DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A host of new drivers, and a crop of talented racers returning to the series, begin the march toward the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship when a brand new season takes the green flag in the Jet Tools 150 at New Smyrna Speedway in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, on Sunday, February 19. For the fourth consecutive season, K&N Pro Series teams begin their season during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna.
Of the 28 drivers entered in the Jet Tools 150, the first of 14 races for the series this season, a full third of those drivers have participated in the K&N Pro Series previously. All three of last year’s top three finishers, including race winner Todd Gilliland are entered this week. Collin Cabre and Jay Beasley are back in the Rev Racing fold for 2017, while Harrison Burton, Hunter Baize and Tyler Dippel all had strong 2016 season in the series and are looking to back that up with good opening runs at New Smyrna.
While getting the season off on the right foot with a trip to Victory Lane is the goal for most teams this week, winning the season opener has not proven necessary for championship hopes. No driver to win the Jet Tools 15 in any of the first three years went on to win the title — in fact, Ben Rhodes fourth-place finish in the inaugural event in 2014 marks the highest Jet Tools 150 finish by a championship winner. William Byron placed seventh at New Smyrna in 2015, while Justin Haley finished fifth last season.
And while none of the previous New Smyrna winners ended up winning that year’s K&N Pro Series East championship, all have gone on to great things in their own careers. Daniel Suarez, who won the inaugural event in 2014, won the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship last year and is replacing Carl Edwards in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing entry in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 2015 New Smyrna winner Austin Hill is entering his second full season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
RACE: Jet Tools 150
PLACE: New Smyrna Speedway, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
DATE: Sunday, February 19
TIME: 7:30 p.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: .480-mile banked asphalt oval
2016 WINNER: Todd Gilliland
2016 POLE WINNER: Todd Gilliland
EVENT SCHEDULE: Sunday, February 19 – Garage opens: 11 a.m.; Practice: 2:45-3:30 p.m.; 3:45-4:30 p.m.; Group qualifying: 5:05 p.m.; Driver autograph session: 6:30 p.m.; Jet Tools 150: 7:30 p.m.
EVENT HASHTAG: #JetTools150
The Race: The Jet Tools 150 will be the first of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will secure starting positions based on the group qualifying process. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (72 miles) with a five minute break occurring at or near the conclusion of lap 75.
The Track: New Smyrna Speedway opened in 1964 and has a grandstand capacity of 8,000. The .480-mile banked oval has 600-foot straightaways and 720-foot turns with 23 degrees of banking. The track was repaved in January 2007. Additionally, it’s a part of the weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and plays host to its annual February showcase, the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
Race Winners: There have been three different winners in the three previous K&N East races at New Smyrna. Daniel Suarez, Austin Hill and Todd Gilliland are the only race winners at New Smyrna in series history.
Pole Winners: In the three previous events, there have been thee different pole winners. Cameron Hayley won the pole for the inaugural race at the track in 2014, while Austin Hill and Todd Gilliland each won races from the pole. Gilliland set the track qualifying record last season of 18.318 seconds (94.333 mph).
Jet Tools 150 Notes:
Double Duty: Defending race winner and reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Todd Gilliland returns to New Smyrna this weekend with an eye on a busy 2017 season. The 16-year-old Gilliland, of Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, plans on running the full schedule in both the K&N East and K&N West this season for car owner Bill McAnally. Gilliland won six of 14 starts in the West series last season, and won his East debut at New Smyrna. Gilliland will have company for the East series run, too, as his father, former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver David Gilliland, will field cars for Chase Purdy. The Mississippi native Purdy, 16, spent part of last season in the Late Model division at Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
Return Engagement: Including Gilliland, all three drivers who were part of an exciting, down to the wire finish at New Smyrna last season are entered in this year’s edition of the Jet Tools 150. Joining Gilliland are Spencer Davis and Ronnie Bassett Jr, who finished second and third, respectively, in this race last year. The trio of drivers combined to lead all but nine laps in 2016 at New Smyrna. In fact, of the drivers who finished in the top 10 in this event a year ago, only Gilliland, Davis and Bassett are entered in this year’s race. Davis, who won the Pro Late Model championship at New Smyrna’s World Series in 2014, is driving a part-time entry for former series regular Ben Kennedy. His teammate for New Smyrna will be Anthony Sergi as part of Kennedy’s two-car operation for New Smyrna.
Multicultural Flair: Diversity is well-represented in the K&N Pro Series field at New Smyrna. Collin Cabre returns to the seat of the No. 2 for Max Siegel as part of the Drive 4 Diversity program, while his brother, Chase, is alongside as a teammate in the No. 4 for the first time. Jay Beasley is in the No. 42 as part of the D4D program, too, as is Reuben Garcia Jr. of Mexico City. Two cars are entered for owner Troy Williams in the event, with Mexican driver Enrique Baca and Floridian Luis Rodriguez Jr. entered. Amber Balcaen of Winnipeg, Manitoba will be behind the wheel of the No. 39 for McClure/Martin Racing, and Jesse Iwuji will make his series debut in the No. 36.
Home Cookin’: Two drivers with a track record of having plenty of success at New Smyrna will make their K&N Pro Series debuts in the Jet Tools 150. Travis Cope will make a start this week in the No. 31 for longtime car owner Ted Marsh, and while Marsh’s roots are in racing in New England, Cope has made his mark at New Smyrna. Cope, of Weeki Wachee, Florida, has won three of the biggest non-World Series Super Late Model events held annually at New Smyrna. In 2013, Cope won the Governor’s Cup at the track, following that effort by winning both the Orange Blossom 100 and the Red Eye 100 there the following season. But Cope isn’t the only Super Late Model driver from the Whelen All-American Series ranks expecting to break through this weekend. Zane Smith of Huntington Beach, California, won the 2015 Super Late Model crown at the 2016 World Series at New Smyrna.
New Rules: Two new race and qualifying procedures will make their K&N Pro Series debuts at New Smyrna. Qualifying times will be recorded through the group qualifying process, with NASCAR determining the number of groups that will run in five-minute segments. Drivers may run as many laps as they wish during their five-minute session, with their fastest posted lap counting for their qualifying time. The green-white-checkered finish is gone this season, too, replaced by the overtime line currently used in NASCAR’s national series. Once the field reaches the designated overtime line on the track, the race will be deemed official in case of a late caution flag.
NASCAR Home Tracks: New Smyrna Speedway
For the fourth straight season, New Smyrna Speedway hosts the NASCAR K&N Pro Series opener as part of the 51st annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. Modifieds, Super Late Models, Pro Late Models and more are part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
-NASCAR Home Tracks Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Bruce Nuttleman