The 2014 Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by JEGS ballot was sent to more than 200 short track insiders, including media members, team and driver development professionals, track and series promoters and officials, product and industry representatives and more, NASCAR National Series drivers, crew members and more. The voters could select as few as 10 and as many as 51 drivers on their ballot, ranked in order that they would choose the drivers to compete for their Driver Development team in the top levels of the sport. The drivers with the best average result made the list of the top-51 picks in the 2014 Short Track Draft. The #1 Draft pick was announced on May 8. Picks 11-25 were annouced on May 9. Picks 26-51 were announced Monday evening, while the remaining "Best of the Rest" were announced on Tuesday.
Here are 2014 Short Track Draft Picks #2-#10.
Hometown: Byron, MI
Series: Super Late Models
At the age of 17, Erik Jones could already have what some may consider a “Hall of Fame” career in short track racing. He is a back-to-back winner of the Snowball Derby and is the 2011 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour champion.
Jones, who garnered five first-place votes in the Draft, has taken advantage of every opportunity given to him and continues to prove that he belongs in the next level of racing.
Think about it. At the age of 15, he is the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Champion. Then a year later at the age of 16, he is battling alongside Kyle Busch and capturing his first Snowball Derby trophy. A few months later, he signs a development deal with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Last year, he continued to add more to his resume. He picked up his first ARCA Racing Series win at Berlin Raceway driving for Venturini Motorsports. He held off Chase Elliott to win the Winchester 400. He won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Phoenix International Raceway. He capped off the year by defending his Snowball Derby title.
At the end of this month (May 30th), he will turn 18 years old. The door will open up for more opportunities.
Just like scouts watch potential superstars at the NFL Combines, they are all taking notes on Jones as a top draft pick and many may look at trading up to get him on their team.
Hometown: Berlin, CT
Series: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Ryan Preece lands on the 51 Short Track Draft for the sixth consecutive year. This is his highest ranking yet after winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2013. His eight first-place votes were the second-highest total, behind only #1 Draft pick Daniel Hemric.
In a day when there aren't any major two-way NFL prospects who can play both offense and defense, Preece probably would be the first one to jump up and volunteer to do it. After all, the guy races two, three and even four nights a week sometimes between his Tour schedule and racing full-time at several NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks in the Northeast.
2013 saw Preece become the youngest driver to ever clinch a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship. The title came on the heels of four victories. Preece also racked up 12 wins on regional tracks, plus finished second in points at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) and third at Riverhead Speedway (NY). He also added his name to the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour win list with a victory at historic Bowman Gray Stadium (NC).
Right now it looks like Preece is close to his prime. If he's not there yet, the racing world had better look out. Sure he can dominate, but even his near-misses are impressive. He broke while leading a NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Charlotte (NC) last year and had a top-five run going in one of his first-ever fendered-car starts last month in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown NASCAR Late Model race. Plus, he was all but destined for victory lane in the UNOH Battle at the Beach in February before a late-race tangle with a lapped car.
Preece is well-spoken and knows his Modified racing. His participation in the NASCAR Next program in both 2013 and 2014 will groom him and continue putting him in front of potential big-league car owners. He made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut at New Hampshire last year with Tommy Baldwin Racing and he has a few more races on tap for 2014, so he's doing just about everything a Connecticut Modified kid can do these days to turn the heads of the fendered-car decision makers down south.
Hometown: Little Chute, WI
Series: ARCA/CRA Super Series, ARCA Midwest Tour & More
Ross Kenseth left Clemson University, but it was not to declare himself eligible for the NFL or 51 Short Track Draft. Instead, the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Matt Kenseth left school to focus on his new Super Late Model efforts in 2014 with the Boyne Machine team in Michigan.
Kenseth may have crossed paths with Tigers QB Tajh Boyd over the past few years on campus. The two have plenty in common, as they both did a lot while still in school, but now are looking for more success. The only thing that separates the two is that Kenseth has a much higher stock then the projected seventh round pick for Boyd.
Kenseth earned one first place vote in this year's Draft. He has proven his talent as he has made the draft five years in a row with an average of 2.8 in that span including a number-one selection in 2011. The trophy case is full for Kenseth, whose 30-plus wins include the All-American 400, the Winchester 400 and the Redbud 300. He's also won titles in Big 8 and the Red, White and Blue Series to go along with Super Late Model victories all across the country.
The one thing that has held Kenseth back the past few seasons has been his lack of heavy-car experience, but he took a step towards getting just that in 2013 by making his ARCA Racing Series debut with Ken Schrader Racing, winning the pole and finishing sixth at Madison.
Bottom line is he can get it done. The fact that he has not yet made it to the next level has not slowed his enthusiasm one bit. Those long hours in the shop have just shifted to Michigan where he looks to continue the success.
Hometown: Easley, SC
Series: ARCA Racing Series, Super Late Models
A number of the players in the National Football League have made a name for themselves by simply making the best of every opportunity they are given. These types of players may not be the one’s talked about on ESPN every day of the week but they capitalize on every opportunity they are given with a team when it matters most.
That is exactly what Kyle Benjamin did during the 2013 racing season while getting his feet wet in a number of premier touring series including the ARCA racing series, NASCAR K&N East Series and Southern Super Series. His 2013 success didn't quite earn him a back-to-back number-one Draft selection after being tops last year, but he did garner one first-place vote this time around.
At the young age of 15-years-old, the Easley, South Carolina driver was able to secure his first career ARCA Racing Series win at Madison International Speedway (WI) in 2013, making him the youngest winner in series history. Benjamin would add another ARCA Racing Series win to his resume in September at Salem Speedway (IN) before an impressive third-place showing in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at Dover International Speedway (DE).
The 16-year-old recently signed a development contract with Roush Fenway Racing, which will have him in an ARCA car prepared by Roulo Brouthers Racing on several occasions in 2014. Proving he can drive just about anything and everything, Benjamin won his first career Southeast Super Trucks feature at Lonesome Pine International Raceway (VA) and ran competitively in his first-ever NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start at the Battle at the Beach at Daytona in February.
With a strong backing behind him from Roush Fenway Racing and Roulo Brothers Racing, Benjamin will look to capitalize on the opportunities he’s given once again in 2014.
John Hunter Nemechek
Hometown: Lakeland, FL
Series: Southern Super Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Super Late Models, NCWTS
Whenever you watch a football game that features Peyton or Eli Manning, sometime during the game you will hear announcers mention their father, Archie Manning. The same can be said with John Hunter Nemechek, especially after he wins a fast qualifier award at any Super Late Model or Pro Late Model event.
The son of “Front Row Joe" Nemechek is making a name for himself in the short track ranks and is starting to make waves in the higher levels. Last year, he finished third in the Southern Super Series points with one fast qualifier award, four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts. So far this season he has two top-five finishes in four starts.
Earlier this year, he picked up the SpeedFest Pro Late Model win at Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, Georgia.
Nemechek is at the threshold of breaking through to more victories in the Super Late Model ranks. He is a contender at each event and many do look at him as a favorite to win.
When he does breakthrough, watch out because once he starts winning, it could be hard to stop him. Why do we say this? In 2012, he won the Allison Legacy Race Series title with 15 wins in 18 starts. If he gets on the right track, he could be a dominator.
Peyton and Eli Manning have done a great job of following their father’s footsteps. John Hunter Nemechek is on his way to follow “Front Row Joe’s” footsteps to the higher level.
Hometown: Louisville, KY
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Late Model Stock Cars, NCWTS
There hasn't been a squeaky-clean image like for a Draft pick to come around since Tim Tebow years ago. But that wholesome, "aw shucks" demeanor exemplifies Kentucky NASCAR K&N Pro Series East driver Ben Rhodes. The two-time K&N East winner in 2014 has spent the past three seasons being groomed and prepped to do things the right way if and when he gets to the next level. He speaks well and has been marketed to be a future star as part of the NASCAR Next program for the past two seasons.
Rhodes, like Tebow, had been accused of having a lot of hype and buzz around him through various marketing tactics and word-of-mouth without really having the stats to back it up. That changed in 2013 when he picked up several NASCAR Late Model Stock Car wins throughout the Southeast. He parlayed that success into strong runs in the K&N Pro Series East, having a few top-five runs in his seven starts, highlighted by a fourth-place result at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.
Being teamed up with K&N East powerhouse Turner Scott Motorsports in 2013 and 2014, Rhodes has championship-caliber equipment at his disposal and it has worked to his advantage already this year with the pair of victories. He leads the standings going into next weekend's race at Iowa Speedway and has Mark McFarland, a former championship-winning short track driver turned up-and-coming crew chief, calling the shots on his No. 41 car.
Rhodes, who earned three first-place votes in the Draft, got his first taste of battling on NASCAR's national level in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut earlier this season at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, where he finished eighth. Undoubtedly the doors will continue to open for Rhodes, who has been given the nickname of the "Savage," but he's hardly that when speaking to him. He's humble and a bit on the goofy side, but that bodes well for his career. When so many of his contemporaries say what people want to hear instead of what is on their mind, Rhodes' youthful excitement about just being in a racecar is a breath of fresh air.
Hometown: Senoia, GA
Series: Southern Super Series / Super Late Models / Pro Late Models
Many NFL draft experts consider former University of South Carolina star Jadeveon Clowney as one of the most talented defensive ends the draft has seen in years. Clowney’s quick speed and hard hits make him a one-of-a-kind player on the football field.
On the short track racing scene, Senoia, Georgia’s Bubba Pollard displays similar qualities that make him a threat to win every time he shows up to a race track. Pollard consistently finds speed on the race track that many drivers can’t. And when Pollard hits, he hits hard. Once he gets one win under his belt, it’s a safe bet that he’s going to get two, three, four, or possibly even more, wins very quickly.
During the 2013 season, Pollard focused his efforts on the Southern Super Series presented by Sunoco. After starting the season off with two straight wins, Pollard slipped to second in the standings at the end of the year losing a close battle to number-one Draft pick Daniel Hemric.
Since the beginning of March 2014, Pollard has won six out of his last eight starts and has been victorious in his last four starts in a Pro Late Model. The former number-one Draft pick who earned two first-place votes this year will look to build on his early season momentum and carry that into some of the bigger events later this season.
Although Pollard is older in age compared to many in this year’s draft, industry experts still consider the Georgia driver to be one of the top talents in the Late Model ranks.
Hometown: Semora, NC
Series: NASCAR Whelen All-American Series / NASCAR K&N Pro Series East / CARS Pro Cup
Winning one National Championship is tough. Doing it for a second-straight year is almost impossible. Not so if you're a top-flight quarterback like Alabama's A.J. McCarron, one of this year's top-ranked Draft prospects, or if you're 26-year-old NASCAR Late Model standout Lee Pulliam. McCarron led his Alabama Crimson Tide to back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 (plus another one in 2010) and Pulliam pulled off back-to-back NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championships in 2012 and 2013.
Pulliam earned an almost-unheard-of 30 NASCAR Late Model victories in 2013, scoring a second-straight title. His dominance in the Late Model Stock Car scene wasn't just limited to one track, either. He won track titles at South Boston and Motor Mile Speedways in addition to a second-straight Virginia state championship. He raced, and won, at places like Southern National Motorsports Park in North Carolina as well as the prestigious Myrtle Beach 400 in South Carolina.
All the weekly-track success helped Pulliam land a ride in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East for 2014, as well as earn two first-place votes in this year's Short Track Draft. Pulliam's team, citing change in sponsorship, has shut down after the first races, but the results proved Pulliam's talents weren't limited to just local Late Model racing. He finished in the top five in his first two races of the 2014 K&N East season.
Pulliam also scored a win in his third CARS X-1R Pro Cup Series start last year, again proving that he wasn't just a jack of the Late Model trade. That was his 31st win of the season.
Pulliam is relatively quiet outside the car, but speaks loudly inside. He has had a few pretty hot rivalries over the years, most notably with four-time NWAAS National Champion Philip Morris and more recently with Deac McCaskill after some on-track run-ins over the past few months. Still, Pulliam's track record speaks for itself. Pulliam has proven that he deserves a shot at more beyond the Late Model ranks and the K&N deal was that first step until its demise earlier this week. Pulliam will remain around the K&N ranks, having announced he will pilot an entry for the same team that provided his mount in his Pro Cup win last year. His legacy is stamped as one of the most successful Late Model racers of his generation, maybe even ever. It would mean a lot to grassroots racers everywhere to see one of their own, a guy like Lee Pulliam, continue to get opportunities to shine on the biggest stage.
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Series: NASCAR K&N Pro Series East / NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series
Daniel Suarez is one of the biggest movers in this year’s short track draft, and rightfully so. Similar to the way Tom Brady made an impact on the National Football League after being left off many GM’s draft boards in the 2000 NFL Draft, Suarez made a big enough impact to jump into the top-10 in this year’s draft after being left out of the top-51 in 2013.
Like Brady, Suarez’s clutch performances in big time moments impressed this year’s panel of experts. In 2013, Suarez captured his first win on the big stage by winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event held at Columbus Motor Speedway (OH).
Suarez kicked off the 2014 season in style by winning the season-opening event at New Smyrna Speedway (FL) during Speedweeks. He then followed that up by turning in a dominant performance under the lights at the 2nd Annual UNOH Battle at the Beach on the 4/10-mile short track at Daytona International Speedway (FL).
In addition to his success on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East circuit, Suarez has also won three out of four NASCAR Toyota Series starts to kick-off the 2014 season and has finished in the top-five in all four events thus far.
Earlier this year at Richmond International Raceway (VA), Suarez had his first shot at competing at the next level when he entered his first NASCAR Nationwide Series event. Racing the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 entry, Suarez finished 20th in his Nationwide debut.
If Suarez can continue his success on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Toyota Series circuits, expect him to have more of those opportunities at the next level sooner rather than later.