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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Austin McDaniel advanced from top rookie in 2011 to top of the points in 2012 at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. McDaniel, 18, of Harrisburg, N.C., won the NASCAR Late Model title at Hickory a year after being the state’s NASCAR rookie-of-the-year.
“We were lucky enough to have things go exactly like we needed,” McDaniel said. “We just wanted to finish one spot better in track points than we did in 2011.”
In his rookie season McDaniel placed second to Jesse LeFevers in the track point race. The two swapped positions in 2012.
With his single-car family-owned team, McDaniel tripled his 2011 win total of three into nine feature wins in 2012.
“It was important to have that year of experience under our belt,” McDaniel said. “It made me a better driver.”
“We focused on Hickory,” McDaniel said. “We have one car and we didn’t want to risk tearing it up and missing a chance at the Hickory championship.
“We’d like to get out to some other NASCAR tracks this year,” McDaniel said. “We’d like to get more experience at adapting to different tracks like Greenville-Pickens, Motor Mile and Kingsport.”
McDaniel steadily built his racing career. He was 12 when he competed in Quarter Midgets for the first time. He moved to Legends racing in 2008-09, before advancing to Hickory’s Limited Late Model division in 2010. With four wins he placed third in track points and was the division’s rookie-of-the-year. His career hit the fast lane in 2011-12.
Many of NASCAR’s all-time greatest drivers including Ralph Earnhardt, Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett won Hickory championships while they were establishing their careers. The complete list is displayed at the main fan entrance to the track, and McDaniel’s name is the latest addition.
“Being on the list of Hickory champions is prestigious,” McDaniel said. “It feels good to be part of it.”
Despite racing only one night a week, McDaniel’s performance at Hickory got him to 32nd place in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series top 500 for 2012. His 22 race record included nine wins, 20 top fives and 21 top 10s.
McDaniel’s car is owned by his father, Brian and grandfathers David Traylor and James McDaniel. The crew chief is Jonathan Morrison while Chris Harrington is the engine specialist and tire specialist Terri Ellis. Also supporting the effort are the driver’s mother Stephanie, sister Madison and girlfriend Ashlyn. Brian McDaniel is general manager at Honda Cars of Hickory, one of their team sponsors. Hendrickcars.com and Autotrader.com also support the effort.
McDaniel is studying mechanical engineering at Rowan-Cabarrus (N.C.) Community College.
McDaniel was honored in December for his track championship during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event at the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 16 counted toward their states and national point totals, and the champions are decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total would increase incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.