One of the greatest features of the Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes is that it features drivers from many disciplines of racing. It’s not limited to Late Model racers. It’s not limited to pavement racers. The Short Track Draft truly features the top Short Track Racing prospects regardless of what or where they race.
The 2017 version of the Short Track Draft included Late Model racers, Modified drivers, Dirt racers, Open-Wheel racers and Stock Car drivers.
As we continue our analysis of the 2017 Short Track Draft, we’re going to take a look at the best drivers from each discipline. Last week, we took a look at the top drivers hailing from the dirt and Modified ranks. Today, we’re going to analyze the top drivers that compete in Late Models throughout North America.
Drivers in the Late Model category qualified by racing Super Late Models, Pro Late Models, Late Model Stock Cars, Outlaw Late Models, and Limited Late Models.
Keep in mind that not all Late Model racers are eligible for the Short Track Draft. Drivers must be under the age of 25 as of April 1, 2017. Additionally, if they lose their rookie status in any of NASCAR’s top-three series by the end of the 2017 season, or if they run more than 10 races in one of NASCAR’s top three series, they are no longer eligible.
Additionally, if drivers compete in Late Models but have a full-time ride in a series like NASCAR K&N Pro Series East or ARCA, they will not appear in this category; they will appear in our list of top 10 stock car drivers later this week.
#1 - Christian Eckes (Pick #3) - Super Late Models
It only makes sense that the winner of the biggest asphalt Super Late Model race of the year is the number-one Late Model driver. Eckes put his name on the national map by out-dueling John Hunter Nemecheck to win the 49th Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL). To further boost his resume, he also won the Myrtle Beach 400 Late Model Stock race and the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National. Eckes will also be competing in select ARCA races this season.
#2 - Casey Roderick (Pick #5) - Super/Pro Late Models
Roderick may be one of the oldest drivers in the draft, but with age comes experience. Roderick used that experience to score double-digit wins in the Late Model ranks one year ago. In addition to his success in 2016, the Georgia driver is off to a hot start in 2017 with six Pro Late Model wins and a Super Late Model win at Nashville (TN).
#3 - Raphael Lessard (Pick #7) - Super Late Models
He started his 2016 season in Pro Late Model Victory Lane at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) and by year's end Lessard was a CARS Tour Super Late Model champion. Lessard captured a total of four CARS Tour wins one year ago and ended the season with strong runs in prestigious races such as the All American 400 and Winchester 400. The young driver from Quebec has his sights set on a handful of ARCA starts in 2017 while continuing to learn in the Super Late Model ranks.
#4 - Travis Braden (Pick #8) - Super/Pro Late Models
Braden has been on a rollercoaster ride the past few seasons, but his career hit its high point last year when the West Virginia driver won the prestigious Winchester 400. In addition to his crown jewel victory, Braden also picked up a pair of JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour wins at Mansfield (OH) and Winchester. While his future plans are unknown, what is certain is that Braden is a threat to win each time he shows up for a Late Model race.
#5 - Dalton Armstrong (Pick #14) - Super Late Models
A career year helped Dalton Armstrong climb up the Short Track Draft and lock himself in as a top-five Late Model driver. The Indiana driver scored a signature victory in the Redbud 300 at Anderson Speedway (IN) and finished second to Cody Coughlin in the ARCA/CRA Super Series championship battle. In addition to his Redbud 300 win, Armstrong also won the CRA portion of the North/South SLM Challenge at Nashville (TN) in 2016.
#6 - Stephen Nasse (Pick #16) - Super Late Models
He may be one of the most talked about Late Model drivers in the country due to a mix of on-track performance and his love-or-hate personality. Nasse, the current Southern Super Series points leader, has found himself becoming a consistent threat as of late with three top-five finishes to start the season. He scored three wins in 2016 including a CARS Tour win at Orange County Speedway (NC), a Bright House Challenge Series win at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) and a Baby Rattler win at South Alabama Speedway.
#7 - Jeremy Doss (Pick #18) - Super Late Models
Doss has been one of the strongest Super Late Model competitors on the West Coast during recent years. Last season he won the Pacific Challenge Series championship and also captured the Montana 200 victory he had been hunting for quite some time.
#8 - Matt Craig (Pick #19) - Super Late Models
There may not be a hotter Late Model driver in the country during the 2017 season than Matt Craig. Since March, Craig has scored three Pro All Stars Series (PASS) victories and a single CARS Tour win. He still lacks a marquee win on his resume, but if he can find that he would find his stock rising even more.
#9 - Chad Finley (Pick #21) - Super Late Models
Finley's biggest win didn't come in a Super Late Model, but it almost did. The Michigan driver surprised many by winning April's ARCA Racing Series race at Nashville (TN), but his biggest moment may have come when he led the majority of the laps during last year's Snowball Derby. Unfortunately for him, a mechanical issue forced his day came to an end before the checkered flag.
#10 - Brandon Setzer (Pick #22) - Super Late Models
Setzer seems to be one of those drivers that runs hot and cold, but for our panel of experts he had enough success in 2016 to find himself within the top 10 Late Model drivers. The son of Dennis Setzer picked up one win in both the CARS Tour and PASS South last season. He also swept a pair of twin races for the CARS Tour at Dominion Raceway (VA) this season.
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Daryl Canfield