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aspirations, Jones doesn’t model himself after any famous drivers. He admires drivers like and Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson, but does not want to be them.

“I’ve always been one to go out and do my own thing,” Jones said. “I don’t ever say, ‘Man, I wish I can go out and be just like this guy.’ I’ve always just wanted to go out and be my own driver.”

Jones thinks the great drivers have a supreme confidence in themselves and a belief that they can beat anyone on the track at any time. He is motivated by competition and teamwork to be the best driver possible.

“What pushes me most is the competition, going out and being able to compete is something I’ve always loved to do,” Jones said. “I don’t want to let my team down. I think that’s something that drives me to go out and be better. These guys work so hard for me to go out and be fast, I don’t want to go out and let them down. I want to go out and be successful not just for myself, but for everyone around me.”

While focused on his racing career, Jones realizes that he sometimes needs to do outside activities to give himself a break. Away from the shop, he is an avid fantasy football player and scuba diver. He even took up golf within the past year, but notes it doesn’t come as easy to him as driving.

“I really need to get some lessons to be where I need to be,” Jones said. “But I can at least hit the ball.”

Although Jones enjoys his hobbies, none of them come close to the passion for racing that’s burned within him since childhood.

“Nothing beats coming around a turn for me,” he said. “I think that’s my ultimate rush.”

nascar-next_feature_erik-jones_in-car

As the family story goes, Erik Jones was 3 when he told his uncle he was born to race. At 18, he’s already scored three victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut. Getty Images for NASCAR

Next Round Ahead, Competitive Harvick Presses Forward

Kevin Harvick has been steady in the Chase, as he's moved into second place in points as the third elimination round begins.

Kevin Harvick has been steady in the Chase, as he’s moved into second place in points as the third elimination round begins.

And Kevin Harvick moves along – surely and steadily.

Harvick enters the three-race Elimination Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup second in points and in a good position to challenge leader Joey Logano.

The points for the eight drivers who have made the third round of the Chase were reset to 4,000 each. But their positions in points did not change, save for Brad Keselowski’s elevation to eighth place by virtue of his victory at Talladega.

Harvick advanced by one position. He was third after his victory at Charlotte.

More important, that Charlotte win gave Harvick automatic admittance into the Eliminator Round. Therefore, he didn’t have to worry about how he finished in the always unpredictable and often treacherous Talladega race.

Talk about being relieved.

“I’m gonna park and watch the race at Talladega,” Harvick said. “It’s gonna be crazy, offensive racing.”

Talladega was indeed a tense affair. Four drivers would be eliminated from the Chase afterward and those in peril included Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Keselowski.

As it turned out Keselowski, of course, was saved by his victory. Kenseth advanced after his second-place finish.

Victimized were Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne.

Harvick's victory at Charlotte strengthened his position in the Chase and automatically advanced him into the next elimination round.

Harvick’s victory at Charlotte strengthened his position in the Chase and automatically advanced him into the next elimination round.

For his part, Harvick didn’t park and watch the race. But he kept pretty much out of the spotlight.

He led only once for two laps – and this is a guy who has led more laps than any other driver in every race but one in the Chase.

Truth be known, he likely wanted it that way. He wanted to run a safe race and figured that might be done best if he didn’t scrap for position at the head of the pack.

Not, however, that he ever planned not to race as strongly as possible.

“Obviously it takes a lot of pressure off by not having to worry about a strategy,” Harvick said. “You just go race. The guys have worked hard on the cars to make them as good as they can no matter the scenario.

“At the bare minimum, we owe it to them and the fans to race as hard as we can and take the same approach as we have all year – try to run well in practice, qualify well, lead laps and try to win a race.

“But the thing that comes out of Charlotte is, if it works out, fine and if doesn’t, fine. Just race hard.”

Turned out it worked out pretty well. Harvick finished a comfortable ninth at Talladega, his fourth top-10 finish in six races.

Harvick considers his Chase performance, including the win at Charlotte, all the result of a maturation process.

“I look at Charlotte as what we’re supposed to do and what we should have done a number of times if it wasn’t for crazy things happening, mistakes and different things,” Harvick said. “But I think that’s part of the building process.

“You look at last week as great timing for our circumstances. With building a new team at Stewart Haas Racing, having new people in new situations and a lot of things to learn, this format has allowed us to mature throughout the process of a year.

“Hopefully we’re getting to a refined point that you think is where you need to be to race for a championship.”

Given his points position it certainly appears Harvick has reached where he needs to be in an effort to race for a championship. After all, he’s only one of eight drivers in contention and only one – Logano – is in a better position than he at this point.

“We’re doing as good a job in anything I’ve been involved in,” Harvick said. “The main thing is the speed in the race cars. You know what piece has been there all year and you don’t have to worry about that.

“We’ve continued to have that and it becomes a matter of controlling all the things we can control.

“I feel good about all those pieces we have.”

 

 

 

      

Davis Wins Southern Mod Rookie Honors

Davis Wins Southern Mod Rookie Honors

Georgia Native Is 2014 Sunoco Rookie Of The Year Award Winner

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When a driver makes a switch from a full-bodied stock car to a modified car, one of the best things he can do is partner up with an established team to help him with his learning curve of competing in a drastically different car.

Dawsonville, Georgia, native Spencer Davis made the wise decision to team up with Hillbilly Racing and veteran car owner/crew chief David Hill and it paid immediate dividends in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour as Davis won the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award.

“One of the best things we did was compete with David and his Hillbilly Racing team,” he added. “I might have been a new driver, but the team has years and years of experience, and have won races and championships and they know how to get it done. They were able to use notes from previous races at tracks to set the cars up to help me each week and that is a big advantage versus me being a new driver with a new team and we all are learning for the first time together. They gave me a car ready to go each week. That was big in helping me with my transition.” 

While Davis was adjusting to the car, he relied heavily on the expertise of Hill and the established team to ease Davis into racing the ‘ground pounders’ full-time.

“This past season was definitely a learning curve for me,” said Davis. “Coming from a late model background you have to adjust to racing cars that have no fenders, bumpers and nerf bars that you can use when racing and also wider tires These cars have a lot of power and the tires are so different than a late model.”

Hill previously mentored late model driver Daniel Hemric when he made 12 starts for the team between 2010-2012 and Davis thinks that made his transition smoother than anticipated.

“David has coached a late model driver before with Daniel and I think that made my first year with him that much easier,” Davis said. “We really hit it off this year and I look forward to racing with him and the team again next year.”

Davis finished the season with seven top-10 finishes in 14 races on the southern tour and ended up ninth in the final standings which made the 15-year old driver happy. Davis also made four starts in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and finished with back-to-back top-10s, highlighted by a season-best seventh-place showing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park this past Sunday in the season finale.

“When we started the season I struggled a little bit, especially in qualifying,” Davis added. “I got better at that as the season went along and that really helped us as we had a little bit of a dip midway through the year.”

It came down to the season finale at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Davis to outdistance fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Joe Ryan Osborne and Bobby Measmer Jr..

“We had a decent lead but I didn’t really feel good about being able to win it until we got to Charlotte and realized Joe wasn’t going to be able to race that night, then we knew we had it locked up,” Davis said.

Osborne suffered a wrist injury at Caraway Speedway the week before and was unable to compete in the final race of the season.

Davis finished the year with five Sunoco Rookie of the Race Awards and outdistanced Measmer by 10 points in the final rookie standings (127-117).

Davis is ready to celebrate his 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year for the Whelen Southern Modified Tour at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards on Dec. 13 in the Charlotte (North Carolina) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He is also ready to get back on the track with Hill and the Hillbilly Racing team in 2015.

“We don’t know exactly which tour we will race with full-time, but we do know we will be racing together next year and I am really excited about that because I feel like we are only going to get better,” said Davis.

Preece Changing Tour Rides

Preece Changing Tour Rides

2013 Whelen Modified Champ Headed To TS Haulers Racing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Preece announced today that he is leaving Flamingo Motorsports to join TS Haulers Racing for the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.

The move for Preece ends a three-year stint with the Massachusetts-based Flamingo Motorsports No. 16 team that saw the pairing capture the 2013 Whelen Modified Tour title and finish as the championship runner-up in 2012 and 2014.

“We had a really good run and we hit on a lot of great things with the 16,” Preece said. “We finished second in points twice and we won a championship. I have nothing but great things to say about that team and about how hard everybody worked.”

The move comes fresh off of winning the final two races of 2014, including Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.

“I want to thank Eric Sanderson (car owner) for the opportunity to race the 16,” Preece said. “I was a kid basically without a ride and he called and gave me that opportunity. Eric and Sly Szaban (crew chief) and the entire Flamingo team worked their tails off. We won eight races and a championship together in three years. We did everything together a team could ask for and it’s hard to leave because it was a great bunch to work with.”

The NASCAR Next driver from Berlin, Connecticut, now moves on to the Connecticut-based No. 6 TS Haulers Racing team that recently parted ways with Ron Silk.

Silk and TS Haulers Racing won the Whelen Modified Tour title together in 2011.

“I see the way they operate with Tommy Grasso (crew chief) and owners Ed and Connie Partridge, and they operate really well,” Preece said. “It seems like a team where we can fire off right away, run hard and win races, and run a lot of races.

“The 6 team is a very dedicated bunch and I definitely see us winning races. I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s a situation where I can pick up right where I left off. Ed is definitely giving me a great opportunity.”

Preece said he’s going to get a head start on the 2015 Whelen Modified Tour season with his new team by racing in some offseason events. The team change will also open up additional opportunities for Preece to compete.

“I’m going to be running the North-South Shootout with them, and I believe the New Smyrna Speedway World Series,” Preece said. “There are other things that we’re going to be doing with the 6.”

In eight seasons on the Whelen Modified Tour, Preece has compiled 11 wins, 12 poles and 64 top 10s in 108 starts. He’s finished in the top two in points in four of his last five full-time campaigns.

Preece will conclude his 2014 NASCAR competition schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series with the Ford Ecoboost 300 on Nov. 15 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR Wins With Keselowski Talladega Victory

Keselowski and Penske Racing masterfully  orchestrated the Talladega Victory Sunday.

Keselowski and Penske Racing masterfully
orchestrated the Talladega Victory Sunday.

When the smoke clears, victory lane empties and the fans go home, there will be one group of people keeping the champagne flowing until the wee hours of the morning.

No, not Brad Keselowski, Paul Wolfe and the No. 2 Penske team – but Brian France, Mike Helton and the NASCAR brass.

The sole blemish on this weekend’s race at Talladega is that one previous champion and the fan favorite did not advance to the Eliminator Round.

Despite leading the most laps, Jimmie Johnson will have to wait at least another year to tie the NASCAR record for most championships all time, and his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led the second most but settled for a loose race car with faulty gauges in the last quarter of the race, will do the same.

Talk about drama, though: Who would’ve thought that Danica Patrick would be leading with less than 20 to go, holding off “Six Time” himself, days after being criticized (maybe) by teammate Kevin Harvick?  Drama? Check.

And what about intensity? One errant piece of scrap metal with nine laps to go was a probable savior to many racecars participating in a ‘free for all’ up front, with some of the most exciting and intense restrictor plate racing seen this season, and arguably in many seasons.

Several drivers were on the borderline of out of control. Even the two GWC finishes created their own mini stories keeping drivers and fans alike on the edge of their seats. Intensity? Check.

Surprises were a’ plenty. Four drivers started the race needing a win to advance to the next round, and one driver did accomplish that goal, yet probably not the driver most thought or even wanted to see: An apologetic and trite Brad Keselowski was in victory lane expressing a mixture of regret for his actions last week, joy in winning, and gratitude to the team that got him the win he needed to advance to the next round, after the obligatory burnouts and tribute to the Stars and Stripes. Surprises? Check.

Check, check, and check.

For years, NASCAR has been tweaking the formula for television success when the NFL begins its season and noticeably cuts into race viewership.

Matt Kenseth’s 2003 championship run was a yawner, and it’s no coincidence that it was the final nail in the coffin of the old points championship system.

The Car of Tomorrow, now the Car of Yesterday (or, The Car That Was So Awful Everyone Hated It), which gave us tandem drafting in rather boring restrictor plate races and generally was like watching shoeboxes race, gave way to the new Gen 7 car.

And, if no one can duplicate Tony Stewart’s feat of winning half the races in the Chase on the way to tie-breaking championship, then the format will now create pressure and intensity. No more racing for points, boys. Win or bust.

To be fair, Jeff Gordon was in a position to protect his points, and did so by avoiding trouble. He didn’t have to win; he just had to not lose.

Kasey Kahne, who at one point was in, then not in, then in and finally not in again, did everything possible to run a trouble free race, while being carefully aggressive.

Even Ryan Newman, who challenged late for the win, at one point seemed unconcerned when he lost the draft and went a lap down.

Yes, indeed, the champagne glasses are clinking in Daytona tonight. There are smiles galore, and many powerful decision makers patting themselves on the back. And, they deserve to. With six races done and half the Chase field eliminated, NASCAR brass has accomplished everything they’ve wanted and more.

The sanctioning body has, at times, been the target of ire and frustration from the traditional fans when it seemed that attracting new fans, sponsors and viewers to the sport was more important than the opinions of their long time supporters.

It was a calculated risk, to be sure, and one with mixed results. But with the rules package changing for next season, most notably a reduction in horsepower, it seems that NASCAR may have finally gotten it right. Late race debris caution and all. And, with a new Chase round come new Chase storylines, starting next Sunday at Martinsville, the shortest track on the circuit.

But in the meantime, drink up, Brian, Mike, et al; you deserve it.

 

Coby Drives Way Back To The Top

Coby Drives Way Back To The Top

Second Whelen Modified Title In Three Years; Preece Wins Finale

See video

THOMPSON, Conn. — It was the worst finish of the season for Doug Coby. But in the end, it didn’t matter, as the Milford, Connecticut driver lifted the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour trophy for the second time in three seasons Sunday.

The 35-year-old finished 17th and two laps down in the season finale Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The race was won by defending tour champion Ryan Preece.

It was Coby and the No. 2 Dunleavy’s Repair/HEX Performance/Fox Shocks Chevrolet team, though, who earned the big trophy on the strength of an outstanding season that included a win and nine top fives in 13 races. Coby, who finished second in points to Preece last year, kicked off 2014 with a win in the non-points UNOH Battle At The Beach at Daytona International Speedway.

Donny Lia finished as the runner-up behind Preece Sunday, followed by Rowan Pennink, Ron Silk and Justin Bonsignore.

Matt Hirschman, Spencer Davis, Eric Goodale, Max Zachem and 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Timmy Solomito rounded out the top 10.

Preece led twice for a race-high 137 laps, including the final 73. A late caution pushed the race to 151 laps.

It was Preece’s first win at Thompson after four runner-up finishes at the .625-mile banked oval. Earlier in the day, Preece wrapped up the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sunoco Modified Division championship.

Ted Christopher, the 2008 tour champion, entered the event as the closest challenger to Coby. Christopher, however, was involved in a wreck and finished 10 laps down in 20th.

With his win, Preece jumped up to finish second in points – 22 behind Coby. Bonsignore finished third, five points back of Preece, while Silk and Christopher completed the top five. Second through fifth were separated by nine points. 

The Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart will air on FOX Sports 1 on Nov. 1 at 10 a.m.

Coby will be honored for his championship season along with NASCAR’s other touring series champions on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards in the Grand Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

RESULTS | RACE CENTRAL LIVE REPLAY  |  VICTORY LANE AUDIO: RACE WINNER RYAN PREECE  |  VICTORY LANE AUDIO: CHAMPION DOUG COBY  |  VIDEO: RACE WINNER RYAN PREECE PRESS CONFERENCE

nwmt_race_recap_ryan-preece_win_race_101914

Ryan Preece celebrates in Victory Lane after scoring his first win at Thompson Speedway Sunday and his 11th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory. Earlier in the day, Preece won the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sunoco Modified Division championship. Darren McCollester/Getty Images for NASCAR

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