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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – That Brett Moffitt and Dylan Kwasniewski sit 1-2 in championship points two races into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season is not exactly a surprise. Moffitt has been in contention for the last two East titles and Kwasniewski is coming off a West championship.
But the driver in third place, Kenzie Ruston, is a surprise, even to herself. Not the success, per se, but that it’s come so quickly for the 21-year-old from El Reno, Okla., who is coming off a history-making finish.
“We’re definitely here to run for the championship,” said Ruston, who is nine points behind Moffitt and one ahead of Greenville race winner Brandon Gdovic. “And we really have high hopes to be there at the end of the year – to be a championship contender and rookie of the year contender.
“I’m very, very shocked, I guess, because I didn’t think it would come this early.”
Ruston and the rest of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East are headed to Florida this weekend for the inaugural NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola. Saturday night’s race will be the series’ first visit to the banked, half-mile asphalt oval.
Ruston became the highest finishing female in NASCAR K&N Pro Series East history with her third-place finish last Saturday. She eclipsed the mark set by Danica Patrick with her sixth-place run at Dover in 2010.
Driving for Turner Scott Motorsports, Ruston qualified 17th at Greenville but gradually worked her way up on the flat half-mile. In the season opener at Bristol, she qualified 29th but was able to make it to up to 11th by the checkered flag.
"Qualifying has never been my strength and coming into the new cars, we've qualified a lot worse than we wanted," Ruston said. "It really has kind of helped. I've been able to get back there and ride and learn and save tires to be there at the end.
“We've been working hard and my crew chief (Rich Burgdoff) has worked hard with me. I'm mostly there every day at the shop working hard and trying to learn as much as I can about these cars so I can do the best I can for them.”
Ruston has previous experience at Five Flags, both running several crate Late Models there as well as competing in the annual late-season Snowball Derby weekend. She finished 10th in the Snowflake 100 in 2010.
“I love the place,” Ruston said. “It’s a lot of banking. It’s just a fast little race track. It’s almost like you never stop turning.”
|RACE:||NAPA Auto Parts 150|
|PLACE:||Five Flags Speedway, Pensacola, Fla.|
|DATE:||Saturday, April 13|
|TIME:||7 p.m. CT|
|TRACK LAYOUT:||Half-mile asphalt oval|
|2012 WINNER/POLESITTER:||Inaugural event|
|EVENT SCHEDULE:||Practice 12-12:45 p.m., Final Practice 1:15-2 p.m., Qualifying 5 p.m.; Driver Autograph Session 5:30 p.m.|
|TRACK CONTACT:||Tim Bryant 850-944-8400, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|EVENT TWITTER HASHTAG:||#5FlagsNAPA150|
|NASCAR CONTACT:||Jason Christley, 386-547-2469, email@example.com, Twitter: @jay_christley|
The Race: The NAPA Auto Parts 150 will be the inaugural event for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Five Flags Speedway and the third of 15 races on the 2013 schedule. It will also mark the first points event in series history in the state of Florida.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field will be 30 cars, including provisionals. The first 26 starting positions will be based on two-lap time trials and the remaining four will be filled through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (75 miles) with a 10-minute break at or near the conclusion of Lap 75. The maximum tire allotment is 16: eight for practice, four for qualifying and to begin the race and four additional tires for use during the race.
The Track: Five Flags is a half-mile asphalt oval with 15 degrees of banking in the turns and nine degrees in the straightaways. The facility opened in 1953, the same season the track held its only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
The History: This marks the first stand-alone points event for the series. The former NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro Series last made an appearance in 1997. Five Flags will become the 44th facility to welcome the K&N Pro Series East for a stand-alone event since its inaugural season of 1987. Florida will also be the 18th state the series has visited.
PENSACOLA RACE NOTES
Peña Returns To East Action: A full-time competitor in the series for three seasons, Sergio Peña will return to NASCAR K&N Pro Series East action this week at Five Flags Speedway. Peña joined Bill McAnally Racing to compete for the championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West this season, but he’ll make the first of three scheduled appearances back with the K&N East this year with his new BMR team staring in Pensacola. McAnally, long associated with NAPA, helped facilitate the race sponsorship for the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Five Flags and he’s bringing his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota and Peña out to participate.
Hausler To Make Series Debut: Already a well-accomplished young racer at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series level, Zak Haulser is set to make his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut this week in Pensacola with Brad Keselowski Racing, which will also be making its first foray in the series. Hausler captured the NWAAS Texas State title and Rookie of the Year honors in 2011. Although he’ll be a true K&N Pro Series rookie, Haulser does have stock car experience at Five Flags having finished 20th in the Snowflake 100 Pro Late Model event there last December.
Open Test Day: When the K&N Pro Series East heads to a new venue for a first-time event, it is common practice for there to be an open test at the facility prior to race weekend. That will be the case this Friday in advance of Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Five Flags. The session is not a NASCAR test, and NASCAR officials will not be on hand, but the teams will have an opportunity to get used to the track ahead of race day activities.
HOME TRACKS: Weekly Racing In Florida
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series now has a presence in the home state of NASCAR with the addition of New Smyrna Speedway and Orland Speedworld to the weekly program for 2013. New Smyrna got the season underway during Daytona Speedweeks with their own racing program – the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing – and Orlando just opened its season. The two tracks will combine to produce the first NWAAS Florida State Champion since 1981 when Jerry Lawley took home the title.
LAST TIME OUT: Greenville
The second event of the 2013 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season took place at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway on Saturday, April 6. Here are some highlights:
• Brandon Gdovic earned his first career K&N Pro Series East victory in the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 presented by G-Clean. His previous best – third – also came at GPS in this same event a year ago.
• Brett Moffitt captured his ninth career pole prior to the event and led the first 61 laps.
• South Carolina native Jeremy Burns finished second in what was his K&N Pro Series East debut.
• Kenzie Ruston crossed the line third for the best finish for a female driver in the series’ 27 years of competition.
• The event was originally scheduled for March 23 but was postponed due to rain.
NEXT TIME OUT: Richmond
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will head to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for the third year in a row with the Blue Ox 100 or Thursday, April 26 as part of a doubleheader with the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown charity race. The first two editions of the K&N Pro Series East at the “Action Track” have gone to Brett Moffitt and Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace has graduated to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but Moffitt will return to the .75-mile oval as a favorite again in 2013.