DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A new year brings new championship contenders.
Austin Hill dominated the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway last year. This year, though, Hill has graduated to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series where he will be racing at Daytona International Speedway along with 2015 series champion William Byron, Dalton Sargeant and Rico Abreu.
A favorite headed into the opener at New Smyrna may be HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks driver Justin Haley. The 16-year-old finished 21st at the .480-mile oval last season in just his fourth K&N East start. The Winamac, Indiana, native found his groove throughout the season collecting six top fives and 10 top 10 finishes to finish sixth in the championship standings.
Haley also made an impression at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West finale at Arizona’s Phoenix International Speedway winning the 21 Means 21 Pole Award and leading 94 of 101 laps before a flat tire took him out of the race.
“I’m super excited to start things off this year based on where we ended things last year,” said Haley. “The HScott with Justin Mark’s guys gave me fantastic handling cars last year and I know they will do the same this year. I can’t wait to get back in the car and I hope we have luck on our side. We want to go out there win races and compete for the championship. New Smyrna is the proving ground for that.”
The season opener will also feature a plethora of new talent vying for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. HScott will have three new drivers joining Haley: Harrison Burton, Hunter Baize and Tyler Dippel. Burton, son of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Burton, has already made a name for himself in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, when he became the youngest driver to start in the series at California’s All American Speedway last season at 15 years, 8 days.
Three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race winners from 2015 also return with Colin Cabre, Dillon Bassett and NASCAR Next driver Kyle Benjamin. Cabre won the K&N Pro East finale at Dover and is joined at Rev Racing by 2015 NASCAR Mexico Series champion Ruben Garcia Jr.
RACE: Jet Tool 150
PLACE: New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway
DATE: Sunday, Feb. 14
TIME: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV SCHEDULE: TBA
TRACK LAYOUT: .480-mile asphalt oval
2015 WINNER: Austin Hill
2015 POLE SITTER: Austin Hill
EVENT SCHEDULE: Practice: 1:45-2:30 p.m.; Final Practice: 2:45-3:30 p.m.; Drivers Meeting: 5:00 p.m.; Qualifying (2 Laps): 5:30 p.m.; Drivers Autograph Session (On Track): 6:30 p.m.; Driver Introductions: 7:15 p.m.; Jet Tools 150: 7:30 p.m.
TRACK TWITTER: @newsmyrnaspway
EVENT HASHTAG: #JetTools150
The Race: The Jet Tools 150 opens the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. It is the first of 11 oval track events and 13 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ third visit to the Florida oval.
The Procedure: The starting field is 28 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials while the remaining four starting spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps covering 72 miles.
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, 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.
The Records: Cameron Hayley won the inaugural pole on Feb. 16, 2014 with a lap of 18.477 seconds (93.522 mph).
NEW SMYRNA RACE NOTES
K&N West Standouts Head East: Four NASCAR K&N Pro Series West drivers will be making the journey east to compete in the K&N East opener. Series’ veterans and Jefferson Pitts Racing teammates, Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz will be making their third and second East starts, respectively. Gragson and Raz finished second and fourth in the championship standings in the West last year as rookies. They will be joined by Bill McAnally Racing’s newcomers, Todd Gilliland and Riley Herbst, who will also be making the trip. Gilliland, a third-generation driver and son of former Daytona 500 pole sitter David Gilliland, became the youngest race winner at the K&N West finale at Phoenix. Herbst will be making his K&N Pro Series start.
Delsaux Hopes To Have Success Across The Pond: NASCAR Euro Series driver, Ulysse Delsaux will be making his American debut on Sunday. The newly turned 18-year-old from Troyes, France, competed in the Elite 2 Division last season and scored his first podium finished at Tours Speedway.
Theriault Returns To K&N East: Austin Theriault is running double duty. In addition to racing at DIS in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing, the Fort Kent, Maine, native will be competing for Shigeaki Hattori at New Smyrna. Theriault has competed in only one K&N East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2012 and finished 19th after starting 23rd. He’s also competed in nine NASCAR Camping World Trucks and three NASCAR XFINITY Series events.
Preece To Compete For Whelen Engineering: Newly minted NASCAR XFINITY Series driver, Ryan Preece, will be piloting the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Chevrolet on Sunday. This will be his second K&N East start. He competed at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway last season and finished 15th. The 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and NASCAR Next alum will be competing full-time in the XFINITY Series this year.
Hutchens and Calabrese Moving On Up: The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner, Trey Hutchens III and his fellow competitor, David Calabrese are slated to compete in the K&N East opener. Hutchens competed in six K&N East races last season and his hoping to score his first NASCAR win. Calabrese will be making his series debut, he’s been competing in the Whelen Southern Modified Tour for the last three years and finished 10th in the final standings last season.
Rev Racing Ready For 2016: Joining Cabre and Garcia will be newcomers Ali Kern and Jairo Avila. Avila, 20, made his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut in 2014 and achieved four top-10 finishes in five starts with his family-run team. Kern, 22, has three K&N Pro East starts and was ARCA/CRA Super Series runner-up in 2013.
Prelude To A Championship: This will be the third straight season New Smyrna has hosted the opening race for the K&N Pro East, and the eventual champion has scored a top 10 in each of the last two. Ben Rhodes was fourth in 2014 and Byron finished seventh last season.
Learning Curve: New Smyrna will be a whole different ball game this year, with only two of the top-10 finishers from last year returning: Kyle Benjamin (fifth) and Dillon Bassett (sixth).
HOME TRACKS: 50th Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing
New Smyrna will be home to eight more nights of racing action, headlined by the Super Late Model and tour-type Modifieds of the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series. Zane Smith will be back to defend his World Series title in the Super Late Model Division and a number of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competitors will run some of the Super Late Models races to gain extra experience.
-NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com