BRISTOL, Tenn. — Race preview by Race Chaser Online Northeast Correspondent Kyle Magda — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Could the fifth time be the charm for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East running at Bristol Motor Speedway?
Four races so far and four different winners have come at the .533-mile track, including three first-timers tasting victory lane in the series. Bristol was added to the schedule in 2012 with former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Nelson Piquet Jr. claiming his first NASCAR victory that season.
The same can be said last year when 17-year-old Kyle Benjamin scored his first-career victory at the Tennessee track by holding off eventual series champ William Byron. Benjamin took the lead from Byron on lap 45 and never looked back in his family-owned No. 27. After the Bristol victory last season, Benjamin was third in points while chasing the K&N East championship, but didn’t produce the results to stay in title contention when it mattered most.
This year, there’s no points on the line for the Easley, S.C. native who did everything but win the series last time out at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, a track where he lives only six miles from. Benjamin returns to the high-banks of Bristol as the defending winner of the race and sits second in points behind Ranier Racing with MDM teammate Spencer Davis.
Neither the No. 40 or 41 teams are committed to running a full season, but the jump-start to a raucous run in the New Smyrna opener, along with recording strong finishes week in-and-out can make Lorin Ranier’s bunch the team to beat during the crucial season stretch.
Davis is still looking for his first win and in seven K&N East starts, he has finished no worse than sixth. The 17-year-old driver wasn’t a factor at Greenville, but scored back-to-back runner-up finishes at New Smyrna and Mobile.
Only two former Bristol winners are entered in the field and the season’s first three races have produced all first-time winners. New York dirt standout Tyler Dippel took the Mobile win and Justin Haley finally got the monkey off his back by sealing the deal three weeks ago at Greenville.
The first K&N winner of 2016 was 15-year-old Todd Gilliland. The third-generation driver can achieve a feat that’s never been done in the K&N Series by winning his first five consecutive starts. Gilliland tied road-racing legend Dan Gurney with a fourth-straight win at Kern County Raceway Park on the West side of things.
Bristol experience is key as three drivers entered have wins there. The 2014 winner, New England native Eddie MacDonald, returned to the series for the first time in 2015 and out-muscled eventual series champ Ben Rhodes in his PittLite 125 victory. Defending winner Kyle Benjamin is in a Chevrolet this time and veteran racer Caleb Holman makes his series debut with the newly-formed Martin-McClure Racing in the No. 75 Food Country USA Chevrolet. Holman won a race there in the now-defunct Hooters Pro Cup Series in August 2008 .
There’s a good chance a first-time winner sneaks into victory lane this season as it appears there hasn’t been one dominant K&N East car every week. The Ranier Racing with MDM run up front, but no victories to show for. HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks have two more drivers in rookies Harrison Burton and Hunter Baize to add their to the list of 2016 winners. With no conflict in the K&N East and West schedules, some of the West full-timers are making the trip to the Southeast.
Todd Gilliland was already mentioned and 2015 series runner-up Noah Gragson continues to pilot the No. 55 AlertID Ford in K&N East and once again has a teammate for this weekend. 2015 Roseville winner Gracin Raz steps back behind the wheel of the No. 27 Jefferson-Pitts Racing Ford as both he and Gragson try to add their name to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history books. Riley Herbst is another West invader, running full-time for Bill McAnally Racing and will drive on the fast Bristol track this weekend.
Defending Bristol pole-sitter Jesse Little serves as a teammate to Dominique Van Wieringen in Saturday’s PittLite 125. Van Wieringen became the highest-qualifying female driver with a second-place start at Mobile while leading 29 laps, the most ever by a female in series history.
Going up-and-down this year’s PittLite 125 entry list, it’s a tough one to pick. Experience has shown to pay off, but the streak of first-time winners is on the line going back to Collin Cabre’s victory last October at Dover.
The race can be seen on tape-delay on Friday, April 22 at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN, but keep it to @RaceChaserNews on Twitter for live updates Saturday from the K&N’s fifth race there.
PittLite 125 Weekend Schedule at Bristol (All Times ET):
Friday, April 15:
6-6:45 p.m.: First NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Practice (no TV)
7-7:20 p.m: Final NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Practice (no TV)
7:30 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Qualifying (no TV)
Saturday, April 16:
4:30 p.m. NASCAR K&N Pro Series East PittLite 125 (live updates, but no TV broadcast until April 22 at 1 a.m. ET on NBCSN)
About the Writer
Kyle Magda is a Northeast Correspondent for Race Chaser Online and a co-host of both Motorsports Madness and the Stock Car Steel/SRI Motorsports Show, airing at 7 p.m. ET on Monday and Thursday nights, respectively, on the Performance Motorsports Network. Magda broke into racing in mid-2001 as the sport’s tide was beginning to change towards the current modern-era formula, but still has an affinity for the history of NASCAR’s earlier days.
The 23-year-old is a graduate of Penn State University and can be found traveling to numerous tracks across the country, covering everything from NASCAR and the ARCA Racing Series to the UNOH All-Stars Circuit of Champions and the Super Cup Stock Car Series.
Email Kyle at: [email protected]
Follow on Twitter: @KyleMagda
Email Race Chaser Online: [email protected]
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