A rookie season that ended with four checkered flags, and a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship, puts Tyler Ankrum in an elite list of drivers.
Ankrum becomes just the sixth driver in K&N Pro Series East history to win both the Sunoco Rookie of the Year and the championship in the same season. He joins William Byron (2015), Ben Rhodes (2014), Kyle Larson (2012), Ryan Truex (2009) and Joey Logano (2007) in the list of drivers who have accomplished the feat.
Byron, Larson and Logano are current competitors in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; both Larson and Logano are in the 2018 Cup playoffs, while Byron is leading the Cup Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series title last season. Rhodes qualified for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs this season, and Truex, who is a two-time K&N East champion, qualified for the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.
RACING-REFERENCE: K&N Pro Series East Contingency Award Standings
Ankrum completed his success driving for DGR-Crosley Racing.
“It was such a stellar year in my rookie year. I’m just so thankful for the year we had, and so thankful for David’s call to come down to the shop,” Ankrum said. “Those are guys that I look up too and to be part of that group and forever be a K&N champion… to say you want to do it is one thing, but to actually do it, it’s an important feat.”
He is recognized as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year after his dream season ended with him 94 points up on Anthony Alfredo. The San Bernardino, California, driver was the leading rookie contender in eight of the 13 races. Ryan Vargas was third.
“For me, beating those guys, they are in my age group and the guys I am battling with to make it to the next level,” Ankrum said. “It gives me confidence that what we were doing all year was right and it goes to show that we had something really good going this year. It was the chemistry of the team and I together as one.”
I want to thank everyone @DGR_CROSLEY @DavidGilliland for the opportunity to drive the #54 May’s Hawaii @ToyotaRacing Tundra @NASCAR_Trucks @MartinsvilleSwy To everyone who has reached out to congratulate me. I feel the love and support! THANK YOU everyone!! #verygrateful
— Tyler Ankrum (@TylerAnkrum) October 17, 2018
RACING-REFERENCE: Tyler Ankrum’s 2018 Stats
Ankrum points to the first race of the season, at New Smyrna Speedway, as the start of the success. He started 25th in the opener but worked his way through the field and finished fifth in his first career start.
“Starting the year off the way we did was huge. It’s hard starting off with a new team, but having the run we did at New Smyrna was an assurance to me, and my guys, and it gave the guys confidence in me. We had such a strong performance there and the guys were so impressed with how fast I took to the car and the track, that they were pumped for how things were going to go,” Ankrum said.
“When we got the win and we decided to go full-time, it just took off from there. We were all having a ton of fun. We were always one of the cars to beat, and most of the time it was between and Tyler (Dippel). Having those performances early in the year really propelled us to our three wins in a row we had.”
In a sense, accumulating points towards the K&N Pro Series East championship, and winning races, almost made Ankrum forget he was still a Rookie of the Year contender.
“I pressed so hard when it came to the points, and everyone told me not to chase the points, but in my mind I did. I told myself I was out there to win but that the points were valuable as well. Sometimes I lost sight of it when we just kept on worrying about the championship standings, I realized I was still worried about Rookie of the Year points.”
As he looks to begin his climb up the ladder, Ankrum will make the next step in his career at Martinsville Speedway. He will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut with DGR-Crosley in the No. 54 May’s Hawaii Toyota next Saturday.
“To have the opportunity with him (Gilliland) is huge, because the equipment is good in the Truck Series. David has probably been the most influential person in my career, he helped me get started in every next level,” Ankrum said.
“When I was racing Midgets on the West Coast, I was best friends with Todd and David asked me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I told him I wanted to be a Cup driver like him. He started getting me into Late Models, the K&N car, and now here we are moving into the Truck.”
Ankrum, his DGR-Crosley team, and the rest of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series top finishers and special award winners will be honored at NASCAR Awards Charlotte on Friday, Dec. 7.