For the first time since 2008, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East returns to Stafford Motor Speedway for 150 laps of racing on Friday night. But the majority of the teams showed up early on Thursday for a three and a half hour practice session in the afternoon. It is the first time that many in the field have laid eyes on Connecticut’s half-mile, much less taken laps around the track at speed.
Burton Finds Speed
As drivers learned the track, the speeds began to pick up throughout the day. By the time the sun began to go down Harrison Burton was at the top of the board with a 19.527 second lap. He found speed that the No. 12 team had been looking for long before making the trip north to the Nutmeg State.
“I’m really happy. We’ve been fighting not being able to go fast in the K&N Series. We’ve worked so hard on this race car to make it better and we kind of struggled all year to be honest,” Burton told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “To be able to come out and run really fast in practice and be really confident going into the next day is huge for our team. Team morale is definitely up after this session and I can’t wait to see what Friday holds.”
Davis Returns to Stafford
Spencer Davis won last time out at Dominion Raceway (VA), which was a brand new track for the entire series. While Stafford is new to the majority of competitors, he has competed at Stafford twice before. But both of his starts were in a Tour-Type Modified on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour one year ago.
“Both times I’ve been here it’s been a Tour Modified, these cars are definitely a little different. You still run the same line but with a little less tire you definitely don’t have the corner grip,” Davis explained.
Davis returns to Stafford in 2016 with the same speed that got him his first K&N East victory three weeks ago at Dominion.
“We had a real good car, we unloaded off the trailer about two or three tenths quicker than the next fastest. It’s a real testament when we unload we’re on our game. We fiddled around all day on old tires to make the car better for race runs because as a team we felt like that’s something we might have lacked just a little bit.”
Gragson Finds Speed Early
Noah Gragson continues his busy 2016 season running both the K&N East and West Series. He too is coming off a strong run at Dominion with a third-place finish, a career high in East competition. Sporting his familiar No. 7 that he runs on the West Coast, Gragson was the driver atop the charts much of the day before Burton and Davis made their fast runs late in the day.
“We ended up third. We made a mock run there about halfway through. We’re sitting first on the board for a while then Spencer and Harrison went out and they went a little faster than us. But, the car’s driving really good. I’m happy and the team’s happy,” said a happy Gragson.
Haley Ready for Points Racing
Current NASCAR K&N Pro Series East points leader Justin Haley clocked in sixth on the day, with the team experimenting with different setups on the No. 5 HScott Motorsports machine. He feels confident they will still be a threat on Friday night. And while he still wants to win, he will attempt to win while keeping the points in mind.
“We were good, we tried a little different front end package then our teammates and we still ended up sixth so not bad. We’re going to do what we know and be a lot faster Friday,” said Haley. “It’s definitely points racing at this point. You saw Dominion I’m going for it, but in a smart way.”
Difficulties for Gilliland
Todd Gilliland makes his third K&N East appearance of 2016 flying the flag for sponsor NAPA which is also a major sponsor of racing at Stafford. It has been a somewhat tough start to the weekend for the No. 16 team as clutch troubles propped up before the car could turn laps. After using half the session to make the change, Gilliland was only able to make a few runs and was 17th on the time charts. He is still confident that the team can find what they need on Friday.
“We only got out there three times,” he explained. “Crew had some good ideas to change for Friday. We have decent speed, we just need to pick it up a little bit, that’ll come with more laps on the track and also just getting the car a little bit better. But, we’re not that far off and I have no doubt these BMR guys will fix it up.”
Dippel Gets the Home Advantage
New York’s Tyler Dippel has never run in competition at Stafford like many others competing Friday night. But he has found a wealth of local knowledge in Stafford’s own Woody Pitkat, who has won over 70 races at Stafford in his career from Late Models to Modifieds. It has paid off for Dippel who put down consistent lap times on Thursday and now hopes to couple that with his local dirt racing fan base from home.
“We met Woody last year through Buzz Chew and our engine builder that builds our dirt car engine, he builds cars for the SK’s. He’s been helping me out, he’s been a big help here coaching me because he’s run so many laps here and it’s just been really beneficial for the whole team,” Dippel stated. “I probably consider this my to be my home track since it’s only an hour and a half from home, hopefully a lot of my dirt fans come out and see me.”
Thursday Practice Times
|7||30||Dominique Van Wieringen||19.780|
|13||42||Jairo Avila Jr||19.860|
|15||6||Ruben Garcia Jr||19.963|
|22||43||Ronnie Bassett Jr.||No Time|
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com