K&N Pro West News & Notes: Kern

K&N Pro West News & Notes: Kern

Gilliland, Eggleston Title Battle Down to the Checkered Flag

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West concludes its 2017 season, and the battle for the championship, with the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150 presented by NAPA Auto Parts on Saturday, November 4, at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

Defending champion Todd Gilliland and his Bill McAnally Racing teammate Chris Eggleston have accounted for wins in 10 of the 13 races to date this season, with Gilliland holding an 11-point lead over Eggleston heading into the final race of the year. Gilliland can win his second consecutive championship by finishing seventh or better at Kern, regardless of where Eggleston finishes.

CLINCH SCENARIOS

Eggleston, the 2015 K&N Pro Series West champion, has four wins this season and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all 13 races to date. Gilliland, meanwhile, has six wins and has finished on the podium an impressive 10 times this year.

RACE CENTRAL LIVE: ENTRY LIST & EVENT SCHEDULE

FAST FACTS:

The Race: The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150 presented by NAPA Auto Parts will be the final race of the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season.

The Procedure: The starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 cars will secure starting positions based on the group qualifying process. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (75 miles) with a five-minute break occurring at or near the conclusion of lap 75.

 The Track: Kern County Raceway Park sits on 120 acres and opened on May 18, 2013 with a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event. It’s a half-mile oval with progressive banking of 12 to 14 degrees in turns and eight degrees on the front and backstretches. The facility also hosts a dirt track and a Moto-X layout.

Race Winners: There have been four different winners in the six previous K&N Pro Series West races at Kern. Todd Gilliland and Greg Pursley are the only repeat winners at the track, with Pursley having won the first two races held there and Gilliland having won the two most recent events at the track, including one earlier this season.

Track Records: There have been four different pole winners in the five previous races at Kern, with Greg Pursley winning two of them. Pursley holds the track qualifying record of 100.514 mph, set in the inaugural event in 2013. In March, Gilliland set the 150-lap race record of 66.905 mph (1 hour, 9 minutes, 57 seconds).

WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME CHAMPIONSHIP 150 NOTES: 

Two Times: Kern is the only track the K&N Pro Series West visits twice this season on different dates. Todd Gilliland won from the pole at the track in March, while his closest championship pursuer, Chris Eggleston, finished fourth after starting on the outside of the front row.

Their Bill McAnally Racing teammate Derek Kraus, who currently leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, finished second at Kern in March for his best career finish. A mark he equaled on two other occasions this summer (Washington’s Spokane County Raceway and Colorado National Speedway).

The only other track to host the series twice this season was California’s Irwindale Event Center, which ran Twin 100s in March.

Strong Finish: No driver enters the season finale with more momentum than Michael Self.

Self, of Park City, Utah, has won each of the last two events on the schedule. He won the NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208 for his first series win since 2013, following that effort with a dominating win from the pole in the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at California’s All American Speedway.

After missing the season opener, Self has vaulted himself into the top five in the overall standings with his recent performances. Along with his two victories, he has six top fives and has finished in the top 10 in all 12 of his starts this season.

Eastern Invaders: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East drivers Ronnie Bassett Jr. and Dillon Bassett are both entered in the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150.

Ronnie Bassett finished third in the K&N Pro Series East standings, with one win, eight top fives and 11 top 10s in 14 races. Statistically, it was the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, driver’s best season in the series. He has one career K&N Pro Series West start, finishing 10th at Arizona’s Phoenix International Raceway in 2015.

Dillon Bassett finished eighth in the final K&N Pro Series East standings for his first series career points finish inside the top 10. He posted two top fives and seven top 10s in 14 races.

Standings Battle: The battle for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship isn’t the only one taking place in the standings at Kern.

The third- through fifth-place drivers are separated by only four points, with Derek Kraus (486), Will Rodgers (484) and Self (482) all within sight of finishing in third. 

Kraus has a six-point lead over Rodgers in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings as both rookies try to finish 2017 with their first career K&N Pro Series West victory.

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Launches Unprecedented Drivers Recruitment Program

NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Launches Unprecedented Drivers Recruitment Program

Free Tests And Financial Support Available For New Drivers To Join The 2018 Season

With 28 cars and over 60 top level drivers to represent 21 different countries, racing on some of the best European tracks, the official European NASCAR Series is already one of the most successful touring car championships in motorsports, but is far from having reached its maximum potential.

To further build on the series popularity among fans and competitors and strong of its unparalleled mix of on-track action, international exposure and affordable costs, NWES is launching for 2018 a sequence of innovations and initiatives, starting with an unprecedented Drivers Recruitment Program aimed at offering racers from all over the world the best opportunity to race NASCAR in Europe.

With its 400 HP thunderous V8, absolutely no electronic aids and a driving experience that fascinated some of the brightest stars in motorsports from NWES events to the Race Of Champions, the Euro NASCAR car has quickly become an ultimate challenge and a must drive for any kind of driver coming from diverse disciplines and chasing different goals: competing in one of the best series in Europe, building themselves a professional career in the USA or simply enjoying the unfiltered Pure Racing experience of driving a NWES car in spectacular American-themed events in front of thousands of fans.

The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and its partners will offer to selected prospects an invitation to participate in a free test during one of the recruitment test days that will be held in Europe between November and March. Following these tests, the best drivers will receive special help on the budget to support their 2018 season in NWES.

The Program is open to every kind of driver:

– Top drivers ambitioning to make history and enter the NASCAR Hall Of Fame

– Young talents willing to build themselves a NASCAR career

– Female drivers eager to battle for the title and the Lady Cup

– Drivers wanting to compete at high level and have great fun at affordable cost

– Special development program for Karting drivers without car-racing experience 

Drivers from all over the world and with any sorts of experience can apply by sending their racing resume to info@euronascar.com.

The first two recruitment test sessions will take place at the NWES Test Track in Fontenay Le Comte, France and at the Autodromo di Franciacorta, located near Milan in Italy, with the following schedule:

– November 29-30 – Fontenay Le Comte, France

– December 4-5 – Autodromo Franciacorta, Italy

More dates and countries will be announced in the upcoming weeks.


Credits: NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard

NWES Drivers Recruitment Program

How The West Will Be Won

How The West Will Be Won

K&N West Crown Up For Grabs Between BMR Teammates At Kern

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They started the season 1-2, and twelve races later, nothing much has changed.

Saturday, Todd Gilliland and Chris Eggleston will settle it.

The 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season will conclude this weekend with a champion being crowned at California’s Kern County Raceway Park with reigning series champion Gilliland and Eggleston, the 2015 champion, the two drivers be battling for the title.

But that’s nothing new to the Bill McAnally Racing teammates. They’ve been neck-and-neck all season long.

The two drivers have combined to win 10 of the 13 races this season and have rarely finished far from each other when the checkered flag flies. Gilliland only has one finish outside the top 10 (12th at Washington’s Evergreen Speedway) and Eggleston’s worst finish this season is 10th, coming at California’s Sonoma Raceway earlier this summer.

While team owner Bill McAnally has earned a few championships in his time as an owner in the K&N Pro Series West, he said the credit this season goes to the men behind the wheel.

“It goes to our drivers first and foremost,” McAnally said. “They’ve been smart behind the wheel. We can do whatever we want at the shop, but coming to the race track, they can do something like not have enough patience or try too hard too early and give it away. So it’s about the drivers, but it’s also about the people. Everybody involved this year at BMR really cares. They’re putting the effort and rising to the occasion.”

Gilliland might be 17-yeard-old, but the NASCAR Next driver knows all about rising to the occasion. The Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, native has amassed six wins (and led 935 laps), 10 top fives and 12 top 10s this season in his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. And the defending champion is confident heading to a track he calls his favorite on the schedule.

“I feel pretty good,” Gilliland said. “It’s going to be a big race for us. After our last test out here, I think we’re going to be ready for it. We just have to keep at it. We’ve had really fast cars at Kern. I think we’ve won the last two races there. People are going to be watching us, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Gilliland leads Eggleston by 11 points (567-556) and can clinch the title by finishing seventh or better at Kern.

Eggleston, albeit the underdog, is maintaning an upbeat mindset heading into Bakersfield. The Erie, Colorado, native and driver of the No. 99 NAPA Filters Toyota has four wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s this season to go along with over 500 laps led.

“We feel pretty good,” Eggleston said. “The last couple races at Kern we took a different car, and this go around we’re taking a new car that we just built. It’s got two races on it, basically. It ran it Iowa Speedway and Evergreen. At Iowa, we had our best finish ever there of third. And then went to Evergreen and pretty much dominated that race and led every lap.”

“So I feel fairly optimistic. It’s a new car, it’s a good car, and it should be pretty solid. We’re just going to do everything we can to try and control what we can control. Try to lead the most laps, win the race and whatever happens with Todd happens. Whether it’s misfortune or not, we’ll let everything play out the way it should and do everything we can.”

Anything can, and will happen with everything on the line. Gilliland knows that better than anybody, as he saw his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title slip from his grasp and into the hands of champion Harrison Burton when he hit the wall due to a flat right front tire in the season finale at Dover International Speedway. He went into that race with an eight-point cushion in the standings, but left without the title.

Having been through that heartbreak, Gilliland said it changes the way he’ll approach this weekend at Kern to a certain extent. All while knowing that circumstances beyond his control can take him out.

“It’s really hard to control mechanical problems,” Gilliland said. “We saw that with Kyle Larson (being eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs due to a blown engine), and it’s hard to be mad about that. He had such a great season. But that stuff is just almost impossible to control. I think our cars are prepared to the best of our abilities and that’s what’s important. We’re putting our best foot forward.”

For a team owner to know that his team will be bringing home a championship is a bit of a relief. But with the title on the line and both drivers willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top, a plethora of nerves come along with it.

“I’ve never been in this kind of situation before, where we’ve got two of our drivers in contention,” McAnally said. “One of them is going to win the championship. It’s just how the cards fall and how things go. We found out with Harrison Burton there at Dover that things can turn around really quick.”

“We went in there with an eight-point lead hoping for the best, not that we were counting our chickens before they hatched, but we definitelly had the upper hand there with the points lead. And things turned around really quick. So we’re not taking anything for granted.”

As for team orders? There will be none of that.

“There’s no team orders,” McAnally said. “I just don’t want to hurt ourselves and that’s what I’ll tell them. We don’t want to create problems amongst ourselves. They’ll race each other hard, and they’ll race each other clean.”

Eggleston doesn’t expect the hard racing that the teammates have been exhibiting all season long to change just due of the significance of the race.

“It’s been pretty brutal, crazy, side-by-side leaning on each other,” said Eggleston. “I feel like he moves me more than I return the favor, but I wouldn’t expect anything different. The only difference is with the amount of points we’re both up on third place, we can’t finish any worse than second in the championship standings. So more or less, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Gilliland didn’t shy away from the notion of the two possibly beating and banging their way down to the wire for the championship, like they have so often this season, and recalled a moment when their racing got a little too heated.

“Everyone has seen us race each other, and we’re racing super hard for these wins,” Gilliland said of racing his teammate. “The only time Bill talked to us was last year after Douglas County. I ran into Chris at Stateline and he ran into me at Douglas and we both spun out. Bill gives us really fast race cars, and I think that’s being proved right now with Bill McAnally Racing 1-2-3 in the championship standings.”

“But we’re racing for these wins and we’re racing for a championship, so it’s hard to take it easy on each other. If we let each other win, who knows what the points would be like right now.”

The season finale, the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150 presented by NAPA Auto Parts is scheduled to go green around 8 p.m. PT on Saturday, Nov. 4 from Kern.

Carroll Caps Season With Sunoco Rookie Title

Carroll Caps Season With Sunoco Rookie Title

New Jersey Driver Earns Whelen Modified Tour Honor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Calvin Carroll clinched his first NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in 2017.

Driving a full-time schedule on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Carroll defeated Walter Sutcliffe Jr. and Ronnie Williams in the standings en route to the crown. He won the title by 34 points and was the top rookie contender in five races. 

“This was our goal from the beginning of the year, this is what we set out to do,” the Andover, New Jersey native said of winning the crown. “We were able to accomplish it and we are very proud of ourselves for doing it. I think we will set a higher goal now for next year and try to accomplish that.”

Carroll started all 16 events on the unified series schedule and came home with a best finish of 13th. In just his first full-time season, Carroll got off to a rough start by not finishing two of the first three races. However, a strong summer stretch helped him to pull away in the Rookie of the Year standings. 

“I think it was an amazing year,” Carroll said. “I think everyone had their own troubles at different tracks and we had our fair share. All and all I just think it was a great year.”

When Carroll visited a track for the second or third time this year, he often improved on his finish. He finished 25th in the Sizzler at Stafford, but in the other two events at the half-mile, Carroll rolled to finishes of 20th and 15th. At Thompson, Carroll found himself finishing 18th at the Icebreaker and he wrapped up the season by finishing 15th in the Sunoco World Series 150, his second-best run of the year.

“We definitely ran better at the end of the year, each time we went to a track we tried to get better and we did that,” Carroll said. “It gave me a lot of confidence.”

The highest point of the season actually came in a non-points event at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s bullring. Carroll finished third, posting his best career modified run. 

“It showed a lot about our team, I was extremely happy with that,” Carroll said. “It gave us a lot of confidence to go to Thompson and we ended up doing well there.”

Looking ahead, Carroll will be planning on returning to full-time competition for the 2018 season. He hopes to continue to learn and improve his finish each time he visits a track. 

“The competition on the Tour is way higher than any other modified series. There are probably 10 cars that could win each week at any given track, so I’m happy with what we were able to do this year,” Carroll said. 

Without the support from his sponsors and team, he wouldn’t be able to roll on the track. 

“I have to thank Power With Prestige, Cruising With Bettty, and definitely my whole team. All five of my brothers were at just about every one of the races and they helped me get to the track along with my parents. I’m ready to take the Rookie stripe off and go for next year.”

Carroll will receive his Sunoco Rookie of the Year honor as part of the NASCAR Home tracks Awards ceremony on Dec. 8 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Montanari Rises To The Challenge

Montanari Rises To The Challenge

Canadian Teen Earns UNOH Youth Achievement Award

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Daniel Montanari is the definition of an up-and-coming racing star.

The 16-year-old from Uxbridge, Ontario, is in just his second year of racing mini stocks at Canada’s Sunset Speedway and is already turning heads by going fast and winning races.

It all started when an unfortunate health issue by a friend and fellow competitor opened the door for Montanari to make his debut in the mini stock class last year. He made sure to take full advantage of the opportunity. 

“Last year a friend of ours who had a Dodge Neon mini stock had a heart attack, so he couldn’t drive,” Montanari explained. “So he asked if I wanted to drive it. So I said yeah, sure. I figured it was going to be practice a couple times. Maybe do a heat race or something. I got in it and did alright on the practice days, so we decided we were going to run the full first race day. We just decided on the first race day that I was going to start at the back of the field. It was my first year, first time racing with other cars. 

“So I went out for the first heat and I finished third, so that changed the plan. I didn’t start scratch anymore, I started where I qualified. In my first race I finished third. That helped a lot and gave me a lot of confidence.”

He ended up running the full season in that Dodge Neon, scoring three victories en route to a ninth-place finish in the mini stock class standings. It was an incredible rookie season, but this year things only got better.

After building a new race car out of a parts car that his older brother Nic, also a racer, had sitting around, the younger Montanari found even more success this year.

Montanari scored three more victories in 17 starts at Sunset Speedway this season, falling one point short of winning his first track championship in the mini stock class. While that may sound disappointing, Montanari still has reason to celebrate after being named the winner of the UNOH Youth Achievement Award by NASCAR.

The UNOH Youth Achievement Award is open to NASCAR drivers between the ages of 14-17 – drivers may accumulate points until their 18th birthday – and are based on the best 14 finishes regardless of division.

Track winners will receive a $500 cash award and a $500 UNOH Scholarship. The national champion receives $10,000 UNOH Scholarship and will be recognized at the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We knew about the award, but we never thought we’d be able to get it racing against guys every night at a track that is NASCAR sanctioned,” said Montanari, who was 19th in the UNOH Youth Achievement Award standings in 2016. “We only have one race every weekend. We didn’t think that we’d even be close to winning it. Then near the end a friend of ours was like, ‘Did you see the UNOH Award points?’ I said no, not really. He said, ‘Oh, you’re up to 16th.’

“We were surprised at that. Then we started watching it more and more and we ended up winning it. It’s amazing to win that against the best guys around.”

Montanari has been involved in racing nearly his entire life. His father, Rino, has been both a driver and crew chief during his lengthy career and has fostered his son’s interest in racing.

“My dad built us lawn tractors,” Montanari said when recounting the first time he got to drive something. “He took the mower deck off of them. Me and my brother would drive the lawn tractors around the backyard. It helped us get use to driving and steering and stuff like that. I was three years old at the time and my brother was seven.”

As he’s gotten older, the youngest Montanari has continued to learn from those around him. He began joining his father, who has worked as a crew chief in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series for the likes of Mark Dilley and Kerry Micks, at the race shop where he learned how to take cars apart and put them back together.

“I would say when I was 12 or 13 I asked my dad if I could go to the shop with him one day,” Montanari recalled. “Me and my brother both went and we’d go to work on the Pinty’s Series cars. We learned a lot about setup and how the cars are built and how to take apart the hub and the front suspension, pretty much everything on it. The last couple of years I’ve been doing some pretty important jobs, like taking out the rear-end gear and inspecting it, things like that. That’s been a big help with the racing.”

This year Montanari admitted he wasn’t sure things were going to go well. Driving the new car his family had built from scratch out of his brother’s parts car, he said he struggled at first to get up to speed. That’s when he got a little advice from his father.

“We spent tons of hours, countless hours on that car trying to make it perfect,” said Montanari, who had sponsorship from Kenzington Burger Bar, Permatex and Canada’s Best Racing Team, among others. “It wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be and I was kind of down on myself about it. So I figured I’d just try it and see how it goes. So I went out on the first race day and in practice we were alright. We were kind of quick, but not fast enough to win it. I went out for my first heat and I finished eighth. I came in and I was all disappointed. I figured that was how the year was going to go and I’d be lucky if I got a top-10 in the new car. Then my dad told me to just get in there and drive the car. So that’s exactly what I did.”

That advice paid off so well that Montanari now gets to travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 8. It’s still almost like a dream according to Montanari and he’s excited that he gets to live it.

“It’s definitely going to be amazing to go down to North Carolina and go to the banquet and meet a bunch of new people and talk to a bunch of people about racing,” said Montanari. 

nwaas_unoh_award_daniel-montanari_car_102317

Daniel Montanari had three wins, 12 top fives and 16 top 10s to earn the 2017 UNOH Youth Achievement Award. Eric Uprichard/Sunset Speedway

NASCAR Playoffs: Larson Blows Up While Blaney Blasts Off

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 22: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet, speaks with the media after having engine trouble during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 22, 2017 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Kyle Larson experiences the media crush after engine troubles eliminated him from the NASCAR playoffs. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway was a tumultuous contest, with favorite Kyle Larson, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing #42 Chevy, eliminated from Championship contention, while Ryan Blaney, driver of Wood Brothers #21 Ford, delivering a storybook finish to advance to next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.

An engine detonation relegated Larson to the garage on lap 73 of the Hollywood Casino 400, extinguishing his Championship quest.  As one of the leading favorites to make the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Larson’s fortunes going up in smoke caused fans on social media to melt down and lose their collective minds.

Conversely, Ryan Blaney started from the rear at Kansas Speedway but drove a stellar race and dodged several bullets to finish 3rd and remain alive in the playoff picture.

Surely, these contrasting challenges encompass the Game 7 drama that NASCAR sought when they introduced this multi-stage playoff elimination format.  No doubt playoff outcomes can be influenced by fortuitous luck or haphazard chance, but mechanical equipment has always been part of the equation in racing success.

Such mechanical misfortune could befall Martin Truex Jr. at the Homestead-Miami final, should he advance that far.  Truex, Sunday’s winner at Kansas and the perennial favorite to win the Championship, has a series-leading seven wins this season, and anything less than a Championship will seem unjust to the fans of the Furniture Row racing team, regarded as the “little team that could”.

Certainly, this Championship format is demanding.  Larson undeniably didn’t have a dazzling 2nd playoff round.  With previous finishes of 10th at Charlotte and 13th at Talladega, Larson had a narrow point cushion to rely on for advancement beyond Kansas.

 Ryan Blaney, driver of the #21 Wood Brothers Ford, raced through the field to a 3rd place finish in Hollywood Casino 400 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney raced through the field to a 3rd place finish in the Hollywood Casino 400 (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Conversely, Blaney and his Wood Brothers Racing Team are alive in their quest to win this year’s championship. Blaney explained, “I would say this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had racing with anybody, no matter what car.  They just make it a fun year.  Just to be competitive, still be in this thing, that’s just a bonus, to be honest with you.”

And, naturally, seven-time Champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Racing Chevy, persevered to advance in a less than stellar season for him, showing composure when confronted by desperate unscheduled pit stops that would have derailed a lesser team.  Johnson again revealed the golden horseshoe often attributed to him, spinning out not once but twice, including a critical journey into the infield grass that could have torn up his car and destroyed his quest for a record setting 8th Championship, but didn’t.

The abrupt nature of playoff elimination for those drivers and their fans always will generate an empty and hollow void at the end of each playoff round.  It’s the game we now have in NASCAR, and as each round concludes, the playoff cuts only get stiffer as worthy drivers are eliminated.

Still, the remaining eight contenders provide a perfect balance for the Championship chase.  We have a compelling mix of drivers, with four former champions (Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Brad Keselowski), two young guns (Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney), and two experienced vets who have just fallen short of the title chase before and are as hungry as ever (Martin Truex Jr and Denny Hamlin).

We also have manufacturer diversity in the title chase, with three Toyotas, three Fords, and two Chevrolets among the eight remaining contenders, despite the perceived dominance of Toyota during NASCAR’s regular season.

Vegas odds now favor Truex, Busch, Harvick, and Keselowski to make the Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead-Miami.

Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, displays his 7 victory decals in a stellar season (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr displays his 7 victory decals in a stellar season (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Truex will likely waltz to the Finals given the playoff point buffer he has already accumulated with seven race wins this season.  And Harvick can surely get the job done at Phoenix, the penultimate race, with 8 previous wins at his home track.  Meanwhile, Kyle Busch is just on fire, with raw speed, talent, and conviction all converging at the right time.

Yet, I’m calling an audible on Keselowski, with the anticipation that either Hamlin or Johnson will rip a win at next weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.  Johnson and Hamlin are the preeminent active drivers at the oddly-shaped paperclip short track, having netted 9 and 5 wins, respectively, which would guarantee either’s advancement to the Homestead Final.

Then again, that’s just my reasonable conjecture.  In the congruence of man vs. machine, NASCAR’s playoff format requires that teams and drivers bring their best stuff to EVERY race.  Isn’t that why we should be tuning in, for the both the triumph as well as the agony that this playoff system delivers?

By Ron Bottano

Let’s connect on Twitter at @rbottano and share your final four contenders. 

Thompson Hits Pay Dirt With Rookie Run

Thompson Hits Pay Dirt With Rookie Run

Adams County Champ Claims Div. V National Title In First Season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s hard to imagine any driver can win a championship in their first full season of racing, but for 26-year-old Iowa resident Dustin Thompson, that’s exactly what happened.

Thompson, who calls Villisca, Iowa, home, got to celebrate not just one, but two championships in his first full season of racing. His first championship came on dirt at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, where he captured the TriState Ford Compacts championship.

He followed that up with a championship on a much bigger scale when he was officially crowned the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division V National champion. It’s all a little overwhelming for Thompson, who started out the year just hoping to visit victory lane.

“I pretty much just started the year out trying to win a feature. That was my main goal. I won the second night out,” Thompson. 

With the primary goal accomplished, Thompson now had a new mission: become a champion.

He did just that thanks to an impressive season at Adams County and another dirt track, I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb. Between the two tracks he made 21 starts, scoring five victories as well as 18 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. When all the points were tallied, Thompson had defeated Stafford Motor Speedway’s Johnny Walker by 21 points for the Division V National crown.

“I never expected to do that well. It’s very surreal,” Thompson said. 

Thompson gave particular thanks to three people – his father, Ron Thompson, his father-in-law Mark Herzberg and his cousin, Eric Marsh – for helping him attain the success he enjoyed this year. Without them, he said none of this would have been possible.

“Those three guys are in the pits with me every single week helping me out and all throughout the week helping me get the car ready. They’re definitely to thank for the success this season,” Thompson said.

NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V drivers are ranked by their best 14 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and two points for a win, with an additional three points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.

The dream of going racing started, as it often does, when Thompson was a child. He went to the race track with his father and first got bit by the bug, but it wasn’t until his father bought a race car of his own that Thompson got his first real taste of racing.

“I grew up going to the races with my dad as a kid and always wanted to do it,” Thompson recalled. “He started racing like five or six years ago. He raced one season and I kind of helped him in the pits. That really started it there. I knew it was something I wanted to do.”

After graduating college Thompson got his feet wet last year by driving his father’s old race car in five Division III Keystone Light Kombact events at Adams County Speedway. That class proved to be a bit more expensive than Thompson would have liked, so he made the decision to do something else in 2017.

“I got into my dad’s old car and raced it for five nights and it was just too expensive, so I had to sell that car and go down to the Division V class,” Thompson said. 

That decision obviously paid off in spades, but the 2017 season wasn’t all roses for Thompson, who had sponsorship from Thompson Trucking, Herzberg Seed, Southwest Iowa Dirt Work, Green Giant Lawn Care and Preferred Properties. He nearly lost his shot at both the Adams County track championship and the Division V National championship when a big crash at I-80 Speedway destroyed his race car.

“I was in a heat race and there was a wreck in front of me and I just kind of got tangled up into it. I totaled the car,” Thompson recalled. “I was in the (fight) for the track points at Adams County Speedway on Saturday night and the wreck happened on a Friday night. I knew if I wanted to stay in the points out there I had to get a car ready.

“I had a car that was going to be built at home, but I hadn’t even started on it yet. So I just got a group of five or six guys and we just went to work through the night and all the next day and got it put together. We got to the track in time and we ended up winning the heat race and feature that night.”

Thompson would go on to win two more features in that same race car, catapulting him to both the track and Division V championships. Now Thompson’s focus is on the trip he gets to make to Charlotte, North Carolina, to take part in the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 8.

“I just honestly can’t believe it. I’m in shock. I can’t believe I did that well. It’ll be pretty awesome to go out there and experience that,” Thompson said. 

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Dustin Thompson collected five victories as well as 18 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes in 21 starts between Iowa’s Adams County Speedway and Nebraska’s I-80 Speedway. Linda Freeman

UNC-Chapel Hill NABJ Chapter Visits Charlotte Motor Speedway

UNC-Chapel Hill NABJ Chapter Visits Charlotte Motor Speedway

Students Granted Behind-the-Scenes Access

Journalists from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill attended the NASCAR Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 300 in Charlotte, N. C., on October 7. The Carolina Association of Black Journalists student chapter had the opportunity to interact with race officials, drivers, pit crew members and executives during their first NASCAR race experience. 

Green (& Orange) Means Go Fast For Roelofs

Green (& Orange) Means Go Fast For Roelofs

Michigan Driver Pilots Colorful Car To Division IV National Title

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – On the race track it’s nearly impossible for fans or competitors to miss Cole Roelofs. 

That’s because the 33-year-old driver from Dorr, Michigan, who competes in the Kalamazoo Vapors 4-Cylinder class at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway and the Outlaw Cyber Stock class at another Michigan track, Kalamazoo Speedway, with his car wrapped with a bright orange and green scheme. 

As Roelofs tells it, the scheme came about thanks to a partnership with an old friend from high school who owns Wrap Tek, a local business specializing in vinyl wraps for cars of all shapes and sizes.

“I love green and ever since we started putting green and orange on the car, I’ve been winning. So I’m like, well, we just need to go green and orange,” said Roelofs, who also receives sponsorship from C.J.’s Coating and Sealing, HD Photo, D&B Heat Transfer and Quick Start Batteries. “I went to high school with the owner and he contacted me and said, ‘Hey man, I’ll wrap your car for free if you put my name on it.’ I said awesome, I’m down with that because I know what wrapping costs.

“So me and my wife went on vacation for our anniversary and we sat on the iPad and looked through tons of different stuff and that’s what we came back with,” Roelofs recalled. “We sent it to him and he went, ‘Wow, that’s bright.’ Everybody has a black car or a blue car or a red car. Those are the main colors racers always pick. I have a nephew and he loves coming to the races and watching and I always want him to know which car I am out there. He knows green and orange so if it’s a green and orange car, it’s probably me.”

Roelofs isn’t just about showing off with the color of his race car. He also likes to show off with his performance on the race track. His performance was so good this year that he captured the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division IV National championship.

In 17 starts between Berlin and Kalamazoo, Roelofs won seven times while also collecting 14 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. That gave him the Division IV National championship by 21 points over Oklahoma competitor Nathan Campbell. All seven of his victories came at Berlin, where he also captured the Kalamazoo Vapors 4-Cylinder track championship for the second time in his career.

NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division II-V drivers are ranked by their best 14 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and two points for a win, with an additional three points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.

The chance for Roelofs to race for the Division IV National championship came about after Berlin Raceway became a NASCAR-sanctioned track prior to the 2016 season. Unfortunately he ran into a small problem when he tried to chase the Division IV title last year.

“I live 30 miles in between two NASCAR tracks. I live 30 miles from Kalamazoo and 30 miles from Berlin. When Berlin became a NASCAR track that really kind of opened my eyes,” said Roelofs, who credits his wife Heather and brothers Chay and Chad for supporting him during his march toward the NASCAR title. “Now I have two tracks that I have a good chance to try and get some points. Last year we tried it and the 4-cylinder division (at Berlin) and the division that Kalamazoo Speedway has, it wouldn’t coincide with both to get the same (national) points. I tried it, but it didn’t work. At Berlin, it was in Division V then.”

Luckily for Roelofs, Berlin switched the 4-cylinder division from Division V to Division IV for the 2017 season. That was music to his ears.

“This year they changed the points and they (Berlin) made it Division IV. That’s what really helped me out this year,” Roelofs said. 

It’s been a long road for Roelofs to get to the Division IV National championship. He started his racing career by competing in demolition derbies when he was 16, but the demolition part of the demolition derbies began to get a little frustrating for him.

“I got sick of having to build a car every time we went to the races for the demolition derby,” Roelofs said. “So I got into what they call off-road racing or bump-and-run racing, where you go over jumps with front-wheel drive cars. I did that for three or four years and it was the same thing, you’d end up having to build four or five cars or six cars some seasons just to continue the season.”

Finally, in 2009, Roelofs and a friend got together and built a 4-cylinder car to race at Berlin Raceway. Fast forward to 2017 and Roelofs is officially a NASCAR National champion. He’ll be honored during NASCAR Home Tracks Awards at the NASCAR Hall of Fame/Charlotte Convention Center on Dec. 8. 

It’s all still a little surreal according to Roelofs.

“It feels awesome,” Roelofs said. “A lot of people don’t understand when you say. ‘I won a division in NASCAR.’ They’re like, ‘Come on, NASCAR?’ I’m like well, yeah. You kind of have to go through it. I wish people realized just how big a deal this is. You’re not just racing against your local guys. You’re racing against guys all across the country in all different styles and divisions of cars. I know the guy that got second, he was in a dirt car, a street stock. I won it in a front-wheel drive car. It’s so crazy to realize that. I’m going to get recognized for winning a NASCAR points title. I wouldn’t have thought it, that’s for sure.”

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It’s hard to miss Cole Roelofs’ car has he drove it to seven wins, 14 top fives and 17 top 10s in 17 starts at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway and Kalamazoo Speedway. Randy Ellen Photography

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