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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Which was more impressive: Dylan Kwasniewski’s record-breaking pair of wins in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West or Philip Morris’ perfect August that has him in line for a fourth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series title?
In the end, the difference was was one first-place more vote – and one point overall – that gave Kwasniewski the spot as the top driver in the September edition of the Hunter Index, the monthly power poll voted on by a panel of 13 auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives.
“No driver has been hotter than Kwasniewski in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West,” said Tim Haddock of haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com of the 16-year-old Las Vegas driver. “He didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but his two wins were of historic proportion. He became the youngest driver to win a K&N Pro Series race in either the West or East and didn’t waste any time winning his second career West Series race.”
Kwasniewski earned six first-place votes to Morris’ five and edged him on total points, 173-172.
Drivers are ranked on their performance over the previous month. The rankings are compiled by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives. This season, the panel was expanded to 11 media members from across North American with experience covering NASCAR’s touring and weekly series, along with two voters from NASCAR.
Panelists rank their top 15, with first place receiving 15 points, second 14, third 13 and so on.
Kwasniewski won at Colorado National Speedway in Dacono, on Aug. 6 to break Joey Logano’s record as youngest winner in the West’s 57-year history. He also eclipsed Darrell Wallace Jr.’s mark as youngest winner overall in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
A week later, the series’ leading Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate drove to Victory Lane again, this time at Montana Raceway Park in Kallispell.
Two wins in eight days highlighted a rookie campaign that has him seventh in series points – and just 26 out of fifth – despite not competing in the season opener at Phoenix International Raceway.
“Outstanding young driver,” said Jorge Mondaca of FOXSports.com. “From his record-breaking performance on the track to recent media he’s done, he looks destined for success in NASCAR.”
Morris’ recent hot streak, which includes sweeping a pair of twin Late Model features last month at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, has the Ruckersville, Va., veteran in line for another NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship.
Morris leads Connecticut’s Keith Rocco by three points heading into the weekend. The final date for races to count toward the national championship for NASCAR’s short-track racing series is Sunday, Sept. 18.
“The former champion had a month that could very well end up defining his 2011 campaign,” said Spencer Lewis of Canada’s Inside Track Motorsports News. “He’s widely regarded as one of the best Late Model drivers of the past decade, and he utilized the month of August to remind all of us exactly how he earned that reputation.”
Morris had earned the Hunter Index top spot in June.
Ryan Preece earned a first-place vote and finished third overall with 152 points. The asphalt Modified driver won three of his five starts in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway and Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway. He holds a 36-point lead over Rocco at Stafford and has moved within 22 points of Rocco’s lead at Thompson.
Bill Leighton Jr. (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Andrew Ranger (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
Leighton won four of six starts at I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., and Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., last month to move into the top five in the national standings. Ranger, the two-time Canadian Tire Series champion, won the pole and finished second at Trois-Rivieres and then won the pole, led the most laps and won the race at Montreal.
Lee Pulliam (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Andy Seuss (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour), Mike Stefanik (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), Bobby Henry (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Homero Richards (NASCAR Mexico Series) rounded out the top 10 in September’s voting.
Justin Bonsignore received the other first-place vote and was among five drivers to earn honorable mention. Bonsignore finished second to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour/Whelen Southern Modified Tour combination race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s also the points leader in the Modified Division at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway.
The Hunter Index, which was launched in 2010 on NASCARHomeTracks.com, is a monthly power poll designed to highlight the standout performances in the NASCAR developmental series. This year, the monthly winners will be presented with a trophy designed by Jostens.
The Hunter Index is named for the late Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications and a longtime supporter of the weekly and touring series that make up the NASCAR Developmental Series.
The Index was designed as an opportunity to compare the top drivers from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series all the way up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. It will also encompass drivers from the NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is the only series that did not race during the previous voting period.
The Hunter Index is released the first week of each month from April through November.
The panel also included media members: J.A. Ackley, Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated; Shawn Courchesne, Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Bob Dillner, SPEED; Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com; Keith Lair, Los Angeles Newspaper Group; Spencer Lewis, Inside Track Motorsports News; Jorge Mondaca, FOXSports.com; Pat Patterson, SIRIUS NASCAR Ch. 128/ESPN Radio; Len Sammons, Area Auto Racing News; David Smith, DavidSmithMotorsports.com; and Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com. They are joined by Brett Bodine, who is the chairman of the NASCAR Résumé Committee and represents the NASCAR competition side on the panel, and Jason Christley, a NASCAR public relations representative.
HUNTER INDEX - SEPTEMBER
|1.||DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why he’s here: The 16-year-old driver from Las Vegas broke through in the win column at Colorado and backed it up a week later at Montana as part of an impressive rookie campaign.|
|2.||PHILIP MORRIS (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The 46-year-old Ruckersville, Va., driver shows no signs of slowing down with four wins in four starts at South Boston as he makes his move for yet another national title run.|
|3.||RYAN PREECE (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Giving Rocco a run for his money – he was 3-1 head-to-head with the defending national champion – and is in position to claim the track championship at Stafford.|
|4.||BILL LEIGHTON JR. (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Four more wins in six starts at I-80 and Junction has the dirt Late Model driver closing fast on the top three spots in the national standings.|
|5.||ANDREW RANGER (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The two-time series champ from Roxton Pond, Quebec, continued his road course mastery with a second at Trois-Rivieres and a win at Montreal.|
|6.||LEE PULLIAM (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The Semora, N.C., driver continued his domination at Motor Mile with another pair of wins. He finished the month with five top fives in all five starts, including a runner-up finish at Caraway.|
|7.||ANDY SEUSS (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: Won the pole, led the most laps and captured an emotional win at Caraway Speedway.|
|8.||MIKE STEFANIK (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: Finished second at Stafford and then captured his first win in almost a year at New Hampshire – his 71st career win on the tour.|
|9.||BOBBY HENRY (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Three wins in four starts has moved the Connesllsville, Pa., driver into first place in the Late Model Division at Motordrome, and atop the series’ Pennsylvania standings.|
|10.||HOMERO RICHARDS (NASCAR Mexico Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Ran his win streak to four in a row with a victory at San Luis Potosi and led the most laps before finishing eight at Monterrey.|
HONORABLE MENTION: Keith Rocco (Stafford, Thompson and Waterford/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Nate Monteith (New Kingsport/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), CE Falk (Langley), Dan Fredrickson (Elko/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Justin Bonsignore (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Riverhead/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series).