Advancement is about tackling the next challenge followed by searching for another.
The next steps for Gray Gaulding, 16, are fairly cut and dried – battle for a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship in 2014 and begin the progression through NASCAR’s national series ranks.
The Colonial Heights, Va., driver begins the pursuit of the former on Sunday, Feb. 16 at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway as part of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. Coming off a somewhat controversial NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win last November at Phoenix International Raceway, Gaulding is ready to get down to business.
In that Phoenix event, the then 15-year-old Gaulding made contact with race leader Cole Custer on the final lap and went on to claim his first NASCAR touring series victory.
“Winning that final race last year was huge,” said the youngest member the NASCAR Next program that spotlights young talent in the sport. “I know it was a little controversial, but I’m supposed to win races. The opportunity was there to win and I took it.”
Last year’s K&N East champion Dylan Kwasniewski has taken his game to the NASCAR Nationwide Series leaving the title up for grabs. Just five of last season’s top 10 drivers including Gaulding are entered for the New Smyrna race.
“I know there are a lot of great drivers coming back and a lot of great ones coming in, but (the championship) is there for the taking,” said Gaulding. “That’s absolutely our goal as we enter the season.”
After finishing seventh in points a season ago with three top-five and eight top-10 finishes, the youngster was pleased with the effort despite not getting a K&N East win.
“There were a couple we could’ve won and it’s easy to look back and see the things you could’ve done differently,” he said. “It was a pretty good year. We were in position to win races, won a pole and led laps. We’ll keep marching forward.”
That march will have a little different look to it in 2014. Gaulding drove a family-owned Krispy Kreme-sponsored Toyota last year in his rookie campaign. This season, he joined forces with Brennan Newberry at NTS Motorsports with the doughnut chain in tow, but now in a Chevrolet. Both Gaulding and Newberry will drive full K&N East schedules and make NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts along the way.
Gaulding stands to become the youngest driver to start a NASCAR national series race at 16 years, 1 month, 19 days on March 29 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The Race: The New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS opens the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship season. It is the first of 14 oval track events and 16 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ first 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 with a break 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 .48-mile banked oval has 600-foot staightaways, 720-foot turns with 23 degrees of banking. The track was repaved in January 2007. Additionally, it is part of the weekly NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
The Records: Qualifying and race records will be established at the event.
The Race: The UNOH Battle At The Beach is the second race of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship season. It is the second of 14 oval track events and 16 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ first championship race at the Florida track after being part of a non-points event a year ago.
The Procedure: The starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 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 55.5 miles without a halfway break.
The Track: The .37-mile short-track oval is situated on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona International Speedway. This newest addition to the menu at “The World Center of Racing” was made possible following the 2010 resurfacing project. The track is virtually flat and has a paperclip-like shape. The track has been altered slightly from its .4-mile configuration a year ago. The changes will result in a different racing line and entrance angle to the turns.
The Records: The one-lap qualifying record for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will be established in this event. Last season’s non-championship event utilized heat races to set the starting lineup. The official race record also will be set this year. The 150-lap K&N Pro Series event last February took 1 hour, 22 minutes, 15 seconds for an average speed of 45.503 mph.
FLORIDA DOUBLEHEADER RACE NOTES
Debuts Abound: As of Feb. 10, eight drivers – Jay Beasley, Jerry Dawson, Nick Drake, David Garborauskas, Kaz Grala, Lee Pulliam, Rusty Skewes and Patrick Staropoli – are slated to make their NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at New Smyrna. Beasley and Staropoli made K&N Pro Series West starts in 2013.
Carry It Through: Finding a K&N East driver with a better second half of the season than Daniel Suárez is not an easy task. Over the final eight events of the 2013 campaign, the NASCAR Next competitor from Monterrey, Mexico scored six top-three finishes including his first series victory on July 13 at Colombus (Ohio) Motor Speedway. His average finish over the span was 4.5. Take away an 18th-place showing at Virginia International Raceway, where he succumbed to engine problems while leading the race, and the number drops to 2.57.
Movin’ Up: A pair of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standouts from a year ago are moving up the NASCAR ladder this season. Two-time and reigning national champion Lee Pulliam debuts for Hattori Racing Enterprises while The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Nevada state champion Jay Beasley joins the Rev Racing team this season. Pulliam joined the late Larry Phillips (5) and Philip Morris (4) as the only multi-time champions in the 32-year history of the grassroots series.
Always A First: The New Smyrna 150 presented by JEGS is the inaugural NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at the .48-mile Florida oval. It’s the only first-time track on the slate this season, but the series has made track debuts at six tracks since the start of the 2012 season including Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (2012), Five Flags Speedway (2013) in Pensacola, Fla., and Virginia International Raceway (2013) in Alton.
New Horizons: After a pair of upper-echelon performances including a championship runner-up effort a season ago in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Cameron Hayley moves to the K&N East and takes over the Turner Scott Motorsports ride vacated by reigning champion Dylan Kwasniewski, who moves up to the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year. Hayley, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, made a splash with a win at the inaugural UNOH Battle At The Beach – a non-points East-West combination race – last season and followed that up with a K&N West victory at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. The 17-year-old NASCAR Next driver has a streak of 17 consecutive top-10 finishes in regular season West races.
Casting A Wide Net: The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is not the only international event at the moment. The K&N Pro Series East event at New Smyrna Speedway has competitors from five countries – Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. – on the entry list.
Nice Prize: The Sunoco NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the Year Award has proven to be a bit of a good luck charm of late. Six of the last seven top newcomers have graduated to NASCAR national series competition. Five of them – Kyle Larson (2012), Darrell Wallace Jr. (2010), Austin Dillon (2008) and Joey Logano (2007) – already have national series victories under their belts. Alex Bowman (2011) and Ryan Truex (2009) are still looking for that initial win, but both will get several opportunities this season with BK Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Last year’s top K&N East rookie Jessie Little, at just 16 years of age, is back in the series running for a championship.
LAST TIME OUT: Road Atlanta 115
The championship was on the line as just five points separated Dylan Kwasniewski and Brett Moffitt, but the suspense was short lived. Kwasniewski dominated and Moffitt battled mechanical problems which gave the series crown to the 18-year-old out of Las Vegas. Daniel Suárez and Bryan Ortiz finished second and third, respectively.
NEXT TIME OUT: PittLite 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway
After kicking off the 2014 season in Florida, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East migrates north for a March 15 date at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway for the PittLite 125. It will be just the third trip to the “Last Great Colosseum” for the series. The two previous events were won by Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012) and Dylan Kwasniewski (2013). Brett Moffitt finished second a year ago followed by Ryan Gifford in third.