As we put Memphis in the rear-view mirror and head to the first of two road courses — and the official halfway point of the season — here’s a few things we learned in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East final visit of a five-race, four-track swing through Tennessee & Virginia.
Victory Lane Revisited
In the first six races of the season, we’ve had five different winners. This matches a recent trend in the series, where the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East had four different winners in five races last year and seven different winners in seven races in 2016.
In both those years, that didn’t carry through the season. In 2017, eventual champion Harrison Burton won three more times, Todd Gilliland won tour times and Will Rodgers swept the road courses for the other two victories. The year before, champion Justin Haley (two), Kyle Benjamin (three), Noah Gragson (two) and Austin Cindric (two) all finished with multiple wins.
Who will that be in 2018?
Saturday’s winner, Ruben Garcia Jr., may be one of the leading candidates.
Although it was his first win in 34 starts in the series, the 2015 NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series champion has a track record of getting hot after getting that breakthrough win. The Mexico City native started racing in the Mexico Series as a 15-year-old and had just one win in his first 45 starts. But after winning his seventh race of the 2015 season, he added another pair of wins en route to the title.
“I know, after the first one, things change a little bit,” said Garcia after piloting the No. 6 Max Siegel Inc. Toyota to Victory Lane. “As a driver, if you go to a race track not thinking you’re capable of doing it, you’ve already lost.
“When you finally do it, it’s different. It really, really builds confidence.”
Garcia can look to his countryman — and fellow former Rev Racing driver Daniel Suarez — as a prime example. Suarez was 0-for-23 in the K&N Pro Series before his first win. That helped set off a string of seven finishes in nine starts inside the top three, including three wins.
DGR-Crosley Keeping Pace
It was hard to find two drivers more disappointed with podium finishes than Tyler Ankrum and Tyler Dippel Saturday. And perhaps with good reason. The DGR-Crosley teammates were tops in practice, and went 1-2 in qualifying with Ankrum setting the track record.
“Obviously it was a strong performance; not the finish we wanted,” said Ankrum, who led a race-high 54 laps before settling for second. “We dominated a good portion of this race.
“We had a really good car those first 100 laps. We were just riding, waiting for that last break. I thought we had a car to win. Something happened on that last break and the car got really, really tight. And I had a vibration in the right front those last 50 laps. … A little disappointed, but I came out of here with a pole and track record, so that’s something good to reflect on.”
Dippel was more pointed, taking exception to the way Spencer Davis raced him while they were up front: “A good day overall. A little frustrating. … Just got a bad restart there, and never got another caution. Lost a lot of track position; we were just as fast as those guys. They just got checked out there. I just spent too much time racing with those guys. The 82 was running me really dirty, and just not enough time.”
Memphis marked the sixth straight race DGR-Crosley has had at least one podium finisher, and the fourth time they’ve had two. In fact, the team’s worst finish to date is a pair of fifth-place runs. They’ve won four of six races and occupy the top two spots in the standings. It’s not just the race, though. Not counting the lineup for the second twin race at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway (set by top lap speed in the first twin race), the team has qualified inside the top four in 10 of their 11 attempts. Memphis marked the second time they’ve qualified 1-2.
There is precedent in the K&N Pro Series East. In 2011, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Sergio Pena won three races apiece as Rev Racing went to Victory Lane in half of the season’s 12 events. In 2014, Turner Scott Motorsports won eight of 16 races with three drivers, led by series champion Ben Rhodes’ five wins. The following year, HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks was even more dominant: Winning seven of 14 races, led again by series’ champion William Buron, and taking five of the top six spots in the championship standings.
- Davis’ had a really strong run in the No. 82 Horton Avenue Materials LLC Chevrolet shortened by electrical issues. The NASCAR Next alum from Dawsonville, Georgia, led 53 laps and was in position to challenge for the win when his day came to an end on Lap 139.
- Hailie Deegan’s day may not have ended the way she wanted, as tire & pit strategy backfired in the final 10 laps and she wound up 13th. But the 16-year-old NASCAR Next driver showed how quickly she’s adapted to stock cars when she sliced her way to the front in the middle stage. Deegan led three laps, becoming the fourth female in series history to lead laps. She joins Danica Patrick, Kenzie Hemric and Dominique Van Wieringen. [Hat tip to series’ unofficial historian Rick DeBour for that stat.]
- Garcia stole the headlines, but the entire Rev Racing team had an impressive day. NASCAR Next driver Ryan Vargas had his best run to date with a seventh-place finish, as he methodically worked his way up from a 16th-place qualifying spot. NASCAR Next alum Chase Cabre continued his string of strong runs. Shaking off the disappointment of coming so close at South Boston, Cabre finished fourth at Memphis and is looking very much like a threat to follow his teammate into Victory Lane.
- At 33-years-old, Marcos Gomes is easily the oldest driver in the field on most days. However, the 2015 Stock Car Brasil champion is quietly putting together a strong rookie season. His 10th at Memphis was his third top 10 in five starts. Likewise, Virgina’s Colin Garrett, 17, collected his third top 10 in four starts.
Tweet of the Weekend
— K&N (@knfilters) June 3, 2018