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Best of 2016: K&N Pro Series East

Haley Takes Home The Title; First-Time Winners A Plenty
By Brooke Franceschini, NASCAR
December 28, 2016 - 11:36am

AYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Justin Haley’s consistency throughout the season earned him his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship title.

The 17-year-old from Winamac, Indiana, lifted the trophy at Delaware’s Dover International Speedway after collecting top-10 finishes in all 14 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events.

Haley joined the elite list of previous K&N East Winners - such as Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez - after earning two wins, 13 top fives, 14 top 10s.

The 2016 champion wasn’t the only talented driver to shine in the series throughout the season.

Ranier Racing with MDM driver Kyle Benjamin challenged Haley the entire season for the top spot with the score finally being settled at Dover. The NASCAR Next alum scored three wins, including the finale at Dover, and finished just 22 points behind Haley.

The season was also highlighted by a remarkable number of first-time winners: The season's first seven races featured drivers making their first trip to Victory Lane in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. There were also seven different pole winners in the first eight races.

Twenty-one different drivers earned top-five finishes this year while 40 different drivers produced top-10 finishes throughout the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season.

Top Driver

 Haley: Haley rebounded this year after a sixth-place finish in the K&N Pro Series East championship staqndings in 2015. He start of his season strong with a fifth-place finish in the season opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway. Three races into the year, Haley scored his first career victory at South Carolina’s historic Greenville Pickens Speedway and he didn’t finish outside of the top five for the remainder of the year. In his 14 starts, the champion completed all 1671 laps and led 216. He also compiled an average start of 5.1 and an average finish of 3.4. It was recently announced that Haley with compete in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017 with GMS Racing.

WATCH: JUSTIN HALEY CHAMPION PROFILE | JUSTIN HALEY AWARDS SPEECH

Kyle Benjamin (Honorable Mention): The 19-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, fought Haley for the title until the end, and closed out the season with a win at Dover. The NASCAR Next alum notched three wins, nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes throughout the season and led a total of 582 laps in 2016. Benjamin had an average start of 3.9 and an average finish of 5.7, while completing all but 11 laps this season.

Top Team

HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks: For the fourth consecutive year, Harry Scott has fielded the championship car. The multi-car team finished first, third, fourth and seventh in the 2016 championship standings and they took home a total of three victories, 16 top fives and 37 top 10s. They’re best finishes of the year occurred at Alabama's Mobile International Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway where they finished first, seventh, eighth and ninth, and third, sixth, seventh and 10th, respectively. 

Ranier Racing with MDM (Honorable Mention): In their inaugural season, they earned four wins, 14 top fives and 16 top 10s. Benjamin competed for the team full-time this season and finished runner-up in the championship standings. Spencer Davis piloted a car for the freshman team for the first seven races and earned the team’s first victory at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway in a photo finish for his first career victory.

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The 2016 season saw seven first-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East winners in the first seven races, including NASCAR Next driver Tyler Dippel's win at Mobile (Ala.) International Speedway. NASCAR via Getty Images

Breakthrough Performance

Spencer Davis: Spencer Davis started his rookie season with a bang, racing for trophy at the season opener at New Smyrna. Some late-race drama prevented him from taking home his first career win and settled for a runner-up finish instead. It didn’t deter the 18-year-old from Dawsonville, Georgia, who went on to earn two top-five finishes in the next two races. The NASCAR Next driver accumulated one win, five top fives and 7 top 10s in 13 starts this season and earned his first career win in dramatic fashion at Virginia’s Dominion Raceway. Davis edged Justin Haley in a photo finish to claim the checkered flag.

Dominique Van Wieringen (Honorable Mention): The 21-year-old from Amherstburg, Ontario, had quite the rookie season. She started the season at New Smyrna with a 10th place finish after qualifying third and continued to prove throughout the year that she could run fast. She tallied three top-five and five top-10 finishes throughout the year, earning her best career finish with a third at both Greenville Pickens Speedway and in the finale at Dover International Speedway. Van Weiringen led a total of 140 laps in 2016, including 88 laps in the series’ return to Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway. 

Top Races

ComServe Wireless 150, Dominion Raceway, May 30: The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East’s inaugural race at Dominion ended in a dramatic photo finish between Davis and Haley. After review, Davis walked away with the win, his first in the series, by a mere margin of .005 seconds. A restart on Lap 145, following the wreck that collected Kyle Benjamin, who was tied in points with Haley at the time, and third-place Ronnie Bassett, gave Haley one last shot at Davis. Davis and Haley made contact off Turn 4 coming to the checkered, and went across the finish line side-by-side.

Jet Tools 150, New Smyrna Speedway, Feb. 14: Todd Gilliland, the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion, won the East opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway after some late-race drama. The 16-year-old, then 15, from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, led at the start-finish line at the completion of Lap 150, the scheduled distance of the event, but racing continued for a subsequent lap due to a delay in displaying the proper flags from the flag stand. On the ensuing circuit, Ronnie Bassett Jr. crossed the finish line first after contact with race leaders Spencer Davis and Gilliland. However, per the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rule Book and the event's entry blank, the official finish of the race reverts to the completion of Lap 150. Davis was scored as the race runner-up with Bassett in third. Gilliland’s win also kicked-off a trend of new winners for the K&N Pro Series East that continued throughout the first half of the season. 

Spencer Davis (41) crossed the finish line at Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, Virginia, inches ahead of Justin Haley to take home the win. Matt Hazlett/NASCAR via Getty Images