Derek Kraus

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Hailie Deegan, Derek Kraus working their way up NASCAR’s ladder

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In many sports, for an athlete to succeed at the highest level, they will generally hone their skills in a developmental league. NASCAR is no different. 

Just as up-and-coming baseball prospects have to prove their worth in the minor leagues before making the majors, many future Cup stars begin their NASCAR careers in a lower division such as the K&N Pro Series.

Comparable to single-A baseball, the K&N Pro Series, which is geographically split into two separate West and East championships, is the one of the first steps on the NASCAR developmental ladder. The K&N East and West Series will run together Friday at Iowa Speedway with NBCSN’s broadcast scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on July 31. In K&N Pro competition, young drivers not only fight for wins but also future rides.

For two of the most popular drivers in K&N competition, Bill McAnally Racing teammates Hailie Deegan and Derek Kraus, winning means everything. All other drivers – including teammates – are the competition. 

MORE: Hailie Deegan – “I see why a lot of these other girls haven’t made it” in NASCAR

MORE: Dale Jr. Download – Hailie Deegan says “I’m a racer, not a model”

“You really have no allies,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “In the end, when it comes down to a couple of laps to go, no one is friends.

“You might be ‘buddies’ in the beginning and not run each other hard, but when it comes down to it, a win is a win, and I’ll do anything to get it. You focus on yourself in the end. You’re battling for rides. You’re battling for seats and equipment.”

Deegan proved she isn’t afraid to race even her teammates hard to win a race. In June, Deegan won her second West Series race of the season at Colorado National Speedway by making contact with Kraus on the last lap. Kraus spun, and Deegan went on win the race.

Kraus was less than pleased with the result, and would later Tweet “Mama always told me if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all!”

With her two K&N West victories so far this season, Deegan is second in the series points standings, eight points behind Kraus. In the East Series, where she competes on a part-time basis, she is 10th in the standings. Kraus, who is competing in both championships full-time, also leads the East points standings. 

Kraus, who turns 18 in September, is looking to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win both the East and West championships in the same year. 

In 13 K&N Pro starts this season between both series, he’s accumulated five wins, eight top fives and 12 top 10s. In his most recent K&N West victory at Douglas County Speedway in Oregon on June 29, he led all 150 laps from the pole.

Even though he makes it look easy, Kraus admits that fighting for the win in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series week in and week out is no easy task.

“I think there’s a lot of good competition,” Kraus said. “You have Hailie, Kody Vanderwal, the Sunrise Ford cars (Jagger Jones and Trevor Huddleston), Todd Souza. There’s a bunch of other people where K&N will go to their local track and they’ll jump in a car and be really fast. 

“I feel like there’s a lot of good competition on both the East and West Coasts for the K&N season. There’s a lot of aggressive, hungry younger drivers that are in this series.”

That hunger and aggression has propelled many K&N Pro Series alumni to stock car racing’s highest levels. Former series champions who currently race in the Cup Series include Kevin Harvick (1998 West champion), Joey Logano (2007 East champion), Kyle Larson (2012 East champion), and William Byron (2015 East champion).

Earlier this month, 2016 K&N East Series champion Justin Haley won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, and 2018 East Series champ Tyler Ankrum won a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky Speedway to earn a playoff spot.

So how does a promising 17 or 18-year-old driver handle the pressure of being one of NASCAR’s top prospects? Learning the ropes of stock car racing can be tough enough, but when a driver has expectations placed on them that they’re going to be the next best thing, constantly living up to those expectations can be tough. 

“You definitely think about that when you’re outside of the car and at home and hanging out with friends and stuff,” Kraus said. “But once I put my helmet on and get all strapped in and the race starts, I feel like that’s my happy place.”

Deegan, however, believes that the pressure is what you make of it.

“If you prepare beforehand and know that you’re in the best possible situation that you can put yourself in, there’s no reason to feel the pressure – because you’re doing the best you can,” Deegan said. “The only reason you’d be nervous is if you didn’t prepare beforehand.”

Confidence is key, but for a young driver to achieve the most out of their potential, a level-headed approach also is equally important.

“It’s funny because I think there’s a difference between confident and cocky,” Deegan said. “I feel like a lot of drivers are cocky, and I don’t want to be cocky.

“I want to feel confident in my abilities to where I’m not questioning myself. I want to be able to feel confident in my car, which I do right now, and I feel confident in my ability (to race) just because I’ve been putting a lot of work into it. I’m not trying to be cocky, I’m trying to show all of the work I’ve been putting into my racing.”

Hard work, by the way, has paid off for both drivers. For Kraus, his dominance in the K&N Pro Series led to his first Gander Outdoors Truck Series start for BMR at ISM Raceway in November, where he started and finished eighth. Kraus also competed in two Truck races earlier this year, at Martinsville and Dover, and will make two more starts later this year at Las Vegas and ISM Raceway.

Deegan competed in the first of a six-race ARCA schedule for Venturini Motorsports at Toledo Speedway in May and will make her final two scheduled starts for the team in October at Lucas Oil Raceway (Indianapolis) and Kansas Speedway.

With several months remaining in the 2019 NASCAR season, it may be too early to tell where each driver will be racing next season, but it is likely that both will race at least part-time at a higher level next year. 

“I’ve had people talk to me about opportunities to race full-time in Trucks and although I think I could go out there and have some good races, I want to go out there and come out swinging,” Deegan said. 

“Every single level I want to hit, and I want to make sure I can be good. I want to at least be in the front pack of every single level at minimum before I move up.”

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Hailie Deegan prevails in K&N West race after last-lap contact with teammate

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Hailie Deegan won her second NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race of the season Saturday night after contact with leader and teammate Derek Kraus on the last lap.

Deegan led on the overtime restart and chose the bottom lane. Kraus restarted on the inside of the second row. On the restart, Kraus got underneath Deegan in Turn 1 and took the lead. Running second on the last lap, Deegan went under Kraus in Turn 3. They made contact. Kraus spun. Deegan scored her third career series win.

Deegan explained her move afterward:

“On the restart, (Jagger Jones, who was second) I thought that was who was going to run me hard. So I picked the bottom when I was normally picking the top. I went into that corner, went in hard, so I was already kind of on the edge. I was not expecting my teammate (Kraus) with a broke sway-bar to take a swing at me like that.

“I thought he was going to play cautious. In the end, I told you guys last week, if you take a swing at me, I’m going to take a swing at you back. It was hard race, and I don’t want to run my teammate like that, but I also did not expect him to race me like that. Hard racing is hard racing. You want to race me hard, I’m going to race you hard. That was some fun racing, I’ll have to admit.”

Bill McAnally, team owner for Deegan and Kraus, told NASCAR.com after the race of the finish:  “It’s bittersweet. Hailie wins the race, Derek gets spun around, they all drove hard. That’s what they’re here to do: win and develop. They’re doing a pretty good job of that.”

Kraus finished eighth and vented his frustrations on Twitter.

Kraus is the points leader. He has a five-point lead on Deegan.

You can watch this race at 6 p.m. ET Thursday (June 13) on NBCSN.

The series is back in action June 22 at Sonoma Raceway.

Friesen tops Kyle Busch to take pole for Martinsville truck race

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Stewart Friesen outdueled Kyle Busch to gain the pole for this afternoon’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Friesen covered the 0.526-mile, paper clip-shaped oval with a speed at 96.465 mph. It’s the third career pole in the Truck Series for the Canadian driver.

“Our Chevy was fast, we made a couple small air pressure adjustments and a little bit of track bar there for the last round, and it held up,” Friesen told FS1. “They pay the money at the end of the race, though. That’s what we’re concerned about now.”

Friesen will be seeking his first career Truck Series win in today’s race.

Busch was second fastest at 96.366 mph.

“Overnight, we made a ton of changes,” Busch told FS1. “Hopefully, we can get this Tundra to where we want it to be and where it’ll be good on the long runs. Long runs are going to be important.

“It’s going to be all about track position and staying out front and seeing what we can get. It was a top-five truck yesterday. Hopefully, it’ll be a top-three truck now.”

Busch, who earned his 200th career NASCAR victory last Sunday at Fontana, California, will be making his 10th career start in a truck at Martinsville. He has one win (March 2016), five top fives and six top-10 finishes at the track.

Todd Gilliland (96.249 mph) was third fastest, followed by Sheldon Creed (96.200), Brett Moffitt (96.180) and Matt Crafton (96.132).

The rest of the top 12 qualifiers were: Raphael Lessard (96.083), Johnny Sauter (96.015), Austin Hill (95.550), Ross Chastain (95.468), Derek Kraus (95.266) and Austin Dillon (95.165).

Click here for the full qualifying results.

Today’s 250-lap/131-mile race will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Truck Series practice report from Martinsville

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As time was counting down to the final seconds, Todd Gilliland recorded the fastest speed in Friday’s second and final Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice at Martinsville Speedway.

Gilliland was the only driver among the 38 drivers that took to the track to surpass 95 mph with a speed of 95.065 mph. Stewart Friesen was second-fastest (94.846 mph), followed by Sheldon Creed (94.832 mph), Grant Enfinger (94.813) and Austin Hill (94.699).

Sixth through 10th were Myatt Snider (94.666), Derek Kraus (94.661), Johnny Sauter (94.637), Raphael Lessard (94.515) and Tyler Dippel (94.406).

Kyle Busch, who won his 200th career NASCAR race last Sunday, was 17th on the speed cart with a lap of 93.840 mph.

Click here for the full results of Friday’s second and final Trucks practice.

First Practice

Tyler Ankrum was fastest in the first of two Gander Outdoors Truck Series practices Friday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway.

Ankrum covered the .526-mile, paper-clip shaped oval at a speed of 94.538 mph.

Brett Moffitt was second-fastest (94.439 mph) in the 37-truck field, followed by Myatt Snider (94.402), Derek Kraus (94.340) and Sheldon Creed (94.322).

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

On Friday morning, eight drivers took part in a rookie-only practice. Gus Dean was fastest (93.272 mph), followed by Raphael Lessard (93.171 mph)and Derek Kraus (93.129).

 

Derek Kraus to make four Truck Series starts for Bill McAnally Racing

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K&N Pro Series driver Derek Kraus is set to make four starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series this year with Bill McAnally Racing, the driver announced Tuesday.

Kraus, who competes in both the K&N Pro Series West and East, will drive the No. 19 Eneos Motor Oil Toyota starting with the March 23 event at Martinsville Speedway.

Bill McAnally confirmed to Speed Sport that Kraus will also compete at Dover International Speedway (May 3), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 13) and in the playoff race at ISM Raceway (Nov. 8).

The 17-year-old has seven combined K&N wins since 2017 with the latest coming in the K&N East opener on Feb. 11 at New Smyrna Speedway.

He competed full-time in the West series in 2018 and won four races.

Kraus made his Truck Series debut last year in the playoff race at ISM Raceway. He started and finished eighth driving for BMR.