DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – official series release by Brooke Franceschini, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Daniel Suarez and Cameron Hayley went door-to-door last year at New Smyrna Speedway, with Suarez taking the checkered flag by just .083 seconds.
Now Suarez is running in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, Hayley has a recently signed deal to run in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for ThorSport Racing, and fans will get the opportunity to watch a field full of rising young stars battle to see who’s next on Sunday, Feb. 15 in the Hart To Heart Breast Cancer Foundation 150.
Gray Gaulding celebrated his 17th birthday Tuesday and is looking forward to getting racing.
“We have got to kick off the season in high gear,” said Gaulding, who finished third in championship points last season and is the highest returning finisher. “When you unload fast, especially at the first race, it sets the tone for the season; I know that’s exactly what Doug Howe has in mind when we unload on Saturday at New Smyrna Speedway.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to the track, this off-season has felt like an eternity. We had a good run going last year at New Smyrna, we just got too tight late in the race. Doug and I have been talking about what we need to do to be better and with all the off-season preparations; I have full confidence in the entire team.”
Eighteen of the 28 drivers entered are Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates, including Dillon Bassett and Rico Abreu. Bassett, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, won the UNOH Youth Achievement Award for his success in a Late Model in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series last year. Abreu, from St. Helena, California, won the prestigious Chili Bowl Nationals in January and is looking to make the transition from dirt open-wheel to asphalt stock cars.
Four times since NASCAR lowered the minimum age from 18 in 2007 a driver has won the championship and Sunoco Rookie of the Year title in the same season — Joey Logano (2007), Ryan Truex (2009), Kyle Larson (2012) and Rhodes.
The Race: The Hart To Heart Breast Cancer Foundation opens the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship season. It is the first of 12 oval track events and 14 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ second visit to the Florida oval.
The Procedure: The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials while the remaining four starting spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps covering 72 miles.
The Track: New Smyrna Speedway opened in 1964 and has a grandstand capacity of 8,000. The .48-mile banked oval has 600-foot staightaways, 720-foot turns with 23 degrees of banking. The track was repaved in January 2007. Additionally, it is part of the weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
The Records: Cameron Hayley won the inaugural pole last season with a lap of 18.477 seconds (93.522 mph).
TEAM TO BEAT?
Gaulding and the new crop of K&N Pro drivers will be chasing HScott Motorsports With Justin Marks. Last year, led by champion Ben Rhodes, the organization had five drivers in the top eight in points. In 2013, Dylan Kwasniewski delivered the team the series title.
Scott Heckert, who picked up a pair of wins and finished eighth in points, is the lone returning driver. He’ll be joined by newcomers Dalton Sargeant, JJ Haley, William Byron and Abreu.
“There’s sometimes uncertainty bringing new kids in,” said Mike Greci, Director of K&N Pro Series for HScott Motorsports With Justin Marks. “But we wouldn’t bring them in unless we think they’re capable of moving up to the next series, I think everybody we’re bringing in is capable of filling the shoes of everybody that left.”
Sargeant, Byron and Haley were impressive in their Super Late Model race at New Smyrna last month, and Abreu is quickly acclimating himself to asphalt racing. They need to look no further than Heckert, now the veteran of the group, to see the benefits of running in the series. In his second full year last season, Heckert improved greatly throughout the year and scored his first NASCAR touring series wins at Watkins Glen and Virginia International Raceway.
Greci said the team will lean heavily on Heckert’s experience.
“He’s a big benefit to our program,” said Greci of Heckert, who is going to Miami University in Ohio for mechanical engineering. “I’m looking forward to having Scott have another year with us. He’s actually taken it upon himself to help our kids.”
NEW SMYRNA RACE NOTES
Euro Champion Makes US Debut: Belgium’s Anthony Kumpen will be behind the wheel of Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 99 as he makes his United States stock car debut. Kumpen had a win and 10 top fives in 12 races last year en route to winning the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship by one-point over two-time champion Ander Vilarino. Kumpen will return to Europe to defend his title, beginning with the season opener at Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain. He has experience running an oval, competing at Tours Speedway in France last year, where he finished seventh and eighth in the two races there.
Win Streaks On The Line: Austin Hill won the last two races in the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, taking the checkered at South Carolina’s Greenville Pickens Speedway before defending his win at Dover International Speedway. Nick Drake, who is returning to chase the East crown, won the K&N Pro West finale at Phoenix International Raceway.
New Smyrna Homecoming: Kyle Benjamin, 17, won the Super Late Model portion of the track’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing in 2013, and is slated to run the full K&N Pro East season. Benjamin is a development driver for Roush Fenway Racing and has a pair of ARCA victories on his resume.
HOME TRACKS: 49th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing
New Smyrna will be home to eight more nights of racing action, headlined by the Super Late Model and tour-type Modifieds of the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Steve Wallace, the son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace, will be back to defend his World Series title in the Super Late Model Division and a number of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series competitors will run some of the Super Late Model races to gain extra experience.
CREDIT: NASCAR Home Tracks