DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By John Tejada, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — The 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season has been one of mixed results for Daniel Suárez.
The Monterrey, Mexico, native began the season the same way he ended 2013, hot. His wins in the first two events of 2014 marked his sixth and seventh top-three finishes in nine NASCAR K&N Pro Series East races dating back to last year. In Suárez’s subsequent eight events, the driver has recorded two top fives and four top 10s, but has also registered four DNFs. He hopes a trip to Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway is what he needs to get back on the right track for the remainder of the season.
He entered this event weekend in 2013 in a similar state, a first half with mixed results. Through his first seven races, Suárez had one top five and three top 10s, and two races outside of the top 20. Once the race started, however, all his early season struggles seemed to disappear. Suárez took the lead on lap 66 and led the final 88 laps for his first career K&N Pro Series East victory.
Over his next six events, Suárez scored four top-three finishes and five top 10s, propelling him to third in the final championship points standings, the highest finish for a Mexican-born driver and Drive for Diversity program participant.
Suárez is looking for the same kind of post-Columbus turn around this season. In three career starts at the .333-mile oval, the 22-year-old has a win and two top fives, with an average finish of 3.7. He and teammate Ryan Gifford are the only drivers currently entered for the event with more than three starts at the track.
The Race: The Columbus 150 will be the 11th of 16 races on the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule. It will mark the fourth year in a row the series has visited Columbus Motor Speedway and the lone trip to the state of Ohio.
The Procedure: The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (50 miles).
The Track: A charter member of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, Columbus is a .333-mile asphalt oval that began as a motorcycle racing track in 1946 and first played host to stock cars in 1950.
Race Winners: Darrell Wallace Jr. was victorious in the K&N Pro Series East’s first trip to Columbus in 2011 and Cale Conley found Victory Lane there in 2012. Last year, Rev Racing returned to the winner’s circle at Columbus when Daniel Suárez captured his first series checkered flag.
Pole Winners: Max Gresham was the inaugural pole winner at Columbus and established the qualifying record at 14.176 seconds (84.565 mph). Ben Kennedy captured his first career K&N Pro Series East pole in 2012 at Columbus while Dylan Kwasniewski was the pole winner last year.
COLUMBUS RACE NOTES:
Little Looks To Keep Momentum Going: Jesse Little, son of former K&N Pro Series West champion Chad Little, won his first series race the last time out in the Granite State 100. The NASCAR Next driver and 2013 K&N Pro East Sunoco Rookie of the Year was making his 33rd K&N Pro start. Little’s previous best finish in 33 K&N Pro starts was runner-up in the K&N Pro West race at Phoenix International Raceway in 2013.
Rhodes Hopes To Bounce Back: Points leader Ben Rhodes recorded his worst finish of the 2014 K&N Pro Series East season, a 22nd place effort in the Granite State 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11. The 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver will head to Columbus for the first time, looking to rebound and increase his 66-point lead over Gray Gaulding in the championship standings.
Track Experience: Eleven of the 22 drivers currently entered in the JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota will be making their first series start at Columbus Motor Speedway this Saturday. Only Daniel Suárez and Ryan Gifford have participated in all three of the series’ previous visits to the .333-mile oval, with fellow Rev Racing driver Sergio Peña the only other driver with two or more starts at the track.
NASCAR Next Karting Event: Prior to the JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota at Columbus, nine K&N Pro Series drivers will compete in the NASCAR Next vs. Media Karting Challenge on July 16 at GoPro Motorplex in Mooresville, N.C. The fun event will be the one of the many outings for the group as part of the 2014-15 NASCAR Next driver lineup. NASCAR Next is an industry initiative to help spotlight NASCAR’s rising stars. The nine K&N Pro Series representatives in the group are Cole Custer, Gray Gaulding, Ryan Gifford, Austin Hill, Jesse Little, Dylan Lupton, Brandon McReynolds, Ben Rhodes and Kenzie Ruston. Six of those drivers will compete in Saturday’s JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota.
HOME TRACKS: Hill Paces Buckeye State
Donnie ‘Zero’ Hill captured his fifth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late model feature of 2014 Saturday at Columbus Motor Speedway. Starting fifth, Hill avoided a first lap shunt that eliminated fast qualifier Chad Pendleton, and powered around early leader Bill Browning to claim victory in the evening’s main event. Hill currently leads the Whelen All-American Series points battle in the state of Ohio, and is one point ahead of Pendleton in the National Standings, 296-295.
LAST TIME OUT: New Hampshire
The 10th event of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season took place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11 in Loudon, New Hampshire. Here are some highlights of the Granite State 100:
• Jesse Little earned his first career series victory, avoiding an accident that took out the race leaders in the closing laps of the event.
• Eddie MacDonald crossed the line in second place for his fifth top five and 14th top 10 in 26 starts at the track.
• Jay Beasley matched his career-best finish with a fourth-place effort.
NEXT TIME OUT: Iowa
Following the JEGS 150 presented by Germain Toyota at Columbus Motor Speedway, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on Friday, Aug. 1 with the Autolite Iridium XP 150 combination race with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Iowa Speedway. This will be the second of two such events at the .875-mile oval in Newton, Iowa this season. East driver Ben Rhodes won the first Iowa combo race this year while Cole Custer won this August race a year ago.