Sonoma Raceway

Five Cup drivers set for K&N West race at Sonoma

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Even though the Xfinity Series is off and the Camping World Truck Series is racing on the outskirts of St. Louis, that’s not keeping five Cup drivers from pulling double duty.

Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, William Byron and Daniel Suarez will compete in Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway, the Carneros 200.

The extra track time will be beneficial for a set of drivers who don’t have much experience on the road course.

Bowman has two Sonoma starts, but none since 2015. Both Suarez and Jones will make their second Cup starts on the track and Byron is making his first start.

MORE: Bowman, Suarez and others on what it takes to race on road courses

Almirola has six Sonoma starts, but he missed last year’s race due to a back injury.

Five of the last seven K&N West races at the road course have been won by current or former Cup drivers, with Kevin Harvick the latest last year.

Harvick was joined in the race by Suarez and Ryan Blaney. Suarez finished 11th.

Also entered into the 64-lap race are NASCAR Next drivers Will Rodgers, Hailie Deegan and Derek Kraus.

NASCAR Next’s Will Rodgers, Hailie Deegan get boost from Kevin Harvick

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Hailie Deegan and Will Rodgers are different, from each other and the typical NASCAR driver.

Of the nine NASCAR Next members revealed May 15, Deegan, 16, is the youngest and Rodgers, 23, is the oldest.

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan and a mother whose “full-time job” is taking her to races, Hailie is a Southern California native who came to NASCAR from off-road racing. She listens to rap and hip hop.

Rodgers, whose father owns a brewery and his mother is a clinical social worker, was born in Hawaii and has competed in sports cars, motocross and off-road racing. He listens to classic rock and punk rock.

The two drivers have one thing in common.

They have Kevin Harvick in their corner.

Hailie Deegan gets out of her car after a practice lap before the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Twin 100’s at Tucson Raceway Park on May 5. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Hailie Deegan has a brief audio recording that she’s listened to a handful of times.

It was recorded minutes after the conclusion of her K&N Pro Series West debut on March 15 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

The recording is of her father, Brian Deegan, talking to Harvick, who was fresh from finishing fourth in the race.

The 2014 Cup champion told Brian Deegan he was impressed by his daughter’s performance. She finished seventh in the 175-lap race after starting eighth. Harvick said he’d keep in touch with them.

“He still does to this day, which is really cool,” Deegan told NBC Sports. “He always asks how I’m doing at the track, how I am doing compared to the other competitors, which is really cool on a personal level and I think that it was just something that’s not a confidence booster but a motivator.”

The day after the Kern County race, Harvick was asked at Auto Club Speedway what driving talent he’d discovered in the race.

He singled Deegan as having the “most potential.”

“I think as far as potential and reach and racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of,” Harvick said.

Since then Harvick has had Deegan on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours,” she’s graduated from high school and earned her first two top fives on May 19 at Orange Show Speedway and June 9 at Colorado National Speedway. She’s seventh in points through five races.

Harvick reaffirmed his praise of her after he won last month’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think Brian is really good for her because of the fact she just needs to go race and learn the ins‑and‑outs, get with the right situations as she moves up, not move too fast,” Harvick said. “She has the most potential of a female racer because she gets it. She’s very into what she’s doing. It’s not about everything else. It’s really about the race car and ‘How do I drive it faster?’ She’s just got her stuff together.”

As the only woman in the NASCAR Next program, which highlights up and coming drivers in stock car racing, Deegan recognizes that NASCAR is a sport in search of “something unique” to build its future on.

“I know they’re looking and searching for these aspects of, their fan base right now is all these people, these older generations and right now they’re looking for the new, hip generation of kids and teens coming up,” Deegan said. “The NASCAR Next program kind of plucks those kids out and sees these people with personalities and (who) want it that bad and are willing to do the off-track work, and I think that’s what NASCAR needs right now.”

Does Deegan consider herself hip?

“I don’t know if I consider myself hip, but I consider myself different.”

Kevin Harvick during last year’s K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

For Rodgers, the most surreal moment of last June’s K&N West race at Sonoma Raceway was when spotter Rick Carelli came over the radio in the closing laps.

“Third place is nowhere to be found,” Rodgers recalls Carelli saying.

It was just Rodgers and the leader.

The leader was Harvick, who was making his first start in the series since 2007.

“Oh my gosh, we’re running toe-to-toe with a Cup champion right now,” Rodgers thought at the moment.

The race, essentially at Rodgers’ home track, was the one his team “had been building up to all year.”

He qualified on the pole. Harvick started sixth.

“Now if you had told me I would race toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick all day, that might have been a scenario again where I wouldn’t have believed you,” Rodgers said.

Harvick won the race, but he made sure to bring attention to Rodgers, who like Deegan, he had as a guest on his radio show.

“Being able to race toe-to-toe with Kevin and pull away from everybody else in the field and then for him to get out of the car and rave about me was very unique,” Rodgers said. “I’d say that’s definitely the best second place I’ll probably ever get.”

Harvick then went out of his way to celebrate with Rodgers in victory lane two months later when Rodgers earned his first career win in the K&N East race at Watkins Glen.

Rodgers also tries to keep in touch with the SHR driver despite his busy schedule.

“Whether or not Kevin has a hand in (NASCAR Next) personally, just by him being an advocate for me and then voicing me to the media, that has really opened the eyes and ears of a lot of people within NASCAR, within the industry, sponsors,” Rodgers said. “It’s helped on many levels. … My credibility has just been elevated so high after he said those things.”

This season Rodgers has competed in four of the first five K&N East races, earning two top 10s. He’s also earned two top 10s in four ARCA starts racing for Ken Schrader.

Harvick expects Rodgers to continue to rise if given the opportunity, especially when it comes to road course racing.

“I don’t think anybody would have known Will Rogers‘ name if we hadn’t run the K&N West Series race last year,” Harvick said after his All-Star win. “He’s got his stuff together. He just needs an opportunity to come out and show what he’s got. When the road course stuff shows up, Will is probably capable of being in an Xfinity race or a Cup race. In the right equipment on a road course, he’d be a top-10 competitor.”

Harvick has only competed in two K&N races in the last year, but each one has benefited someone else.

“It’s interesting to see,” Harvick said. “That’s really been our goal running the K&N races, is to expose those drivers to get opportunities. Just glad that it’s working out for a couple of them.”

 

2018-19 NASCAR Next Class revealed

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On Tuesday, NASCAR announced the members of its latest NASCAR Next class program.

The program, which only includes people between the ages of 15 and 25, highlights notable upcoming drivers in the auto racing ranks.

Previous members include Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott, Gray Gaulding, Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suárez, and Darrell Wallace Jr.

“NASCAR Next highlights emerging talent who have shown the talent and intangibles it takes to achieve success at the highest levels or our sport,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president & chief marketing officer, in a press release. “Alumni of the program are currently making their marks across NASCAR’s three national series and we believe members of this year’s class have potential to do the same.”

The 2018-19 class has nine members and includes four returning drivers from last year, including, Zane Smith, Riley Herbst and Chase Purdy.

The other is Hailie Deegan, the 16-year-old driver who Kevin Harvick said has the “most potential” in the K&N Pro Series West.

The class has five K&N Pro Series drivers, three ARCA Racing Series drivers and one Camping World Truck Series driver.

Here’s the nine drivers who were selected to the class.

Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyfalfredo), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – Driving full-time this year for MDM Motorsports in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Alfredo is also a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The 19-year-old Ridgefield, Connecticut, native recently competed in various late model divisions across the country, driving for JR Motorsports.

Hailie Deegan (@HailieDeegan), NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – The 16-year-old Temecula, California, native returns to Next for a second year, driving for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. The daughter of FMX legend and Monster Energy athlete Brian Deegan, Hailie was the 2016 Modified Kart champion in the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series and was named the Lucas Oil Off Road Driver of the Year.

Riley Herbst (@rileyherbst), ARCA Racing Series – Returning to Next for a second year, Herbst is running full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the ARCA Racing Series, where he won Rookie of the Year honors a year ago. The 19-year-old Las Vegas native captured his first big-track win last June at Pocono, along with six top fives and 10 top 10s.

Derek Kraus (@derek9kraus), NASCAR K&N Pro Series West – The reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year, Kraus claimed his first win and a pole award, along with nine top fives and 10 top 10s in 2017. Driving full-time for Bill McAnally Racing, the 16-year-old Stratford, Wisconsin, native has already captured a fourth-place finish at New Smyrna and a win at Kern County this year.

Chase Purdy (@chasepurdy12), ARCA Racing Series – Purdy returns to Next for a second year after capturing NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year honors in 2017. The 18-year-old from Meridian, Mississippi, finished fourth in the standings last year, tallying five top fives and eight top 10s. This year, Purdy is racing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series for MDM Motorsports.

Will Rodgers (@willrodgers65), NASCAR K&N Pro Series – The 23-year-old Maui, Hawaii, native made two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts in 2017 and won them both. Starting on the pole at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma, he finished runner-up to Kevin Harvick. Running all 14 races out west, Rodgers notched nine top fives and 12 top 10s, finishing fifth overall.

Zane Smith (@zanesmith41), ARCA Racing Series – Back for a second year in Next, Smith, 18, from Huntington Beach, California, has captured his first two career ARCA victories early in 2018 (Nashville and Talladega). Smith finished ninth in the ARCA standings a year ago, posting two poles, seven top fives and 11 top 10s. In his initial foray in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Smith ran twice in the East, posting top-10 and top-five finishes, and once in the West, scoring another top-five showing.

Tanner Thorson (@Tanner_Thorson), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – A former USAC Midget Champion, the 22-year-old Thorson brings his dirt racing experience to Next as he prepares to run various Touring Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races throughout the year. The Minden, Nevada, native also ran two ARCA races in 2017, claiming a top-10 finish in just his second series appearance.

Ryan Vargas (@The_Rhino23), NASCAR K&N Pro Series East – Hailing from La Mirada, California, Vargas is competing full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for REV Racing. The 17-year-old finished third overall in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for California in 2017, racking up two wins, 15 top fives and 23 top 10s. Vargas is also a 2018 NASCAR Drive for Diversity class member.

Kevin Harvick says Hailie Deegan is K&N West driver with ‘most potential’

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Kevin Harvick called out Hailie Deegan Friday morning.

But the words from the 2014 Cup champion were in praise of the 16-year-old K&N Pro Series West driver.

Harvick was fresh off competing in the K&N West season-opener Thursday night at Kern County Raceway in his hometown of Bakersfield, California. Among his 22 competitors was Deegan, who was making her first start in the series driving for Bill McAnally Racing.

When asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway about what talent he discovered in the 175-lap race, Harvick didn’t mention 16-year-old race winner Derek Kraus.

Deegan, the daughter of X-Games athlete Brian Deegan, was Harvick’s answer.

“If I had to pick one person to say, ‘Alright, that’s the person KHI (Harvick’s sports and celebrity-marketing agency) would want to represent and has the most potential,’ it would probably be Hailie Deegan,” Harvick said. “She did really, really well.”

In just her second K&N start (she has one in the K&N East), Deegan started eighth and finished seventh. Harvick, who led 132 of 175 laps from the pole, got knocked back in the field late in the race and briefly ran around Deegan.

“Obviously, they have I would call it a unique racing heritage within their family with Brian,” Harvick said. “I got to race with her a little bit there at the end of the race. She did a great job in the car. I think as far as potential and reach and racing knowledge and getting in the car as young as she is, that would be the one I would pluck out of the series and say that’s the one we want to be a part of. Because she has a lot of potential and already has some racing experience in multiple vehicles. That was fun to see.”

Deegan’s father has won the most Freestyle Motocross medals in X Games history with 10. He has multiple championships in the Lucas Oil Pro 2 and Lucas Oil Pro Lite series.

Deegan began off-road racing when she was 8 and was the first female to win a race and a championship in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series.

In 2015, she was the Modified Kart Regional Champion and the next year was the Modified Kart National Champion as well as the Driver of the Year. In 2017, she was the first female in the Pro Lite division of the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series to have multiple podiums in her rookie year.

Deegan took part in NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity combine in 2016 and won the 2017 NASCAR Diversity Young Racer award.

Anyone that plays the 2017 video game “NASCAR Heat 2” can play as Deegan in the Cup Series.

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Friday 5: How soon until the next female driver arrives in Cup?

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Danica Patrick’s departure after the Daytona 500 (provided she secures a ride for that race) will leave NASCAR without a female driver in its top series.

It could be years before the next female driver arrives in Cup.

Only two of the 114 drivers who attempted to qualify for an Xfinity race last year were female — Angela Ruch ran four races and Jennifer Jo Cob ran one. Cobb was the only female driver among 103 who attempted to qualify for a Camping World Truck Series race last season.

The last four NASCAR Next classes — which spotlights talented young competitors — featured four female drivers among the 44 racers selected. Those female drivers chosen: Kenzie Ruston (2014-15 class), Nicole Behar (2015-16), Julia Landauer (2016-17) and Hailie Deegan (2017-18).

The 16-year-old Deegan will run the K&N West Pro Series schedule for Bill MacAnally Racing, which has won the past three K&N West titles.

Landauer finished seventh in the points last year in the K&N West Series (after placing fourth in 2016) and Behar was eighth in her second full-time season in that series.

In ARCA, Natalie Decker will run the full season with Venturini Motorsports. She stands to become the fifth female in modern-day ARCA history to compete for a driver’s title, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003-04), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015).

Former champion crew chief Ray Evernham understands the challenges female drivers face. His wife, Erin, competed in 10 Xfinity races from 2005-06 and 29 Camping World Truck races between 2005-08.

“I think that we’ve got to keep providing opportunities for girls to get that experience,’’ said Evernham, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19.

“Now with the technology of the cars, the way they’re doing the setups, things like that, it will make it a little bit easier for newer people to come in. But we’ve just got to continue to provide an opportunity or a path for ladies to get experience.

Just as important will be how well they’ll handle the scrutiny.

“I know it stinks that so many people are so critical of lady drivers, much more critical than they are of a male driver of the same performance,’’ Evernham said. “Each time one of those girls weathers that storm, gets a little bit further down the road, gets some credibility, it gets a lady closer to Victory Lane in NASCAR.’’

NASCAR lists 16 women who have competed in at least one Cup race from Louise Smith, Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley in 1949 to Patrick. Patrick’s 190 career Cup starts are more than the other 15 women combined. Janet Guthrie was next with 33 starts between 1976-80 and followed by Smith with 11 starts from 1949-52 and Robinson, who had eight starts from 2001-02.

Patrick and Robinson are the only females to run a Cup race since 1990.

NASCAR lists 22 females having competed in the Xfinity Series. Patty Moise started 133 races, more than any other driver.  Patrick and Robinson are next with 61 starts each, followed by Johanna Long (42 starts) and Jennifer Jo Cobb (29 starts).

2. “The Great American Race”

The phrase has long been used as the nickname for the Daytona 500, but where did it originate?

Australia.

True story.

Let Ken Squier, who will be among the five men inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19, explain how he came up with the phrase for the race.

“Well, (Bill) France Sr. had me (in Daytona) from the ’60s.  Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most race tracks in America were closed. 

“It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there.  They raced down that hard‑packed beach. That never stopped.  One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.

“That spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country. In my mind, it needed something that set it aside. Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports. Indeed, it was.

“But what was Daytona? Well, it was All‑American stock cars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town. What would come to mind? I fooled around with that for a long time.

“I was in Australia doing a show. They had a great race over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday. On the way home, I thought, God, that’s what Daytona is. It’s ‘The Great American Race.’

“I got chewed up pretty good about that. Hadn’t I ever heard of Indy? I sure as the dickens had. This was coming from a different place. Sure enough in 1959, when those three cars came across wheel‑to‑wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.’’

3. Revamped pit stops

Martin Truex Jr. was asked this week about his thoughts on the changes to pit road with five people going over the wall to service the car instead of six this season.

Truex had an interesting take on what pit crew position might grow in importance with the change.

“I think there’s a lot of question marks from all teams, and I know there’s a lot of talk throughout teams and in the industry of how much different it is,’’ he said during a break in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Everybody is going to think they have a handle on it and then somebody is going to do it different on pit road and whip everybody’s butt in Daytona, so then you’re going to have to re-learn everything and try and figure it out.

“From what I understand, it’s been really difficult. A lot of the weight falls on the jackman as far as making the stops go fast and when all that pressure gets put on one position it makes that one position really important and really different than it’s been in the past.’’

4. Las Vegas test

NASCAR has an organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. That means that one team per organization is permitted at the test.

Among those scheduled to test are William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing).

5. January racing

While the return of NASCAR can’t come soon enough for many, did you know the last time the Cup Series raced in January was 1981? Bobby Allison won at Riverside, California. That was the season-opening race and the Daytona 500 followed. Riverside opened the Cup season from 1970-81.

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