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There was only one goal in Anthony Kumpen’s mind since the end of the 2015 season and it was to win back the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Championship. To mark his name in the Whelen Hall Of Champions at the NASCAR Hall Of Fame and receive the NWES Champion’s ring from Mike Helton once again, the 2014 NWES Champion had to strive for perfection in every single detail all season long and so he did, winning one of the hardest fought battles in NASCAR Whelen Euro Series history.
Those small details he and PK Carsport spent so much time and effort working on granted Kumpen a career-high 5 wins, two poles and a final margin of 11 points over a stratospheric Frederic Gabillon, who notched 12 top-5s in 12 races. PK Carsport also took the ELITE 2 Division title with a dominant performance by Stienes Longin and the Teams Championship with the #24 Chevrolet SS Kumpen shared with Gabriele Gardel.
“The title in 2014 was something special, but also something totally unexpected. We didn’t know exactly what it would mean. This time we knew exactly what was at stake and the only option was to win. There was no way we could allow ourselves to lose this Championship,” said Kumpen. “We didn’t win any title in 2015 we knew we had to raise the level this year. We did a great job, we came back stronger than ever and we made the difference. You cannot compare this to anything else, this was the best success in my racing career for sure.”
The Belgian’s season opened with his first NASCAR pole position and a win in Valencia in a race in which he resisted every attack brought by Gabillon until the finish line, setting the tone for the rest of the season: a three-way battle with Frederic Gabillon and Alon Day. Kumpen won once at Brands Hatch and Venray, while Gabillon triumphed at Venray and Day grabbed one win at Valencia and one at Brands Hatch. Two wins on the Tours Speedway oval in the final round of the regular season put Gabillon in the lead by a single point over Kumpen entering the summer break.
“The turning point for us were the playoffs. We knew they would be determinant for the final outcome of the Championship and we spent the entire summer break working from early in the morning to late at night,” said Kumpen. “There’s very little you can do on the cars, it’s all in the details and the entire team worked really hard to make a difference. I also worked on myself and I lost several kilos in the summer break. I believe that we have been 2% or 3% better than Fred and Alon and that’s where we won it.”
The 2014 Champion scored big in the Adria Semi Finals, winning one race and finishing second behind Day in the other to enter the Finals as the points leader on his home track: Circuit Zolder. In an event he strongly contributed to build and turned out to be a huge success, Kumpen won a decisive race on Saturday while Gabillon and Day lost most of their title hopes in an early contact that forced the Frenchman to a spectacular comeback. Kumpen started the final race of the season with the chance to control the points situation in front of his crowd and NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, who served as Grand Marshal and cheered for his Belgian friend, but everything became harder at the first corner.
“We got hit at the start and we had some technical issues due to it, so it all came down to keeping my car on track and finish in the top-10. It was hard and I did everything I could, I even lost second gear. My team gave me such a strong car and I have to thank them so much because I’m just a small part of the operation and without them I wouldn’t be the Champion today,” commented the 38-year-old. “Crossing the finish line and celebrating with my team and my fans was definitely the best moment of the season. Receiving the trophy from Jeff Gordon is a feeling I cannot describe. I have to thank everybody, from NASCAR to the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series and Zolder and of course Fred Gabillon and Alon Day for making this season so great. Fred is a really good driver and a very nice guy and he was so fast. From time to time we were just a little bit better and that’s where we won the championship. Alon is a lot younger and has a bright future ahead of him.”
Kumpen is already looking forward to defend his NWES title in the 2017 season and to race in the US. His plans already include the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway and the road course race at Mid-Ohio during the summer.
“I will come back to NASCAR Whelen Euro Series for sure because I want to help the Series grow and give the chance to my competitors to beat the Champion on track and I will also try to race as many NXS races as possible, especially on road courses, where I think as European drivers we can really get some good results,” concluded the Hasselt-native, who posted a solid 26th place finish in his Daytona debut in February and has a 24th place at Phoenix in 2015 as his best result in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series 2017 season will open on April 8-9 with the traditional Valencia NASCAR Fest, while Kumpen’s first NASCAR race of the season will be the NASCAR Xfinity Series PowerShares QQQ 300 on February 25th at the Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard