WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Race Preview by Race Chaser Online Associate Editor Kyle Magda — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
The stars and cars of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East turn left and right for the first time this season in Friday’s Bully Hill Vineyards 125 at Watkins Glen International.
Last year, Scott Heckert made a bold three-wide pass on the race’s final restart to score his first career series victory at the famed 2.45-mile road course. His father Alex won a Vintage Sports car race there in 1987, making the win more special for the, at the time, 20-year-old.
Chaos always ensues at the Glen’s opening turn, as cars dive-bomb the turn to make a move on the track’s limited passing zones. Heckert’s winning pass into Turn 1 may have been one of the only times three-wide has worked into that corner at Watkins Glen.
In the 2015 edition, road-course ringer Andrew Ranger won’t be a factor since the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series competitor isn’t entered in the No. 53 Ford. A fellow Canadian will be behind the wheel of the car for Robert Torriere, with Marc-Antoine Camirand and sponsor Children of Fallen Patriots on the car. Like Ranger, Camirand also runs the NCATS on a regular basis and has a best-career finish in that series of third, twice.
There are several drivers, including Camirand, making their K&N East debut in Friday’s race. Another famous racing last name steps up to the plate for Bill McAnally Racing in the No. 99 Toyota. The name Cheever became synonymous with open-wheel racing, as Eddie Cheever Jr. won five IndyCar Series races during his driving career, including the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The elder Cheever now serves as an analyst for ABC’s telecast of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Eddie Cheever III is entered in the No. 99 car for BMR and usually races on the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Cheever will have two other teammates in Cole Custer and Nick Drake for the race. Custer became ARCA’s youngest superspeedway winner at Pocono Raceway last Saturday at the age of 17 years, six months and nine days, beating fellow JR Motorsports driver and former K&N East driver Chase Elliott by two days. Nick Drake has yet to win on the K&N East Series, but won the West Series finale last fall at Phoenix. Custer returns to the K&N Series for the first time since running the West race in June at Sonoma.
A few West drivers will invade the East Series at Watkins Glen. West points leader Noah Gragson makes his East debut in the No. 7 AlertID Ford for Jefferson-Pitts Racing and will be joined by NASCAR XFINITY Series part-timer Dylan Lupton, who will pilot the No. 55 Ford in his series debut. Todd Souza is also entered in the No. 13 Toyota and has one career West Series win in 2008 at the 3.6-mile road course at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.
The flavor of road-course ringers may be limited Friday, but some prominent names will show up to win the Bully Hill Vineyards 125. Kevin O’Connell and Brian Wong are the two ringers to keep an eye on come race-time. O’Connell finished third in last year’s NNS (now NXS) race at Road America and Wong captured a runner-up finish to Ranger in the 2014 ARCA event at New Jersey Motorsports Park. O’Connell is one of the five drivers making their K&N East debut this weekend, while Wong has one previous series start coming at the Glen in 2009 with a top-10 result.
NASCAR XFINITY Series young gun Brandon Jones was originally scheduled to run the race for NTS Motorsports, but instead, his teammate will make a return to the series for the third time this season. Camping World Truck Series driver Daniel Hemric returns to the seat of the No. 20 California Clean Power Chevrolet to take his hand on the New York road course. Hemric recently announced his engagement to longtime girlfriend and fellow East Series driver Kenzie Ruston.
While a a few drivers are coming to the Finger Lakes region of New York to run the race, don’t count out the regular East drivers. J.J. Haley and East points leader William Byron both ran June’s West race at Sonoma and scored top-five finishes, coming in third and fifth, respectively. Dalton Sargeant also ran the race and nearly won it before being passing by David Mayhew in the closing laps, but has a road-course racing background by competing regularly at Virginia International Raceway in the past. Their HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks teammate Heckert, who sits second in points — 23 markers behind Byron, swept both East road-course races last season. Rico Abreu turns left and right for the first time in East competition after tested VIR earlier this season.
Jesse Little returns to the Hattori Racing No. 1 Toyota after finishing second last week at Iowa and scoring the overall victory for the East Series there. Brandon McReynolds won the Iowa race to become the first driver ever to sweep both K&N combo races in a season.
The green flag for the Bully Hill Vineyards 125 drops at 6:15 p.m. ET Friday and scheduled to be shown tape-delayed at 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, August 13 on NBC Sports Network. You can follow along for live updates on the Race Chaser Online Twitter page to keep up with the race.
Friday’s on-track schedule for the Bully Hill Vineyards 125 (all times Eastern):
8:30-9:30 a.m. Practice
10-11 a.m. Final Practice
2:40 p.m. Qualifying
6:15 p.m. Bully Hill Vineyards 125