We continue to breakdown the 2015 Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes by looking at some of the top picks from the West Coast.
A lot of news agencies around the world get flack for a perceived regional bias. Look at an agency like ESPN. Based in the heart of New England, for years people have decried its focus on teams and sports popular in New England while neglecting action or stories in other parts of the country.
For logistical regions, Speed51.com powered by JEGS is mainly based on the East Coast as well. That's changed over the years as 51 has increased its presence in New England and the Midwest. Still, one region 51 continues to pinpoint as a place we want to do more with is the West Coast.
It's been an exciting year for the racing scene in that part of the country. The Kern County Winter Showdown was the first race to bring Southeast heavy hitters west in nearly 30 years. Young talent is percolating up into the Late Model ranks from the very strong Legends scene. In the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, there is a changing of the guard occurring as for the first time in about 10 years there is a solid core of young drivers contending for victory.
Derek Thorn has for years been the heavy hitter for the West Coast at the top of the 51 draft boards, but with our new age requirement (25 years of age or younger as of May 1) this year, he's aged out. Luckily, there are plenty of other new names from the West Coast that got taken this year off the board:
#5 - Rico Abreu – He's begun to get national attention after venturing east for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East 2015 season and winning the Chili Bowl in Oklahoma, but Abreu is a California kid at heart who is still tearing up the dirt tracks up and down the Pacific Coast.
#16 – Brandon McReynolds – Kind of the opposite of Abreu in that his East Coast success opened up this door out West. He's now in his second K&N West season but is still looking for that victory after capturing plenty of poles and top-five finishes.
#19 – Zane Smith – He'll probably fall in the "East Coast" category after 2015 is all said and done, but it's probably fair to let the West Coast claim him for one more season. Smith cut his teeth racing the famous Legends tracks of the Southwest from Las Vegas to Stockton and places in between, earning him the opportunity to race in the Southeast this season. Since the draft results were revealed, he won his first career PASS race at Kingsport.
#29 – Jeremy Doss – While Derek Thorn is still "The Man" in the Late Model competition on the West circuit, he's seeing the competitors in his rearview mirror get quite a bit younger. While guys like Jim Pettit and M.K. Kanke are pulling the reins back on their stellar careers, Doss is leading the charge of the new generation. Two-time runner up in SRL championship battles, Doss has a few big wins to his credit, though he does need to start making some 2015 races to stay in people's mind.
#36 – Dylan Cappello – Earning a championship in one of the toughest Modified series in the country at the age of 18 should grab anyone's attention. Cappello's two wins and eight top-tens in 10 starts last season vaulted the Legends graduate into the national spotlight. He also won the Lucas Oil Modified Series portion of the Winter Showdown.
#44 – Dylan Lupton – Going limited XFINITY Series racing this season after two very successful years of racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He has two wins on the West circuit to go with his runner-up points finish last season. A graduate of the Irwindale Speedway, a track that will probably be in the process of being demolished at Draft time next year.
#45 – James Bickford – While cousin Jeff Gordon goes into retirement after this season, Bickford is doing a fine job keeping the family legacy alive for the next generation. He's another Legends kid who has adapted well to the K&N West ranks. He won last year in Idaho and will continue racing full time for the powerful Bruncati effort this season.
#50 – Noah Gragson – If the Draft was held right now as opposed to two weeks ago, Vegas Bullring graduate Gragson might well have ended up half a dozen spots higher. He won his first career K&N West race at Tucson at the start of the month and leads the West points after three races. He also delivered a stunning performance in the Winter Showdown, wrecking his car in practice but then repairing it just in time to qualify into the field through a heat. He would go on to finish 12th in the hastily rebuilt car.
Here are five more names from the West Coast that, based on their early season work, could very easily be in next year’s draft. Brandon White is another rising SRL star who has already won in three different touring Late Model series in his career. Austin Barnes was the 2013 Lucas Oil Modified Series titlist and leads this season after winning the Havasu opener. Nicole Behar has already set records as the highest finishing female in K&N West competition and could well become the first female to win a NASCAR touring series race since Shawna Robinson in the 1980s. Ryan Partridge replaced Lupton in the second Bruncati car and has led large portions of the last two K&N West races. Parker Stephens, the son of former NASCAR Northwest Tour champion Dirk Stephens, finished 5th in the Apple Cup and 4th in the Evans Memorial 200 in his first ever forays in Super Late Model competition.
-By Tim Quievryn, 51's The Third Turn - Twitter: @thethirdturn