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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A balky transmission and a late-race caution is all that stood between Dylan Kwasniewski and perfection over the past month.
As it was, the 17-year-old Las Vegas driver has reeled off a pretty impressive stretch of two wins and two runner-up finishes to build on his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West points lead. His run also earned him the top spot in the June edition of the Hunter Index, as voted on by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives.
“Dylan had a month to remember across the board in West Series competition,” said Shawn Courchesne of RaceDayCT.com. “The youngster continues more and more to look like one of the next generation of NASCAR stars-to-be.”
Kwasniewski collected seven first-place votes among the 13 panelists that voted this month to easily outdistance the competition.
Not surprising considering the run he’s on.
In seven races, he hasn’t finished worse than fourth. He picked up his first win of the year at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway and was credited with a win as the top finishing West driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race at Iowa Speedway.
He came up short at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway when he lost the lead on the final lap to Michael Self while battling transmission issues. And a late-race caution helped Kwasniewski’s teammate Greg Pursley grab the win away the following week at Las Vegas.
Still, Kwasniewski heads to Sonoma in three weeks with a solid 12-point lead over veteran Pursley. First, though, he gets his second taste of NASCAR K&N Pro Series East action this weekend at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.
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 touring and regional series.
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 14 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.
The field Saturday at Gresham will also include Chase Elliott, whose win at Iowa helped propel him to second-place in the Hunter Index with one first-place vote. Elliott also finished sixth last weekend at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., to maintain his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points lead.
“It was just a matter of time before Elliott won his first K&N Pro Series race,” said Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com. “How many more will he rattle off before moving up the NASCAR ladder?”
Modified drivers Ryan Preece and Doug Coby were voted third and fourth, respectively. Preece won on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and also picked up a pair of wins in his Modified to move into the top 10 in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings. Coby, meanwhile, was second to Preece at Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H., and won at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway to take over the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour points lead.
J.R. Fitzpatrick, who had a first and a second in the first two NASCAR Canadian Tire Series events of the season, rounded out the top five.
Deac McCaskill (Southern National Raceway Park, Kenly, N.C./NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Pursley, Chad Walen (Raceway Park, Shakopee, Minn. and Elko (Minn.) Speedway/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Corey LaJoie (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) and Wayne Helliwell (Lee (N.H.) USA Speedway and Canaan (N.H.) Speedway/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) completed the top 10.
McCaskill, who was a perfect 4-for-4 in the asphalt Late Model division at Southern National, picked up two first-place votes.
“Deac is putting up numbers similar to what Philip Morris did last season at South Boston Speedway in his championships run,” said Damien Sordelett of the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee. “He has won eight of the nine races there this season and when he gets out front, he's displaying the same ability as Morris last season to stay out front and close out the wins."
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 Home Tracks.
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, and Euro-Racecar.
The Hunter Index is released the first Thursday of each month from April through November.
The panel also included media members: J.A. Ackley, Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated; Mark Billingsley, NASCAR freelance writer, Sacramento (Calif.) Bee; Shawn Courchesne, RaceDayCT.com; Bob Dillner, SPEED; Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com; Keith Lair, Los Angeles Newspaper Group; Spencer Lewis, Inside Track Motorsports News, Canada; Pat Patterson, SIRIUS NASCAR Ch. 128/ESPN Radio; Tim Quiveryn, TheThirdTurn.com; Len Sammons, Area Auto Racing News; David Smith, MotorsportsAnalytics.com; Damien Sordelett, sports writer with the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee; Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com, and Rea White, NASCAR editor, FOXSports.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 – JUNE
|1||DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why he’s here: Two wins and two runner-up finishes over his last four starts and no finish worse than fourth all season has the Las Vegas driver in front out West..|
|2||CHASE ELLIOTT (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: After just missing the win at Richmond, the Georgia teen drove to Victory Lane at one of the series’ biggest stages, Iowa, and continues to lead the points.|
|3||RYAN PREECE (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Getting it done on the tour but also having success against a tough field that includes former national champions Ted Christopher and Keith Rocco on a weekly basis.|
|4||DOUG COBY (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: Took over the points lead with an impressive late-race closing charge on Bobby Santos to grab the win at Stafford.|
|5||JR FITZPATRICK (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The only thing missing from his resume is a NASCAR title and he’s off to a strong start with a win and a second in the season’s first two races.|
|6||DEAC McCASKILL (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Veteran drivers just keeps motoring along, picked up another four wins in four starts in his Late Model at Southern National.|
|7||GREG PURSLEY (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why He’s Here: If it wasn’t for his Gene Price Motorsports teammate Kwasniewski, this veteran would be well on his way to a second straight West title.|
|8||CHAD WALEN (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: A near perfect month for the former Minnesota state champion with five wins in six Late Model starts at Elko and Raceway Park.|
|9||COREY LaJOIE (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: After a number of near-misses, the second-generation driver finally broke through for a popular win at historic Bowman Gray.|
|10||WAYNE HELLIWELL (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: Whether it’s Late Models at Canaan or Super Modifieds at Lee, he’s finding Victory Lane with regularity – three wins to go with six top fives in seven starts.|
HONORABLE MENTION: Andrew Ranger (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series), Lee Pulliam (South Boston Speedway/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Dwayne Baker (Barrie Speedway/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Daniel Suarez (NASCAR Toyota Series and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), and Jorge Goeters (NASCAR Toyota Series).