Here are 2015 Short Track Draft Picks #2-#10.
Hometown: Boca Raton, FL
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Super Late Models
One of the most dominant running backs in the National Football League over the course of the past two seasons has been Dallas Cowboys running back Demarco Murray. Murray, who is approaching his fifth year in the league, burst onto the scene in 2013 (his third year in the league) with his first 1,000 yard rushing season and quickly transformed into one of the most talked about players in the game.
In the short track racing ranks, 17-year-old Dalton Sargeant burst onto the scene in similar fashion over the course of the last six months. Previously a relatively unknown, Sargeant, caught the eye of short track racing fans everywhere in December of 2014 by finishing runner-up in the 47th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
Just a few short days after his impressive run in the nation’s most prestigious Super Late Model event, Sargeant announced that he was teaming up with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East powerhouse HScott Motorsports for a run at the 2015 K&N East championship. As his name continued to be tossed around by those around the industry, the 17-year-old went on to finish second in the Inaugural $25,000-to-win Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA).
When his moment to shine came in February, Sargeant lived up to the hype by recording a runner-up finish in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at New Smyrna Speedway (FL). He followed that up with a third-place finish at Greenville-Pickens Speedway (SC), as well as a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win in his first series start at Kern County Raceway Park (CA).
At the end of the day, Sargeant’s impressive march into short track racing stardom earned him votes from 74% of industry experts who voted in this year’s draft. Out of those votes, he earned five first-place votes and 41 top-10 votes. Those are pretty impressive numbers for a driver who had never previously cracked the top-51 in the Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes.
If Sargeant can continue building on his momentum throughout the 2015 season, don’t be surprised if a few doors open up for him to make a move up the ladder in 2016.
Hometown: Berlin, CT
Series: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Twitter: @RyanPreece_In 2012, University of South Carolina’s JaDeveon Clowney jumped to the forefront of national football attention when he laid a monster hit down in a bowl game. Immediately people began questioning if he should go as the #1 draft pick. Clowney wasn’t quite ready for the NFL Draft yet, so he played one more college football season before filing for the 2014 draft. His 2013 season was a headscratcher – he followed up his monster year with a mediocre one, drawing the ire of coaches and failing to make any huge contributions before ending the year with injury. Still, the Houston Texans believed enough in him to make him the #1 overall pick of the 2014 Draft.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but Ryan Preece is the closest to Clowney’s story of anyone in this top group. Potential finally met results in 2013 when he claimed the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title, ran well in his first NASCAR XFINITY Series race, and finished fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
2014 wasn’t bad by any means, but it was a step back for “Preece Lightning.” Through the first nine months of ’14, Preece hadn’t won much of anything. He was having some Whelen All-American Series success but remaining winless on the Tours had thrown his ride with Flamingo Motorsports into jeopardy.
But Preece did what so many of Clowney’s opponents simply can’t do – get back up on his feet. He won the last two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races of 2014 and then switched over to the TS Haulers powerhouse without missing a beat in 2015. He’s tacked on a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour victory, a dominating World Series championship, the North-South Shootout trophy and has finished top-five in the first two Northern Tour races to start off his season.
The spring bounce-back has probably helped re-inflate his draft stock, but it’s likely he could have been a top-10 pick even without a handful of these early 2015 accolades. Last year, our panel of experts projected him as the third best talent in the Short Track Draft. After an underwhelming 2014, our panel of experts … still projects him as third.
Hometown: Huntersville, NC
Series: Super Late Models
Twitter: @HBurtonRacingGrowing up the son or daughter of a professional athlete isn’t always an easy task. Despite having the resources needed at their fingertips, second-generation athletes have constant pressure put on them to succeed due to their last names.
Some second-generation athletes, such as future NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning (son of Archie Manning), have proven that they can ignore the pressure and perform at a high-level. Others like Jarrett Payton, the son of NFL great Walter Payton, haven’t been able to live up to the expectations that come with being the son of a former great in their sport.
Fourteen-year-old Harrison Burton, the son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Jeff Burton, has proven thus far during his short track racing career that he belongs in the category of athletes who can handle the pressure of being a second-generation athlete.
In just his second year of Super Late Model competition, Burton has displayed a tremendous amount of growth and maturity behind the wheel of a full-bodied race car. Despite being one of the youngest drivers on the track, he is often seen making moves and decisions that even the most experienced short track racers have trouble making.
The Huntersville, North Carolina native picked up the first two Super Late Model wins of his career in February during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL). He followed that up with a podium finish in the Baby Rattler 125 and a top-10 run in the prestigious Rattler 250 at South Alabama Speedway.
What may be even more impressive than his results on the race track is the maturity level displayed by Burton both on and off the track. When speaking to the media, Burton is well-spoken and offers well thought out answers to each question he is asked.
Right now, Burton has the full package and the resources behind him to eventually make it to the top of the racing ladder. That total package earned him votes from 67% of the industry experts who voted in this year’s Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes. Thirty-three of those votes were top-10 votes and three of this year’s experts voted Burton as their top pick.
Hometown: Helena, CA
Series: Open Wheel, Late Models, KNEast
Twitter: @Rico_AbreuSize, much like age, is only a number. While NFL teams are always looking for the biggest and strongest linemen to defend the trenches, if the “big hogmollies” aren’t athletic enough to hold back the speedy players on the other side, size is useless.
Inside a racecar, everyone is the same size. Each car must weigh the same, whether the driver is six-foot-six or just north of four feet tall, like Rico Abreu. It’s what the driver does inside the car that matters, and over the past few seasons, Rico Abreu has done plenty to earn a top notch in this year’s Short Track Draft.
The moment that solidified Abreu as a star came earlier this year at the prestigious Chili Bowl indoor Midget car race in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Abreu topped hundreds of the best open-wheel drivers in the country and sent the sold-out crowd into a raucous chorus of “Rico! Rico!” as he climbed from his winning car in victory lane.
The Californian, who was born with achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, was a winner in multiple Sprint Car features along the West Coast and beyond long before his crowning moment in Tulsa. Since then, he has been getting more and more seat time behind the wheel of full-bodied stock cars. Following the trend set by his longtime friend Kyle Larson, Abreu has been making starts in asphalt Late Models and is competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2015.
Abreu’s stock certainly rose after his Chili Bowl win. He earned three first-place votes from this year’s voting panel and appeared on an impressive 63% of the ballots. How his stock car ventures go in 2015 will go a long way in determining whether NASCAR racing is truly in Abreu’s future.
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Super/Pro Late Models, Legends
While there are no real un-wholesome “players” in the Short Track Draft, William Byron, like Mariotta, is a “take home to momma” type of young star. The 17-year-old North Carolinian is a former Legends Car National Champion (2013) and NASCAR Whelen All-American Series North Carolina Rookie of the Year (2014), who is competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East this season with powerhouse HScott Motorsports.
Byron picked up his first career K&N East win at the tough Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) earlier this year and has run strong in several Pro and Super Late Model starts as well. All the while, he has impressed the faith-based Liberty University enough to back him in his racing efforts, putting his smiling, handsome face over on and off-campus marketing platforms.
The Short Track Draft panel believes in the wholesomeness of Byron, as well, voting him to an 8.9 average position. He picked up three first-place votes and was in the top 10 on 30 ballots.
Hometown: Easley, South Carolina
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East
Twitter: @KyleBenjamin71Sometimes your draft stock slips a lot. Everybody remembers Matt Leinart sitting and waiting for what seemed like forever for his name to be called a few years ago. Sometimes a big performance late in a bowl game can save your draft stock. That’s exactly what happened to Kyle Benjamin.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol Motor Speedway a couple weeks ago was Benjamin’s big bowl game performance. Benjamin started eighth, worked his way to the front and led 81 of 150 laps to score the biggest win of his career so far.
As recently as a month ago it didn’t seem like Benjamin would get picked too high in this year’s Short Track Draft. Especially not anywhere near the No. 5 spot where he was selected last year. It had been a while since anyone had really heard anything from the 17-year-old driver out of South Carolina, and our expert panel said that his stock was dropping in the 51 War Room.
Benjamin also has an ARCA Racing Series win to his credit as well as eight wins in a Super Late Model at the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) on his resume. Benjamin is a development driver for Roush-Fenway Racing and will continue to seek more K&N East wins throughout the year as he chases the title.
As a result of his performance at Bristol and his other accomplishments, Benjamin received votes from 60-percent of our voters, as well as 28 top-10 votes including two first-place votes.
Hometown: Concord, NC
Series: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
Twitter: @CoreyLaJoieCam Newton. Johnny Manziel. Jameis Winston. What do these former first-round NFL draft picks have in common with the Short Track Draft’s Corey LaJoie? More than you might think.
All three of these famous football players earned a reputation in college and not always the best kind. Charisma is often a double-edged sword, and this trio has found themselves on both sides in their first few years of professional football, each facing minor suspensions and NCAA inquiries that led to character concerns.
But charisma is what made NFL teams take a risk on them anyway. Quarterbacks are supposed to be leaders of men, with just the right amount of swagger and arrogance underlying their ability to command a huddle.
Now enter Corey LaJoie. He’s bold, he’s brash, and he’s got that swagger. He’s got a mouth that’s gotten him in trouble on TV and fingers that have gotten him in trouble on Twitter. But people love him anyway. He’s the mystery flavor in a field of vanilla personalities. And while his machismo is getting him in hot water every now and then, it’s keeping his name at the forefront for those looking for the next big thing.
LaJoie’s 2014 statistics were not anything to write home about. He finished an impressive 10th in an underfunded NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride at Bristol, but mostly the second-rate equipment his Petty Development Driver deal lined up led to crashes and mediocre finishes. His only solid plans for the season is a limited NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride.
Yet our panel still believes in LaJoie’s talent and skill. Charisma and past success alone may allow him to slot #8 this season, but he’s going to have to perform in 2015 to move any further up the ladder.
Hometown: Sacramento, California
Series: USAC Sprint Cars and Midgets
Twitter: @BryanClausonThe New York Giants have the ninth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft so in this case, Bryan Clauson would be their guy. Clauson is in his final year of draft eligibility and this year his draft position went up compared to the 2014 Short Track Draft where he was selected 14th overall.
Clauson has accomplished a lot in his career, with most of those achievements coming in the dirt world. 2014 Chili Bowl Nationals champion, two-time USAC National Midget Series champion, three-time USAC National Driver’s champion, two-time Turkey Night winner, two-time USAC National Sprint Car Series champion, you name it and he’s probably done it.
He also has amassed a pretty impressive asphalt resume. Clauson has started the Indianapolis 500, as well as a number of NASCAR XFINITY Series races.
All of those accomplishments got Clauson into the top-10 in the Short Track Draft thanks to 54-percent of the voters having him on their ballots. Clauson received 22 top-10 votes as well as two first-place votes this year.
Hometown: Little Chute, Wisconsin
Series: CRA Super Series
Twitter: @RossKensethAs a former number one pick (2011), Ross Kenseth has spent his fair share of time in the 51 Short Track Draft – six consecutive years to be exact. Kenseth did garner one first place vote amongst our panel of experts and is even garnering some attention from the top levels of the sport.
Former NFL coach Joe Gibbs has taken notice of Kenseth’s talent, stating in a JGR press release, “Ross has been working hard and showing he is ready for the next step.” The Super Bowl championship coach is no stranger to the draft process be it on the field or on the race track.
Kenseth will be taking the first big step later this year piloting and XFINITY Series car for Gibbs at Chicagoland Speedway becoming the second former draft pick from the 51 Short Track Draft to start for Gibbs in that series, and in that very car, just this year alone (Erik Jones).
Although winless in 2014, Kenseth proved to be a front runner with strong finishes throughout the year. Spending the majority of his time with the CRA Super Series racking up five top five finishes and 12 out of 14 top-10s en route to a runner-up finish in the championship standings.
Whether it’s leading teams to Super Bowls on the football field or drivers to Victory Lane on the race track, perhaps nobody is more familiar with the process regardless of the playing field than “The Coach,” and Coach Gibbs is just as enamored with the young Kenseth as the Short Track Draft panel.
– Text by Speed51.com staff