Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series East

Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series East

Byron Has Dream Rookie Season; Young Stars Shine Bright

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – William Byron kept his competition in his rearview mirror en route to his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship title.

The 18-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, raised the trophy at Delaware’s Dover International Speedway after a rainy weekend cancelled both the practice and qualifying sessions.

Byron certainly earned the elite tile, collecting four wins, five top fives, 11 top 10s and five poles in 14 starts this season.

But Byron wasn’t the only talent to shine in the K&N East the season.

Bryon’s fellow HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks teammate Scott Heckert continued his road course success and challenged Bryon for the top spot in the standings throughout the year. Rico Abreu and Kyle Benjamin scored their first NASCAR wins, while Austin Hill collected two victories and his first Coors Light Pole Award to also threaten Byron’s chance at the title.

Twenty-four different drivers recorded a top-five finish for the second year in a row and remain the highest in the K&N Pro Series East since NASCAR lowered the minimum age in 2007.

Top Driver
William Byron: Byron transitioned into the series from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, where he competed in its Late Model program for JR Motorsports. He had a decent start to his season, finishing seventh at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. He bounced back and in only his second start, he earned his first K&N East victory at Greenville (S.C) Pickens Speedway. His first eight starts produced four wins and a runner up finish, along with two pole awards. For the season, Byron had a 6.8 finishing average and completed 1729 of 1730 laps. He also led the series in laps led, leading 740 laps throughout the season. The NASCAR Next driver also made the history books, becoming the fifth driver to earn the both the championship and Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in series history. In 2016, he will compete full-time in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

WATCH: WILLIAM BYRON CHAMPION PROFILE | WILLIAM BYRON AWARDS SPEECH

Scott Heckert (Honorable Mention): The 21-year-old from Ridgefield, Connecticut, continued his road course success nabbing his third consecutive road course win at New York’s Watkins Glen International. An accident at VIRginia International Raceway dashed his chances of another win when he got rear ended on Lap 46. He racked up two wins, nine top fives and 11 top 10s, including a victory at North Carolina’s Bowman Gray Stadium and entered the finale at Dover only 15 points behind Byron. Heckert completed 1607 of 1730 laps and led 213, which was – you guessed it – second to William Byron.

Top Team
HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks: For the third straight season, Harry Scott has fielded the championship car. In the organization’s inaugural year, the multi-car stable came back just as strong or stronger in 2015. The team had the champion, runner up, fourth, fifth and sixth in the final series’ standings, winning seven of 14 races. Their most impressive performance may have come at Watkins Glen, where four of the team’s cars finished in the top 10, with the lone car barely missing the cut with an 11th place finish, led by race winner Heckert. HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks will return in the 2016 season with JJ Haley and newcomers Hunter Baize, Harrison Burton and Tyler Dippel.

Bassett Racing (Honorable Mention): The Winston Salem, North Carolina, family-run team produced one win, four top fives and seven top 10s in 12 events. Dillon Bassett, 18, transitioned into the series this season after finished fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series last year and winning the UNOH Youth Achievement Award. He earned his first series’ victory at Pennsylvania’s Motordrome Speedway and produced a runner-up finish at Richmond International Raceway in September. Ronnie Bassett Jr, 19, returned for his second full season and tied his career best finish at Iowa Speedway in May with his second-place finish.

Rico Abreu scored his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series win at Columbus Motor Speedway in July. Getty Images for NASCAR

Top Breakthrough Performance
Rico Abreu: Rico Abreu entered his first season in stock car racing with a lot of momentum after winning the 2015 Chili Bowl Nationals. He got off to a rocky start to his rookie campaign finishing 17th at the season opener at New Smyrna Speedway. He earned two top-10 finishes in his second and third starts before the light bulb clicked on for the 23-year-old from St. Helena, California, and in his sixth race of the season when he won his first pole award. From there he went on to earn his first victory at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway and register four top-five finishes to end the season ranked fifth with one win, four top fives and eight top 10s.

Kyle Benjamin (Honorable Mention): The 17-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, competed in his first full K&N Pro East season this year. In his 13 starts this year, Benjamin earned one win, three top fives and six top 10s for a ninth place finish in the final standings. Benjamin started the season out on a high note, finish fifth at the season opener at New Smyrna Speedway. In just his third start of the season, the NASCAR Next driver earned his first NASCAR victory with his win at Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway after leading 81 laps and scored a runner-up finish at Virginia’s Langley Speedway in June.

Top Races
NAPA 150 presented by Germain Toyota, Columbus Motor Speedway, July 4:
When the series headed to Columbus Abreu was still on the hunt for his first NASCAR victory. In his seventh start, Abreu started his Fourth of July showing on top, earning his second consecutive Coors Light Pole Award. It was a decisive pass for the lead that he made on Lap 115 that ultimately delivered him his first victory. Abreu battled Grant Quinlan, who was making his K&N Pro East debut, swapped the lead eight times throughout the 150-lap event. Abreu just beat Quinlan to the finish line and the final margin of victory for Abreu was just 0.103 seconds.

UPMC Health Plan 150, Motordrome Speedway, Aug. 15: The series’ inaugural visit to the .4-mile Pennsylvania oval couldn’t have been more dramatic. Asphalt issues on the front stretch necessitated a pair of red flags and subsequent caution periods starting on Lap 101. William Byron led a race-high 92 laps on Lap 94, before the lengthy late-race red flags. When the race finally went back to green on Lap 120, Austin Hill charged from third to first and it looked like Bassett’s first win would have to wait. However, he was able to maintain his momentum on the outside and wrestle the lead back on Lap 125 before he drove away to a 3.357-second victory. In the process, Bassett became the 100th different winner in K&N East history.

Dillon Bassett (44) earned his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series win at the inaugural race at Motordrome Speedway.


2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East: Year In Photos

Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series West

Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series West

Eggleston Wins Championship Battle; Rookie Talent Emerges

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chris Eggleston emerged as the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion after battling for the top spot all season long.

The 26-year-old from Erie, Colorado, collected the trophy at Arizona’s Phoenix International Raceway, after a season-long battle in which he held the top spot in the series’ standings seven different times. Eggleston earned his first NASCAR championship trophy after recording two wins, nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in his first full season competing in the K&N Pro West.

But Eggleston wasn’t the only star to emerge this season.

Jefferson Pitts Racing teammates, Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz, burst into the series with strong rookie campaigns and that saw their first NASCAR victories. Ryan Partridge was also a force to be reckoned with earning his first K&N Pro West victory in his transition from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

Twenty different drivers earned a top-five finish and 15 of those finishes were produced by rookies.

Top Driver
Chris Eggleston: Eggleston had an impressive debut in 2014, winning his first NASCAR victory at his home track, Colorado National Speedway, which propelled him into a full-time ride with Bill McAnally Racing this season. Eggleston had a great start to his season with a fifth-place finish at the season opener at California’s Kern County Raceway Park. He kept his groove going and in just his second start of the season, at Irwindale Speedway, he earned his first victory of the season. In his first five starts of the season, Eggleston registered two wins, four top fives and five top 10s. By the time the season reach its halfway mark, Eggleston was in a back-and-forth battle for first place with Noah Gragson. For the season, Eggleston lead a total of 135 laps and was also the only driver in the series to complete all 1,902 laps. Eggleston plans to return to BMR in 2016 to defend his title.

WATCH: CHRIS EGGLESTON CHAMPION PROFILE | CHRIS EGGLESTON AWARDS SPEECH

Noah Gragson (Honorable Mention): The 17-year-old from Las Vegas, Nevada, led the 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle all season long and came up seven points shy of the championship title. Gragson had a fantastic series debut at Kern with a third place finish and two starts later, he earned his first NASCAR victory at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway after leading 23 laps. Gragson earned his second win of the year at Idaho’s Meridian Speedway were he lead 176 out of 208 laps. Between his two victories, he recorded four top-five finishes. Gragson finished the season with two victories, seven top fives and 11 top 10s as well as one 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light.

Top Team
Jefferson Pitts Racing: In their inaugural season, Jefferson Pitts Racing fielded three full-time cars that finished runner-up and fourth in the series standings and a fourth place finish in the final owner standings. The collected a total of four wins, 20 top fives and 31 top 10s in 13 starts. Their most impressive showing of the year was when Noah Gragson, Gracin Raz and Dustin Ash finished 1-2-3 at Tucson. The team formed last season, when veteran driver Greg Pursley retired. Jeff Jefferson and Jerry Pitts, two veteran crew chiefs in the K&N West, bought Pursley’s Gene Price Motorsports equipment to form their breakout team. The Jefferson Pitts Racing team will be back will return in 2016, with Gragson and Raz, piloting two of their cars to contend for the 2016 championship title.

Bill McAnally Racing (Honorable Mention): In their 25th season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Bill McAnally Racing had quite the run. BMR earned five victories 16 top fives and 23 top 10s and the most important win of all: the championship title. Chris Eggleston brought home the title and victories at Irwindale and California’s Shasta Speedway. While, Brandon McReynolds became the first driver to earn sweep and earn multiple wins at Iowa Speedway and Todd Gilliland became the youngest winner in series’ history with his victory at Phoenix. BMR recently announced Eggleston will return to defend his title in 2016, along with newcomers Gilliland and Riley Herbst.


Ryan Partridge collected his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at Colorado National Speedway in August. Getty Images for NASCAR

Top Breakthrough Performance
Ryan Partridge:
The Rancho Cucamonga, California, native, started the season with a lackluster 17th place finish at Kern. The 27-year-old Partridge, however, bounced back and in the next nine races he earned his first NASCAR victory at Colorado National Speedway, six top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Partridge sat atop the standings for the first time after third race and led the standings again after the series’ trip to Colorado National Speedway. The Sunrise Ford Racing driver completed 1,899 laps of 1,902 and led a total of 321 laps, the series high. Partridge finished third in the final standings with one win, six top fives and 10 top 10s.

Gracin Raz (Honorable Mention): The 18-year-old from Lake Oswego, Oregon, finished fourth in the K&N West final standings. Raz had a breakout season, compiling one win, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. He won his first NASCAR victory at California’s All-American Speedway to clinch a contender spot headed into the finale at Phoenix. He started the season with a sixth place showing at Kern and recorded three top fives and four top 10s in the next four races. After finishing outside the top 10 at Sonoma, Raz put together and impressive closing run with his win, three top fives and six top 10s leading into Phoenix.

Top Races
Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by Axle Crutch, All American Speedway, Oct. 17:
Raz executed a last-lap pass to score his first career win. Raz started third on a green-white-checkered finish to pass Chris Eggleston on the first lap and Alex Schutte on the final laps as a late caution pushed the race to 152 laps. Raz entered the race 16 points behind teammate, Noah Gragson, but Gragson spun after contact with Eggleston while battling for the lead with Schutte late in the race to end up late. The turn of events cost Gragson the points lead, as Eggleston came home third to take over the top spot. His win also propelled Raz into championship contention to sit just nine points back from Eggleston headed into Phoenix. Raz also earned a page in the history books, becoming the third consecutive driver to score their first career win on the .333-mile oval.

King Taco Catering/NAPA Auto Parts 150, Irwindale Speedway, Apr. 11: In the second race of the season, Chris Eggleston took the lead from Ryan Partridge with six laps remaining en route to his second career NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory, his first of the 2015 season. His win gave BMR its 10th win among six drivers at the progressive-banked half-mile oval. A late-race caution set up Eggleston’s winning move on the Lap 144 restart. Sargeant followed Eggleston into second in a bid for his second straight series win but couldn’t close the ground. Sargeant lost the runner-up spot to Nicole Behar on the final lap, after a creative bump and pass move by Behar. Her runner-up finish set the mark to become the highest finishing female in series history.

Gracin Raz (27) nudged past Alex Schutte at the line to win his fist NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win at All American Speedway. Getty Images for NASCAR


2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West: Year In Photos

IndyCar and NASCAR: Don’t Tamper With Motorsport Traditions

Bristol: “The Last Great Colosseum”

Bristol: “The Last Great Colosseum”

The Holiday season is a wonderful time for celebration and reflection, and traditions are the magical slice of our culture that sustain our most important memories, restore our faith in values, and reconnect our paths with those closest to us.

Looking towards the 2016 NASCAR and IndyCar racing season, I pondered the most memorable 2015 track lessons on how tampering with our Motorsport traditions can alter the foundation of a race track’s folklore and jeopardize its viability, or ensure its future success.

IndyCar’s Vortex in Southern California

As a study in contrast, consider the ocean breezes and desert gusts that the Verizon IndyCar series has experienced in Southern California.

As a cornerstone of the Verizon IndyCar series, The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, running 41 years strong, consists of a pilgrimage of 175,000 fans to downtown Long Beach for this annual seaside festival. Each year, I engage with thoroughly satisfied fans from all over the US, as well as internationally, who often vow to return the following year.

Considered the city’s biggest event, the Long Beach Grand Prix showcases races from multiple series, including the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race for charity and the IndyCar series race. This event is intricately connected to the beach scene of SoCal. Tradition is evident everywhere, yet freshened around the edges with new twists, such as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Trucks being added as a supporting event in 2015. Basically, this race showcases great racing in a fun environment for spectators of all ages.

Yet, as an epic Motorsports failure lacking tradition, we only need to look to Fontana, an hour drive east of Long Beach. For 2016, the Auto Club (California) Speedway will not be on the Verizon IndyCar series schedule, after having hosted 14 IndyCar races since its opening in 1997.

Moving Darlington from Labor Day was 'The Big Mistake".

Moving Darlington from Labor Day was ‘The Big Mistake”.

On paper, Auto Club Speedway should be a stellar track for IndyCar with low banking and long straightaways. Open-wheel cars have set a pair of world records (including fastest qualifying lap by Gil de Ferran at 241.248 mph and fastest average race speed by Sam Hornish Jr. at 207.151 mph) at the two-mile superspeedway.

This year’s Fontana race was one of the best in memory, with 81 lead changes among 14 drivers, along with Graham Rahal winning the hotly contested race in a shootout finish.

Yet, the Fontana IndyCar race failed to establish any sense of tradition, a direct result of the date having been bounced around for four consecutive years. IndyCar offered up no favors, moving the race to August in 2014 and June in 2015, arguably the hottest times of the year in the valley east of Los Angeles. The June race was assuredly the smallest crowd ever in IndyCar’s history at the track.

IndyCar explored several alternatives to retain the Auto Club event as part of its 2016 schedule, including the track’s request to host the season finale. However, the race had lost its identity among the crowded SoCal entertainment scene.

Consequently, the Auto Club Speedway’s solitary major series in 2016 will now be the NASCAR weekend in March. NASCAR, having fine-tuned it schedule with a west coast swing during the more ambient March time frame, has generated three consecutive Auto Club Speedway sell-outs amid a consistent positioning in the series rotation.

Darlington Resurrection

The lesson is not just relevant to IndyCar. NASCAR also has experienced the trauma of messing with traditions, as evidenced by two unforgettable examples.

In 2003, the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina was moved from the mainstay Labor Day weekend it had embraced since 1950. For the diehard NASCAR nation, the Southern 500, which had served as a dynamic link to the sport’s rough and hard-hitting early years, virtually died that day. Instead, the Labor Day date was transferred to the Auto Club Speedway, which couldn’t be further from the sport’s southern roots.

After 12 dismal years shifting around the date, the Southern 500 finally returned to Labor Day weekend in 2015, with a retro motif that included 32 race teams running throwback paint schemes, an in-person celebration of 14 NASCAR Hall of Fame legends, and many other classic touches (such as a pre-race concert by Grand Funk Railroad), delighting fans of all ages who were buzzing about the event.

No surprise, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 throwback theme returns in 2016. Chimes track President Chip Wile, “Labor Day weekend has great historical significance for Darlington Raceway. It fits nicely with our Tradition Continues platform as we enter year two of this successful multi-year celebration of the history and heritage of our sport.”

It’s Bristol, Baby

Since hosting its first NASCAR race in 1961, Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee holds exceptional lore on the NASCAR schedule because of its distinctive features, including extraordinarily steep banking, an all concrete race surface, and stadium-like seating (affectionately described as “The Last Great Colosseum”).

Back in 2007, Bruton Smith (longtime founder and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns Bristol Motor Speedway), always willing to experiment in a bold way, chose to repave the track by creating progressive banking so that the one-groove race line could be expanded to allow for more side-by-side racing. However, fans, historically drawn to Bristol by its unique short-track tightness of the circuit and continuous contact between cars, stepped away in droves.

After a steady decline in fan turnout and a drop in ratings due to the lack of bumping and close-quarters racing, Smith polled the fans in 2012 on what changes should be made to the track. Fans spoke loud and clear with a demand to “give us the old Bristol back, please”, which led to a diamond regrinding of the track surface.

In the August 2015 night race, Bristol showcased a noticeably improved fan turnout and a nail-biting finish, with Joey Logano’s victory margin of .22 seconds barely holding up, as Kevin Harvick pursued Logano relentlessly over the final 30 laps.

Now on the upswing, the legendary Bristol Motor Speedway has pivoted its formula in order to restore tradition to a race that had lost its luster, by listening to the fans and taking action, exemplifying why Bruton Smith will be enshrined as a 2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee on January 22nd.

So heading into 2016, raise your glass and toast your most essential motorsports tradition, whether it is Monaco, Martinsville, or Indianapolis. And remember, tradition is like good health, never to be taken for granted, so get out there and catch a race in 2016.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

 

 

Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series West

Best Of 2015: K&N Pro Series West

Eggleston Wins Championship Battle; Rookie Talent Emerges

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Chris Eggleston emerged as the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion after battling for the top spot all season long.

The 26-year-old from Erie, Colorado, collected the trophy at Arizona’s Phoenix International Raceway, after a season-long battle in which he held the top spot in the series’ standings seven different times. Eggleston earned his first NASCAR championship trophy after recording two wins, nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in his first full season competing in the K&N Pro West.

But Eggleston wasn’t the only star to emerge this season.

Jefferson Pitts Racing teammates, Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz, burst into the series with strong rookie campaigns and that saw their first NASCAR victories. Ryan Partridge was also a force to be reckoned with earning his first K&N Pro West victory in his transition from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

Twenty different drivers earned a top-five finish and 15 of those finishes were produced by rookies.

Top Driver
Chris Eggleston: Eggleston had an impressive debut in 2014, winning his first NASCAR victory at his home track, Colorado National Speedway, which propelled him into a full-time ride with Bill McAnally Racing this season. Eggleston had a great start to his season with a fifth-place finish at the season opener at California’s Kern County Raceway Park. He kept his groove going and in just his second start of the season, at Irwindale Speedway, he earned his first victory of the season. In his first five starts of the season, Eggleston registered two wins, four top fives and five top 10s. By the time the season reach its halfway mark, Eggleston was in a back-and-forth battle for first place with Noah Gragson. For the season, Eggleston lead a total of 135 laps and was also the only driver in the series to complete all 1,902 laps. Eggleston plans to return to BMR in 2016 to defend his title.

WATCH: CHRIS EGGLESTON CHAMPION PROFILE | CHRIS EGGLESTON AWARDS SPEECH

Noah Gragson (Honorable Mention): The 17-year-old from Las Vegas, Nevada, led the 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle all season long and came up seven points shy of the championship title. Gragson had a fantastic series debut at Kern with a third place finish and two starts later, he earned his first NASCAR victory at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway after leading 23 laps. Gragson earned his second win of the year at Idaho’s Meridian Speedway were he lead 176 out of 208 laps. Between his two victories, he recorded four top-five finishes. Gragson finished the season with two victories, seven top fives and 11 top 10s as well as one 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light.

Top Team
Jefferson Pitts Racing: In their inaugural season, Jefferson Pitts Racing fielded three full-time cars that finished runner-up and fourth in the series standings and a fourth place finish in the final owner standings. The collected a total of four wins, 20 top fives and 31 top 10s in 13 starts. Their most impressive showing of the year was when Noah Gragson, Gracin Raz and Dustin Ash finished 1-2-3 at Tucson. The team formed last season, when veteran driver Greg Pursley retired. Jeff Jefferson and Jerry Pitts, two veteran crew chiefs in the K&N West, bought Pursley’s Gene Price Motorsports equipment to form their breakout team. The Jefferson Pitts Racing team will be back will return in 2016, with Gragson and Raz, piloting two of their cars to contend for the 2016 championship title.

Bill McAnally Racing (Honorable Mention): In their 25th season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Bill McAnally Racing had quite the run. BMR earned five victories 16 top fives and 23 top 10s and the most important win of all: the championship title. Chris Eggleston brought home the title and victories at Irwindale and California’s Shasta Speedway. While, Brandon McReynolds became the first driver to earn sweep and earn multiple wins at Iowa Speedway and Todd Gilliland became the youngest winner in series’ history with his victory at Phoenix. BMR recently announced Eggleston will return to defend his title in 2016, along with newcomers Gilliland and Riley Herbst.


Ryan Partridge collected his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory at Colorado National Speedway in August. Getty Images for NASCAR

Top Breakthrough Performance
Ryan Partridge:
The Rancho Cucamonga, California, native, started the season with a lackluster 17th place finish at Kern. The 27-year-old Partridge, however, bounced back and in the next nine races he earned his first NASCAR victory at Colorado National Speedway, six top-five and nine top-10 finishes. Partridge sat atop the standings for the first time after third race and led the standings again after the series’ trip to Colorado National Speedway. The Sunrise Ford Racing driver completed 1,899 laps of 1,902 and led a total of 321 laps, the series high. Partridge finished third in the final standings with one win, six top fives and 10 top 10s.

Gracin Raz (Honorable Mention): The 18-year-old from Lake Oswego, Oregon, finished fourth in the K&N West final standings. Raz had a breakout season, compiling one win, six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes. He won his first NASCAR victory at California’s All-American Speedway to clinch a contender spot headed into the finale at Phoenix. He started the season with a sixth place showing at Kern and recorded three top fives and four top 10s in the next four races. After finishing outside the top 10 at Sonoma, Raz put together and impressive closing run with his win, three top fives and six top 10s leading into Phoenix.

Top Races
Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by Axle Crutch, All American Speedway, Oct. 17:
Raz executed a last-lap pass to score his first career win. Raz started third on a green-white-checkered finish to pass Chris Eggleston on the first lap and Alex Schutte on the final laps as a late caution pushed the race to 152 laps. Raz entered the race 16 points behind teammate, Noah Gragson, but Gragson spun after contact with Eggleston while battling for the lead with Schutte late in the race to end up late. The turn of events cost Gragson the points lead, as Eggleston came home third to take over the top spot. His win also propelled Raz into championship contention to sit just nine points back from Eggleston headed into Phoenix. Raz also earned a page in the history books, becoming the third consecutive driver to score their first career win on the .333-mile oval.

King Taco Catering/NAPA Auto Parts 150, Irwindale Speedway, Apr. 11: In the second race of the season, Chris Eggleston took the lead from Ryan Partridge with six laps remaining en route to his second career NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory, his first of the 2015 season. His win gave BMR its 10th win among six drivers at the progressive-banked half-mile oval. A late-race caution set up Eggleston’s winning move on the Lap 144 restart. Sargeant followed Eggleston into second in a bid for his second straight series win but couldn’t close the ground. Sargeant lost the runner-up spot to Nicole Behar on the final lap, after a creative bump and pass move by Behar. Her runner-up finish set the mark to become the highest finishing female in series history.

Gracin Raz (27) nudged past Alex Schutte at the line to win his fist NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win at All American Speedway. Getty Images for NASCAR


2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West: Year In Photos

Best Of 2015: Whelen Modified Tour

Best Of 2015: Whelen Modified Tour

Third Title In Four Years For Coby In Another Tight Championship

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Doug Coby capped the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season with his third title in four years, and in the process became just the third driver to claim three or more titles in the 31-year history of the tour.

For the fourth consecutive season Coby and Ryan Preece finished 1-2 in the championship standings in what has become one of the premiere rivalries in all of NASCAR. In 2015 the duo combined to lead 62 percent of the laps contested and captured 11 of the 15 checkered flags.

Coby, who earned his first title in 2012 with Darling Racing, made the move to Mike Smeriglio III Racing for the 2014 campaign and has delivered the team its first two titles. After one win together last year, they rolled to seven in the title defense.

Despite the gaudy numbers, Coby needed to come from behind in the final stretch of the season to earn the title, and it was done in grand fashion as he became the first driver in tour history to win each of a season’s final three races.

The Milford, Connecticut, native Coby’s run at a third crown wasn’t the only story of 2015 though. The 15-race slate produced five different winners and for the eighth season in a row the championship wasn’t decided until the finale.

Top Driver
Doug Coby:
  Coby ended his third championship season the way he started it: in Victory Lane at Thompson Speedway Motorsport Park. In fact, he became just the third driver in tour history to sweep a season of events at the venerable Connecticut oval when he won all four there this year. But that was just one of his many historic accomplishments in 2015. Coby’s career-best seven wins were tied for the most in a single season since Mike Stefanik’s record 13 in 1998. Likewise, his single-season win percentage of 47 ranked second all-time to Stefanik’s 1998 59-percent mark. The champ also turned in career highs for poles (six), top fives (11) and laps led (830), and tied his career best with 12 top 10s.

WATCH: DOUG COBY CHAMPION PROFILE | DOUG COBY AWARDS SPEECH

Ryan Preece (Honorable Mention):  The flip side to Coby’s three titles in four years is that Preece has been the runner-up in each of those instances. Once again Preece turned in a magnificent season as he matched his career-high with four wins and set a new personal mark with 14 top 10s – three more than his previous best. Preece, who topped Coby for the 2013 championship, posted a pair of poles and led the points standings following nine events. Along the way he moved into the top 10 on the tour’s career laps led list and is now tied with Jimmy Spence for 15th on the all-time wins list.

Top Team
Mike Smeriglio III Racing: 
The No. 2 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair/HEX Performance team turned in a performance for the ages in 2015. For starters, seven wins in 15 events is nearly unheard-of with the depth of talent on the tour, but it wasn’t just checkered flags that the team hoarded. Coby piloted the No. 2 Chevrolet to six poles and led an astounding 36-percent (830 of 2,280) of the laps on the year.

TS Haulers Racing (Honorable Mention):  In any other season, their performance may have been enough for a title. The TS Haulers/East West Marine No. 6 team visited Victory Lane four times, tied for the tour lead with 14 top 10s and led 589 of 2,280 (26-percent) laps contested in 2015 with Preece behind the wheel, but they came up 11 points shy of the top spot. The four wins were tied for the most by a non-champ since 2005.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Woody Pitkat: 
The veteran returns to top this category for the second year in a row. In 2014, Pitkat established himself as a driver that can win races. This past season he became a championship contender. In four previous full campaigns, Pitkat’s best points finish was ninth on three occasions. In 2015 he was in the championship mix until the last race of the season and led the standings four different times across the 15-race schedule. In addition to wins in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 and the non-points All-Star Shootout, he tied for the tour lead in top fives (11) and top 10s (14), both totals double his previous career highs.

Patrick Emerling (Honorable Mention):  The 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year had just one top-10 points finish in his previous four seasons on the tour: 10th in 2014. Emerling cut that career best in half this season as he finished fifth on the strength of a career-high nine top-10 finishes. In back-to-back fashion, Emerling recorded the first two Coors Light Pole Awards of his career in the summer visits to Stafford and Thompson, and he finished top-five in both events at New Hampshire. The runner-up result at the “Magic Mile” in September is his best in 69 career starts.

Top Races
Andy Blacksmith 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, July 18:
  Todd Szegedy edged Donny Lia at the granite stripe in yet another textbook tour race at New Hampshire that featured the most lead changes and the closest finish of the 15 events on the schedule. Szegedy took the lead for the second and final time with 10 circuits to go – the 29th lead swap of the afternoon – and held off the field on a restart with four remaining for his first win in the Mystic Missile Racing No. 4. The charging Lia finished 0.041 seconds behind in second.

Budweiser King of Beers 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Aug. 12 (Honorable Mention):  In perhaps the greatest showing of determination by one driver this year, Coby furiously rallied from a late-race penalty to capture the Bud 150 win. Coby was black flagged while leading the race on Lap 93 and restarted 18th after his restart penalty was served. The seventh lead change of the event – a Thompson season high – saw Coby regain the top spot on Lap 142 after he deftly knifed through the field, and he held off Pitkat by 0.65 seconds for the win.

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Todd Szegedy (4) edged Donny Lia at the finish line at New Hampshire Motor Speedway by .041 seconds in July. NASCAR via Getty Images


2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour: Year In Photos

Best Of 2015: Whelen Southern Mod Tour

Best Of 2015: Whelen Southern Mod Tour

Seuss’ Second Consecutive Title; Gerstner, Measmer Break Out

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Andy Seuss made history in 2015.

The New Hampshire native became the third driver in the 11-year history of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour to win back-to-back championships.

Seuss, who joins Junior Miller (2005-06) and George Brunnhoelzl III (2011-13) as the only other drivers to repeat as champion, rebounded from a tough start to the season and won the closest battle for the championship in the history of the tour.

Seuss visited Victory Lane three times to join Brunnhoelzl as the only drivers to record multiple wins this season on the tour.

Series regulars Danny Bohn and Burt Myers both won for the second year in a row, with Eric Goodale and Ryan Preece came down from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to pick up wins at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina and Virginia’s South Boston Speedway, respectively.

Seuss finished the year with three wins, five top-fives and eight top-10 finishes.

Here’s a quick look at some other highlights from the 2015 season:

Top Driver
Andy Seuss:  The 28 year-old driver showed the resiliency that championship caliber drivers and teams often display on the way to scoring his second championship. After suffering crashes in two of the first three races of the season, the New England native who now calls North Carolina home, rebounded to finish with seven straight top-10 finishes to help him secure the title. 

WATCH: ANDY SEUSS CHAMPION PROFILE | ANDY SEUSS AWARDS SPEECH

George Brunnhoelzl III (Honorable Mention):  The four-time champion finished second to Seuss in the closest points battle in tour history and enjoyed another solid campaign driving for his family-owned team. Brunnhoelzl led more laps (623) than anyone else on the tour by an almost 3-to-1 margin and equaled Seuss’ mark of three wins. The West Babylon, New York, native also tallied six top-five and six top-10 finishes.

Comeback Driver of the Year
Andy Seuss: Seuss has been a fixture in the southern tour since 2008 so it’s not as if he just reappeared this season, but what he and his Ideal Racing team accomplished is worthy of mentioning in this category. After sitting in 11th in the point standings after the third race of the season, Seuss began his climb back into the championship hunt and was able to assume the top spot from Jason Myers after the fall race at South Boston and hold on to win the title.

George Brunnhoelzl III (Honorable Mention): Just like Seuss, Brunnhoelzl was down in the standings in early April after the South Boston race in 15th place after three consecutive finishes outside the top-10 to start the season. Brunnhoelzl went on to win three of the final seven races on the schedule and challenge Seuss with a strong run at a fifth championship. 

Top Team
Ideal Racing: The team led by veteran owner and crew chief Eddie Harvey displayed an ability to remain focused and get their equipment repaired and ready to contend for wins on a weekly basis. Harvey and the crew also were consistently among the top-three in pit stop performance during each race to give driver Andy Seuss an opportunity to remain up near the front of the pack throughout the second half of the season. 

Myers Brothers Racing (Honorable Mention): This team featured Jason Myers or his brother Burt in either first or second place throughout the first nine races of the season with Jason finishing third and Burt fourth, respectively, in the final standings. Jason also started the season with his first career Coors Light Pole Award in the season opener at Caraway, while Burt picked up a win at Virginia’s Langley Speedway for the second year in a row.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Bobby Measmer Jr.: Measmer Jr. has enjoyed success and has already gained recognition on the tour as a previous rookie of the year contender in 2014. This season he showed everyone he’s ready to challenge for wins. The Concord, North Carolina, driver enjoyed his most successful year to date finishing with his first career Coors Light Pole Award at South Boston in September. He also added a career-high three top-five and eight top-10 finishes highlighted by scoring his first career podium finish (third) at South Boston in the fall.

Jeremy Gerstner (Honorable Mention): After competing part-time last year, Gerstner decided to return to full-time action with a new team and it paid dividends for the Wesley Chapel, Florida, driver. Gerstner teamed up with veteran team Shady Grady Racing and scored his first career podium finish coming home third at the team’s home track of Bowman Gray Stadium in August. He enjoyed his best statistical season to date with two top-five and six top-10 finishes.

Top Races
South Boston Speedway, September 19: These two drivers have combined to win the last five tour championships and stand first and second in all-time tour wins, so it was no surprise Brunnhoelzl and Seuss were battling for the win in this action-packed race. Seuss started from the outside pole position and quickly took the lead on Lap 1 and remained out front until Brunnhoelzl would assume the top spot on Lap 68. The two would stage a challenge between one another for the remainder of the race highlighted when Seuss was able to make a pass on Lap 119 after a late restart and hold on for his third win of the season that put him into the points lead for the first time all year. 

Langley Speedway, September 5 (Honorable Mention): Knowing he needed a win to get back in to championship contention and also having some recent frustrating finishes at the track, Brunnhoelzl came to the Virginia track focused. He went on to win the Coors Light Pole and remained up front the entire race holding off Kyle Ebersole and Seuss in a green-white-checkered finish to pick up his second win of the season to that point and challenging for a series record fifth championship. 


Andy Seuss picked up three wins during the 2015 season to help him win his second championship and become the third driver in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour to win multiple titles. Grant Halverson/Getty Images


2015 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour: Year In Photos

Best Of 2015: Canadian Tire Series

Best Of 2015: Canadian Tire Series

Steckly Holds Off Hathaway, Lacroix And Klutt Break Out

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 proved for the third season in a row that it’s the leader of the pack when it comes to close championship competitions.

Following seasons in which the final margin was two (2013) and three (2014) points, the 2015 crown was decided by four as Scott Steckly just edged Jason Hathaway to extend his series record for titles to four.

It was another monumental year for Steckly, who moved up to a tie for second on the series’ all-time wins list with 19 as well as into a tie for the career poles lead at 17, and it was a sweep of poles and checkered flags in the annual Western Swing that propelled him into championship contention.

Steckly, who sat third in points after three races, led 450 of the 550 laps contested in the trip to Alberta’s Edmonton International Raceway and Saskatchewan’s Auto Clearing Motor Speedway and returned back to his Ontario home base with the championship lead he would not relinquish.

In the end Steckly held off a streaking Jason Hathaway for the title to become just the second active NASCAR regional touring series driver to achieve four championships and the 33rd in NASCAR history overall.  WATCH: SEASON IN REVIEW

Top Driver
Scott Steckly:
  The series champion recorded yet another remarkably consistent season at the head of the pack. He led the series in poles (four), top fives (seven) and laps led (1,089) wile tying for the top spot in wins (three) and top 10s (10). In addition to his Western Swing sweep, Steckly posted a third triumph at Riverside International Speedway and he led the championship standings the final six races of the season.  WATCH: SCOTT STECKLY CHAMPION PROFILE | SCOTT STECKLY AWARDS SPEECH

Jason Hathaway (Honorable Mention):  The points runner-up tied Steckly for the series lead with three wins, a career-best. Hathaway’s success started when he defended his 2014 victory at Autodrome Chaudiere, which moved him to the championship lead that he would maintain for three subsequent races. He later became just the second driver in series history to win the final two events on the schedule – Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Kawartha Speedway – but fell just short of what would have been his first title.  WATCH: JASON HATHAWAY DRIVER PROFILE

Top Team
22 Racing:
The series champs had speed each and every time out. With four poles and an additional pair of front row starts, Steckly’s No. 22 Canadian Tire Dodge was almost always in a position to contend from the drop of the green. He led laps in eight of the 11 events, including five instances of 100 or more circuits highlighted by a 300-lap wire-to-wire domination at Auto Clearing.

Ed Hakonson Racing (Honorable Mention): Like 22 Racing, Ed Hakonson Racing has been a mainstay since the series was launched in 2007, and has participated in all 109 events with Hathaway behind the wheel. Despite coming four points shy of the crown, it was still a banner year for EHR, whose previous best championship finish was third in 2013. The No. 3 Fast Eddie Racewear/Choko/HGC Chevrolet team also recorded it’s first-ever road course victory.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Kevin Lacroix:
  Although he only competed in half of the events, no one took the series by storm in 2015 more than true rookie Kevin Lacroix. Following a crash just four laps into the season opener, the road course expert led 28 of 30 laps en route to victory at Circuit ICAR in his second outing. In just the second race ever on an oval in his entire racing career, Lacroix had plenty of speed at Autodrome St-Eustache before a mechanical failure, then returned to Victory Lane for a second time in the prestigious Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres. Both victories proved to be monumental as he became the fastest driver to earn a win (second start) and the quickest to two victories (fourth start) in series history.

Gary Klutt (Honorable Mention):  Klutt’s season was defined as breakthrough from the very first event. In what was just his seventh career race, Klutt was the surprise pole winner for the opener at CTMP, then found himself in the right place at the right time on the final lap and wound up in Victory Lane. He added a second pole in the series’ inaugural event at Sunset Speedway and earned a fifth-place finish in the final standings to go along with Jostens Rookie of the Year honors.

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Scott Steckly (left) and Andrew Ranger got together in the final turn of the final lap at the season opener, and opened the door for Gary Klutt to steal the win. NASCAR

Top Races
Pinty’s presents the Clarington 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, May 17: 
A lot can happen in the 10th and final turn at CTMP, and that’s where the 2015 season-opener was decided. In an event that featured eight lead changes in 51 laps, Steckly and Andrew Ranger proved to be the class of the field. Steckly was poised to capture what would have been a long-awaited first career road course victory, but was engaged by Ranger in heavy contact through Turn 9 and the two cleaned each other out at the exit of Turn 10. Klutt, running third at the time, deftly slipped through the entanglement and on to the checkered flag.  WATCH: RACE REVIEW

JuliaWine.com Le 50 Tours at Circuit de Trois-Rivieres, Aug. 2 (Honorable Mention):  In a fierce battle between champion and challenger, it was the challenger that came out on top in a thrilling conclusion to the Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres. Ranger, who had either won (four times) or finished second (four times) in each of the previous eight runnings of the event, started on the pole with Lacroix right beside in the front row. The rookie Lacroix took the lead for the first time on Lap 6, but Ranger moved back to the front on Lap 43 and looked poised to add to his legacy. On the final circuit the two made contact and drag raced to the finish line where it was Lacroix who barely nipped Ranger for the checkered flag.  WATCH: RACE REVIEW


2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series: Year In Photos

Best Of 2015: Whelen Euro Series

Best Of 2015: Whelen Euro Series

Vilarino Takes Title Back, Wave Of New Talents Emerges

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In its fourth season under the NASCAR banner – the first with a calendar completely made of NASCAR-centered events – the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series confirmed itself as one of the best championships in Europe by delivering a unique mix of close racing and american-themed entertainment to an ever-growing fan base.

Ander Vilarino (#2 TFT-Banco Santander Chevrolet SS) won his third title in four years with the largest gap of his record-setting career, but it was all but easy for the Spaniard, as he had to face a stronger-than-ever opposition in what he defined a “battle of generations”. 

In both the NWES Division six different drivers won at least one race with Vilarino, Alon Day and Nicolò Rocca taking three in ELITE 1, while in ELITE 2 Division Champion Gianmarco Ercoli (#9 Double-T by MRT Nocentini Chevrolet SS) won four times – two of which in the Zolder Finals – against three for Thomas Ferrando (#37 Knauf Racing Team Ford Mustang) and two for Philipp Lietz (#67 GDL Racing Ford Mustang), who drove the #67 GDL Racing Ford Mustang to the win in the Teams Championship.

Top Driver

Ander Vilarino – the Spaniard took to his crown back at the end of a hard-fought season and a “battle of generations” that lasted until the penultimate race of the season. Three wins, 10 top-5s and 12 top-10s was Ander Vilarino’s (#2 TFT-Banco Santander Chevrolet SS) impressive score in a year that brought the NWES winningest driver’s total up to 20 career wins in 48 races. Despite the widest margin in his three title seasons, Vilarino had to give his best to return to the top of the standings and savor the sweetests of his many successes. His speed on track once again went hand-in-hand with his greatness as an ambassador for NASCAR in Europe. Chapeau, Champ!

WATCH:

ANDER VILARINO 2015 NWES CHAMPION VIDEO 

ANDER VILARINO 2015 NASCAR NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS SPEECH

Gianmarco Ercoli (Special Performance) – What a clutch performance by the Italian! In the close battle for the ELITE 2 Division title, all the contenders hit some troubles during the season and after leading the standings early, Gianmarco Ercoli entered the Zolder Finals fourth in points, 18 lengths behind Philipp Lietz. Ercoli took faith in his own hands in Belgium, delivering a perfect weekend – pole position, two wins and two fastest laps – when he needed it most and won the title by 20 points. The 20-year-old Rome-native is ready to take on the big boys in the ELITE 1 Division.

Top Team

CAAL Racing – In its second second complete season in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, the Italian team won 7 races out of 12 and took the pole position in all six events in the ELITE 1 Division with its trio of aces – Eddie Cheever III (#51 CAAL Racing Chevrolet SS), Alon Day (#54 CAAL Racing Chevrolet SS) and Nicolò Rocca (#56 CAAL Racing Chevrolet SS) – monopolizing the Junior “Jerome Sarran” Trophy, which ended up in the Israeli’s hands. CAAL Racing completed its excellent season with one win and the fifth place in the ELITE 2 standings with Spanish rookie Salvador Tineo Arroyo, plus the second place in the Lady Cup with Carole Perrin.

TFT (Special Performance) – The team led by Tony Pereira added French veteran Romain Iannetta to its roster and completed another extraordinary season at the highest level of NASCAR in Europe, with both its cars finishing all the races. The French squad brought Vilarino to the third title in four years, while Iannetta finished third in the championship standings – the best result in his career – and returned to Victory Lane after a three-year absence. 4 wins, 18 top-5s and 22 top-10s is TFT’s final score in the ELITE 1 Division, while Leonard Vernet finished third in the Legend Trophy in the ELITE 2 Division. 

Top Comeback Driver Of The Year

Romain Iannetta – After posting just one top-10 in 2014 and moving to TFT for 2015, the French veteran put up a strong season at the wheel of the #7 Chevrolet SS, collecting one win, eight top-5s and 10 top-10s en route to the third place in the championship. No doubt about the highlight of Iannetta’s season: his fantastic win – the first since 2012 and the second in his career – in the ELITE 1 Saturday race at Brands Hatch, UK ranks among the best races ever in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series history.

Top Breakthrough Performances 

Alon Day & Nicolò Rocca – Despite two different backgrounds, Day and Rocca were the biggest revelations of the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season. The two young CAAL Racing drivers, together with their teammate Eddie Cheever III, proved to be Vilarino’s strongest opponents by winning three races each. Rocca scored four poles and won three races in the first four events – thus winning the Race And Win Pole Award – while Day strongly emerged in the playoffs, posting two poles and three wins in four races and literally dominating the Zolder Finals to end up second in points and first in the Junior “Jerome Sarran Trophy”.   

Florian Renauer & Stienes Longin (Special Performances) – Respectively 22 and 24 years old, Florian Renauer (#5 Dexwet Renauer Team Ford Mustang) and Stienes Longin (#11 PK Carsport Chevrolet SS) both found their way to Victory Lane in their first full-time NASCAR Whelen Euro Series season, showing great potential and a strong personality that will surely grant them a bright future in NWES. Renauer also won the ELITE 2 Race and Win Pole Award and finished second with his #5 Dexwet Renauer Team Ford Mustang in the Teams Championship, while Longin won the Rookie Cup. 

Nexteer Road To Daytona Performance Of The Year

Anthony Kumpen – The 2014 NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Champion made his K&N Pro Series debut in February at the New Smyrna Speedway in the context of the Nexteer Road To Daytona Program – the path designed by NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and Nexteer to provide European drivers with the best chances to compete at NASCAR’s highest levels in the US –  smoothly moving to bigger tracks during the season to become the first NWES driver to race on an oval in NASCAR XFINITY Series. In three NXS appearances, the Belgian gained valuable experience, completed faultless races and earned the chance to enter the 2016 XFINITY Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Best Races

Brands Hatch ELITE 1 Round 5 – The Brands Hatch American Speedfest is universally regarded as one of the crown jewels of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series calendar and the British short track never disappoints its fans. The ELITE 1 Round 5 had everything one could desire: Rocca took the lead from the pole and looked dominant, but went wide and had to furiously charge back. Romain Iannetta climbed from the eighth on the grid to fourth in one lap, then swiftly dispatched all the opponents to take the lead in front of a tight group and defend it in a late restart from the assaults of Gabillon, Vilarino and Cheever. Definitely one for the ages!  

Tours Speedway ELITE 2 Round 8 (Special Performance) – The last ELITE 2 race of the Tours Speedway weekend saw a spectacular and fair three-way battle for the lead between Gianmarco Ercoli, Thomas Ferrando and Ulysse Delsaux. Ercoli led from flag to flag, but had to defend his position in a total of five restarts – one of which was a Green-White Checkered finish – and the three drivers spent most of the race inches from each other on the French short track. The Italian never lost his nerves, won the duel against Ferrando to score his second race of the season, while Delsaux had the better hand for second place and his first career podium finish. There’s a long and intense rivalry waiting for rising stars Ercoli and Ferrando and 2015 was just the first exciting round.

 

Best of 2015: Whelen All-American Series

Best of 2015: Whelen All-American Series

Pulliam’s Drive Produces Yet Another Historic Season

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With the championship on the line, Lee Pulliam kicked it into overdrive.

The Semora, North Carolina, closed the 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points season with 16 wins and 23 top fives in his final 23 races. His historic second-half run earned the 27-year-old his third national championship and further cemented his place in history as one of NASCAR’s best short track races.

“We ran everywhere we could possibly run,” said Pulliam. “We ran at places we’d never been, and won at places I had never won. It’s really neat to see all the hard work pay off. It was definitely the hardest one we’ve ever won.”

Pulliam ran 51 races at seven different tracks – winning at six of them – in four different states over a nine-month period. Now a resident of Alton, Virginia, he finished with 29 wins, 46 top fives and 48 top 10s. His single-season win total is ninth all-time and marked the fourth year he’s won more than 20 races in a season.

While Pulliam was a familiar face atop the podium, he had a whole new set of challengers for his title.

Thomas Tillison Jr. took advantage of Flint Creek Speedway in Oklahoma joining the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and ran there and his home track of Salinas Highbanks Speedway to lead the national standings during the summer before settling for second. Ontario’s Taylor Holdaway and New York’s Jimmy Zacharias also put together their first top-five seasons and chased Pulliam into the final months.

Top Drivers

Lee Pulliam: While Pulliam’s excellence grabbed all the headlines, it’s nothing new. Over the last five seasons, he has won 120 races in 210 starts. He finished second (2014) and third (2011) in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship points in the years he didn’t take home the ultimate prize. On a track level, Pulliam kicked off the season by having a section of the grandstand at Virgina’s South Boston Speedway named after him and then went on to claim his fourth Late Model Stock Car championship in the last five years at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia. He also won the prestigious Hampton Heat at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, for the first time. It all added up to his fourth consecutive Old Dominion State championship.

WATCH: LEE PULLIAM’S CHAMPIONSHIP VIDEO

Thomas Tillison Jr. (Honorable Mention): The 41-year-old dirt driver from Wellston, Oklahoma, piled up the honors. In addition to winning the track title at Salinas Highbanks, he compiled 15 wins, 25 top fives and 25 tops 10s in 29 starts en route to the Oklahoma championship. As a first-year NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I license holder, Tillison also earned the national Rookie of the Year presented by Jostens. He briefly led the national championship points and wound up as the highest finishing dirt racer since Brian Harris finished second in 2008.

WATCH: THOMAS TILLISON JR’S RUNNER-UP VIDEO

Top Breakthrough Performances

Taylor Holdaway: Holdaway’s season was marked by bad breaks, followed by good fortune. First, Barrie Speedway in Ontario closed, opening the door for nearby Sunset Speedway to become a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track. Then the 24 year-old Orillia, Ontario, native opened the season with a fuel issue in his asphalt Late Model that caused him to drop out of the track’s first feature and miss starting the second. He rebounded to roll off 21 straight top five finishes – including 12 wins – to win his first track title at Sunset and captured the Ontario championship. He become the top finishing Canadian driver in the history of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.

WATCH: TAYLOR HOLDAWAY’S THIRD-PLACE VIDEO

Cayden Lapcevich (Honorable Mention):  The son of veteran Canadian driver Jeff Lapcevich, the 15-year-old Cayden made his mark in 2015. In addition to making his debut in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1, Lapcevich won four times in the Super Stock Division at Sunset and finished 12th in the Division II national standings. The 15-year-old won the second annual UNOH Youth Achievement Award, given to the top driver in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series between the ages of 14-17.

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Cayden Lapcevich (right) talks with his father Jeff at Sunset Speedway in Ontario. Courtesy Sunset Speedway

WATCH: NASCAR WHELEN ALL-AMERICAN SERIES AWARDS SPEECHES BY LEE PULLIAM | THOMAS TILLISON JR. | TAYLOR HOLDAWAY

Other Notable Achievements

• Jimmy Zacharias of Candor, New York, rolled his asphalt Modified to 15 wins, 27 top fives and 28 top 10s in 30 races running primarily at New York’s Chemung Speedrome and Holland Motorsports Complex. He won the Modified title at Chemung for the fifth time in the last year years, and was also the New York champion. Zacharias also made a handful of late season starts at Connecticut’s New London-Waterford Speedbowl in an attempt to make up the final few points on Holdaway, but fell just six points shy of the final podium spot.

Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., the 2010 national champion, missed out on the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national podium this year, but continued to add to his resume. Rocco won his fifth SK Modified championship at Connecticut’s Waterford Speedbowl for his 11th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track title between Waterford, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park since 2007. Rocco finished in the top five in the national standings for the ninth straight year. He also won a record eighth state title.

Jacob Goede, of Carver, Minnesota, was also a new face in the national championship race. Goede successfully defended his state championship as he drove to 10 wins and 22 top 10s in 23 starts at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway. He also won his second straight track championship and finished sixth in the final national standings.

Kres Van Dyke of Pounding Mill, Virginia, raced nearly as many tracks as Pulliam and won nearly as many times. Van Dyke collected 19 victories – second most in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series behind Pulliam – in 47 races at Kingsport Speedway in Tennessee, Lonesome Pine and Motor Mile in Virginia, Anderson Speedway and Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina, and Caraway in Sophia, North Carolina.

Four More National Champions
• NASCAR recognized champions from each of its divisions of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. In addition to Pulliam, Kyle Purvis (Div. II), Patrick Thomas (Div. III), Grant Brown (Div. IV) and Jack Kirby (Div. V) were honored as NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champions.

Purvis won the Division II title by just two points – one position on the track. Racing in the Modified division at Ohio’s Columbus Motor Speedway, Thomas won five times in 19 starts to edge Rocky Warner of Utica-Rome Speedway in New York.

Thomas won twice on the final night of racing at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway to jump seven positions. He  wound up with 11 wins and 14 top fives in 15 races to give the track its first NASCAR national champion.

Brown, a third-generation driver from Prior Lake, Minnesota, became the youngest national champion in the history of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. The 15-year-old won the Pepsi Powerstock division with six wins and 15 top fives in 18 races.

In his first full season of racing, Kirby won the national title for Division V with seven wins and 17 top fives in 19 starts racing in the pure stock division at Salinas High Banks and Flint Creek. The 44 year-old driver finished fourth at Salina and 13th at Flint Creek, but his combined success was enough to easily outdistance the field.

Notable Among State And Province Champions

While 17 drivers were first-time champs, nine drivers were repeat titlists, including six drivers who have won three or more titles.

Erica Thiering won five times in 12 events at Edmonton International Raceway for the seventh track title and seventh Alberta crown, including five in a row; Paul Banghart won his first state championship racing at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway; Bruce Yackey won four races between Colorado National Raceway and I-22 Speedway for his sixth state title and ninth Colorado National crown since 1996; Scott Gafforini had five wins to capture a record sixth title at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and his fourth Nevada championship; Jason Myers won seven times to edge Bowman Gray Stadium champion Tim Brown by one point for the North Carolina title; Craig von Dohren rolled to five wins and 20 top 10s in 23 races for his fifth Grandview Speedway championship and second Pennsylvania crown.

Notable Among Track Champions

Of the 57 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks in 2015, there were 14 repeat champions from 2014, 30 first-time NASCAR champions and 16 drivers have now won three or more titles at their home track.

Paul Glendenning won second NASCAR championship at Adams County Speedway in Iowa. The first came in 2011; Nick Heywood, last year’s Josten’s national rookie of the year, won his second straight title at Airborne Park Speedway in Vermont; Trey Gibson, an alum of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity initiative, won his first track championship at Anderson; Reid Lanpher won four times at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine to win his first championship; Kyle Jones rolled to eight wins in nine features to take the Columbus crown; Vince Quinville won his first NASCAR track title thanks to five wins at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont.

Jeff Shifflett has won back-to-back track titles at North Carolina’s East Carolina Motor Speedway; Mike Holden claimed his second straight track title at Evergreen Speedway and second Washington title; Steve Holzkamper won his first NASCAR title at Flint Creek Speedway in the track’s first year sanctioned by NASCAR; David Roberts collected four wins to take his second Greenville Pickens title (his first was in 2007); A mechanical engineer at UNC Charlotte, Matt Piercy took home his first crown at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina; Tommy Catalano became the fourth different member of his family to earn a NASCAR championship with his title at New York’s Holland Motorsports Complex; Dan Alamaa won five times and became the first NASCAR titlists at I-25 as the speedway joined the Whelen All-American Series this year ; Matt Buller took home the championship hardware at I-80 Speedway in Nebraska for the first time; Trevor Huddleston recorded five wins and top-five finishes in 16 of 19 starts to take home the title at California’s Irwindale Speedway.

Andrew Kosiski, a third-generation racer who is the son of 1986 NASCAR national champion Joe Kosiski, won the track title at Junction Motor Speedway in Nebraska; Mike “Bubba” Brooks won his second Kalamazoo Speedway championship in the final race of the season; Ronnie McCarty tamed the “Concrete  Jungle” with five wins to secure his first NASCAR title at Kingsport; Scott Skufca became the first driver to win back-to-back NASCAR championships at Lake County Speedway in Ohio; Greg Edwards won seven times to secure his fifth title at Langley and second in a row; JC Newell became the third different champion at Missouri’s Lebanon I-44 Speedway in its three years with NASCAR; Thomas Tomberello Jr. took home top honors for the third time in the last four years at New Hampshire’s Lee USA Speedway; Jeff Koslakiewicz won his first track championship at Limaland Speedway in Ohio; Wayne Hale captured his first NASCAR track championship with a strong season at Lonesome Pine.

In its first year as a NASCAR-sanctioned track, Wisconsin’s Madison International Speedway crowned Zach Riddle as its champion; Jerry McKean drove to his first championship at Magic Valley Speedway in Twin Falls, Idaho; Bill Kimball Jr. had five wins to claim the title at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, New Hampshire, for the second time in three years; Gary Wiltrout piled up 10 wins at Motordrome Speedway outside of Pittsburgh for his third NASCAR title; Sam Yarbrough racked up 13 checkered flags to roll to his fourth championship – and third in a row – at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina; A year after winning Florida’s Jostens Rookie of the Year, Anthony Sergi earned his first track championship at New Smyrna;

Jacob Gille became the sixth different champion in the last six years at Rockford Speedway in Illinois; Matt Bowling captured his second championship at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway on the strength of five wins; Jon Findley took home his first NASCAR championship at Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina; Mike Leaty earned back-to-back titles at Spencer Speedway in 2006 and 2007, and returned to championship form this year at the New York track; Rowan Pennink won six time en route to his first NASCAR championship at Stafford; And Woody Pitkat added the track title at Thompson to his 2006 crown.

COMPLETE LIST: TRACK CHAMPIONS | STATE CHAMPIONS

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The 2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champions were among those honored at the annual year-end awards in Charlotte, North Carolina, in December. NASCAR via Getty Images


2015 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series: Year In Photos

NASCAR: Kyle Larson Looks to 2016 Breakout Year

2015 wasn't the year Larson had hoped for, but 2016 is right around the corner.

2015 wasn’t the year Larson had hoped for, but 2016 is right around the corner.

Celebrated as the 2014 NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year and poster child for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Kyle Larson was expected to be the sports next protégé, with many expecting him to capture his first NASCAR Cup win during his 2015 sophomore season.

So lofty were the 2015 expectations for Larson as driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS that Felix Sabates, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR), “guaranteed” that both of his team’s two drivers would make the Chase in 2015.

“I’ve never guaranteed anybody anything in all the years I’ve been in racing, but I guarantee both of these guys will be in the Chase,” Sabates declared.

Well, only one driver did, and so the hammer fell at the #42 team with a crew chief change, as Chris Heroy departed CGR for a crew chief job at Richard Petty Motorsports with the newly reconstituted #9 Ford ride with driver Brian Scott.

Instead, the crew chief gambit of musical chairs during the NASCAR off season continued with Chad Johnston, formerly Tony Stewart’s crew chief, being named as the new CGR crew chief for Larson and the #42 Target team.

Felix Sabates, a long time fixture on the NASCAR scene, has high hopes for Larson.

Felix Sabates, a long time fixture on the NASCAR scene, has high hopes for Larson.

The tale of the tape was evident in comparing Larson on-track performance between 2014 and 2015:

  • In 2014, Larson had eight top 5’s and seventeen top 10’s, displaying remarkable prowess and improvement over the season
  • In 2015, Larson was a picture of inconsistency with only two top 5’s and ten top 10’s. Moreover, what really stands out in 2015 is the differential between qualifying (a season average starting position of 13th), compared to a disappointing average finish of 19th. No doubt that the Target Ganassi Racing team failed to improve the car during the course of the race
  • More revealing, for the 35 races that Larson competed in during 2015, he finished shabbier on 23 of those tracks as compared to 2014. That is a stunner, given that Larson was returning to these tracks for a second or third time after his rookie year

Reflects Larson, “As much as I’m going to miss (Heroy), I support it. You have to make some kind of change, I guess, if you haven’t won…I think a change has to come.”

Whether owing to not keeping up with the track or executing poorly on pit stops, the crew chief ends up being held accountable for such weak results. And a well-known sponsor like Target is looking for a sizeable marketing payoff on their partnership with Larson, in which they often double down sponsorship on combo weekends when Larson races in both the XFINITY Series and Cup events.

Larson is undoubtedly an exceptional talent, and Johnston is eager to get to work with him and build a foundation of success. Often, Larson seems to be the initial driver to hit upon the high line and showcase the fastest way around the track during race weekend. However, running nearest to the wall is also the easiest way to put the car into the fence on one’s own. As head coach, ideally Johnston can find the right balance by ensuring that Larson takes care of his equipment over the course of the race and not make novice slipups that seemed more evident during 2015.

Nonetheless, the NASCAR Cup Series is a highly pressurized environment where crew chiefs must cope with the persistent mindset of “What have you done for me lately?

For 2016, it’s the right time for Larson to deliver on the grand expectations of both fans and his sponsors. Larson already has three career wins in the XFINITY Series. During the last laps of the 2015 Homestead-Miami Sprint Cup finale, Larson was in contention for the win until a late race caution relegated him to a 5th place finish. For 2016, snatching his first Sprint Cup victory would be an enormous confidence shot in the arm for both Larson and Johnston.

By Ron Bottano. Let’s connect on Twitter @rbottano

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