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MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Anthony Kumpen flew more than 4,000 miles to be part of the NASCAR Champions activities in North Carolina this week. And after 15 laps around the 11-turn, 0.7-mile GoPro Motorplex Thursday, Kumpen walked away with bragging rights by the slimmest of margins.
How narrow? Try .053 seconds.
Kumpen, the two-time NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion, edged NASCAR K&N Pro East champion Justin Haley by a mere few feet at the finish line to claim the checkered flag of the eighth Champions Karting Challenge.
In the Media / Champions race, it was NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion Matt Bowling and Motor Racing Network’s Kyle Rickey. It was Rickey’s third win in the event. He previously teamed with George Brunnhoelzl III in 2012 and Kumpen in 2014 to victories.
Haley was looking to become the sixth NASCAR K&N Pro Series East winner since the inaugural event in 2008 at K1 Speed in Anaheim. He jumped to an early lead before Kumpen got by as they battled with K&N Pro West champion Todd Gilliland. Haley used the draft to keep close to the Belgian, and then dove inside on Turn 9 of the final lap to take the lead.
Kumpen got him back in the final corner to take the win.
“I thought he was going to catch me in the last corner, so I was expecting that,” said Kumpen. “But he did it in the third to last corner, so I said, okay, now I have two corners to go for it. So I tried it in the last corner and I made it. But he ran a great race.”
“We were right there at the end, it was a pretty close finish at the start-finish line,” said Haley, “So it was a heckuva show.”
Gilliland came back from a mid-race spin to finish third.
The NASCAR drivers were paired with media members in a relay race based on their practice times Thursday morning. The champions kicked off the race before turning the wheel over to their media teammate.
Kumpen also led the first portion of that race before handing the steering wheel over to Dom Fugere of RDS. Zack Albert of NASCAR.com also briefly led before Rickey completed his charge to the front to drive away with the win.
“It was fun,” said Bowling. “I have to pick up a little bit. But luckily I have a good partner in Kyle. He made it happen. It was pretty cool.”
Said Rickey: “Matt was a great partner. We had a good pit stop (to change drivers), which is a key element to this event. It was fun; a good time out there.”
The champions were also honored Wednesday evening at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In addition to receiving their special commemorative NASCAR Champions helmets, they also saw their names added to the Whelen Wall of Champions – the room at the hall that boasts a list of every touring and national series champion in the history of NASCAR.
The awards ceremonies are set to begin Friday with the top finishers and special awards winners receiving their trophies and recognition during the annual Grand Champions Breakfasts at the Westin in Charlotte on Friday (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Saturday (NASCAR Touring Series). For the second year in a row, these events will be simultaneously streamed live on FansChoice.tv and NASCARHomeTracks.com.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards will take place Friday night. Among those honored will be Bowling as the 2016 national champion in addition to his South Boston Speedway late model title.
The awards will also recognize the Division I champions from 58 tracks across the United States and Canada, state and provincial champions and top rookies, Div. II-V national champions, and other special award winners.
On Saturday evening, NASCAR’s touring series champions will be recognized at the traditional NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards.
Honorees will include the champions from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, NASCAR Pinty’s Series, and NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. In addition, the series championship car owners and crew chiefs will receive their trophies, as well as the Most Popular Drivers and rookies of the year.
|2008||Brian Loftin||NWSMT||K1 Speed, Anaheim, Calif.|
|2009||Ryan Truex||NKNPS East||Victory Lane Indoor Karting, Charlotte, N.C.|
|2010||Bobby Santos||NWMT||Alex Hayden (MRN) (eighth, top media finisher)||Victory Lane Indoor Karting, Charlotte, N.C.|
|2011||Max Gresham||NKNPS East||Jay Pennell (FOX Sports) (second, top media finisher)||Victory Lane Indoor Karting, Charlotte, N.C.|
|2012||Kyle Larson||NKNPS East||George Brunnhoelzl (NWSMT) / Kyle Rickey (MRN)||GoPro Motorplex, Mooresville, N.C.|
|2014||Ben Rhodes||NKNPS East||Anthony Kumpen (NWES) / Kyle Rickey (MRN)||GoPro Motorplex, Mooresville, N.C.|
|2015||William Byron||NKNPS East||Chris Eggleston (NKNPS West) / Samuel Reiman (FOX Sports)||GoPro Motorplex, Mooresville, N.C.|
|2016||Anthony Kumpen||NWES||Matt Bowling (NWAAS) / Kyle Rickey (MRN)||GoPro Motorplex, Mooresville, N.C.|