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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was the fourth time Doug Coby took the stage to accept a NASCAR championship ring. As the elder statesman on the stage, the Milford, Connecticut, driver took a moment to reflect.
“It seems like just yesterday I was standing right here giving a speech for my first championship and now here I am for number four,” said 37-year-old from Milford, Connecticut. “But a lot has changed in the five years since my first championship, and in fact it has been a great five years for all of the series champions.”
Coby was one of six drivers on stage Saturday night at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame who received their NASCAR championship rings and trophies, culminating a memorable and exciting 2016 season.
Todd Gilliland (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West) and Cayden Lapcevich (NASCAR Pinty’s Series) are the two youngest champions in the history of NASCAR’s touring or national series. Burt Myers (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour) and Anthony Kumpen (NASCAR Whelen Euro Series) each collected their second NASCAR touring titles. And Justin Haley (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) will look to follow in former teammate William Byron’s path of going from touring champion to being a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship contender.
Together, they represented six different paths – from around the world – taken to reach the North Carolina stage and accept one of the sport’s greatest honors. Family was a common theme throughout the nights.
“Winning a championship is a hard and long battle and you need a family that supports you,” said Kumpen, who also won the Whelen Euro title in 2014. The 38-years-old from Hasselt, Belgium, won a series-high five races, and he clinched his championship in front of his home crowd at Circuit Zolder and in front of his racing idol, Jeff Gordon.
A 16-years-old from Grimsby, Ontario, Lapcevich won the first three races of his career and was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in ever NASCAR Pinty’s Series race this season.
“Originally we weren’t supposed to run a whole year,” said Lapcevich. “Just me and my dad and a couple crew members. Our thinking was, ‘Let’s try and play this out.’ There’s so much great talent in Canada. When you’re up against the best, it really teaches you to dig deep and bring your best. After that, every weekend I wanted to race for the championship. So thankful I can live out my dream racing every week.”
Gilliland, the 16-years-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, joined his grandfather Butch as a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion. His six victories matched the mark as the most in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West since Jimmy Insolo won nine in 1978.
And Burt Myers continued his family’s long history of success at North Carolina’s historic Bowman Gray Stadium with an eighth NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship. The 40-year-old from Walnut Cove, North Carolina, led the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour points the entire season en route to his second championship.
Coby became the first driver in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s modern era to win three straight titles, and he became just the fifth driver in NASCAR’s oldest division to win four or more titles. On the other end of the spectrum, Haley, a 17-years-old from Winamac, Indiana, broke through with his first championship season. He won twice to became the fourth consecutive driver for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks to win the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title. He’s also became the eighth straight teenager to win the K&N Pro Series East crown.
“Tonight is a celebration of remarkable achievements, and magical moments that occurred during the 2016 season but just as importantly, it’s also about the future of our sport,” said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president of regional and touring series. “Daniel Suarez crossed this stage a few short years ago. Today, he’s the NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. He’s a hero in his home country and a great ambassador of the sport. But Dani is not an anomaly. These series routinely feature men and women, from many diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, who are not just competing but competing for wins.”
The championship car owners and crew chiefs were also recognized Saturday night.
There were plenty of other trophies handed out, too.
In addition to the championship awards, each series rookie of the year was honored. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winners were Gilliland in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and Hunter Baize in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Matt Swanson in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Kyle Bonsignore in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Lapcevich earned the Josten's Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Pinty's Series, and Alon Day was awarded the Junior "Jerome Sarran" Trophy by the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series as the series' top young driver.
The Most Popular Driver Awards for each series were also presented during the ceremony. The seven drivers honored with the award, which was voted on by the fans through NASCAR.com, were Austin Theriault (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), Salvatore Iovino (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West), Melissa Fifield (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), Trey Hutchens (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour), Jason Hathaway (NASCAR Pinty’s Series), and Day.
The top-10 drivers and car owners from each of NASCAR's touring series also were recognized during the gala.
The awards ceremony was streamed live online at NASCARHomeTracks.com – the official online home of NASCAR’s touring series – in English, French and Spanish.