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OBSERVATIONS: New Smyrna 175 (and World Series Night 4)

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The cleanest race for NASCAR during Speedweeks is in the books, and it didn’t even happen on the biggest stage. While the restrictor plate events at Daytona International Speedway will be mired with crashes, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East took center stage at New Smyrna Speedway.

And frankly, they put on the better show with what they delivered.

Although it appeared as though Colin Garrett and Drew Dollar were going to battle it out for the win, neither of them accepted the accolades in victory lane as Derek Kraus took those honors instead.

The 27-years-old has raced in the K&N Pro Series ranks for the past two years with top-five points finishes, and the experience showed. Despite starting 16th on the grid, he conserved his tires while slowly making his way to the front, choosing to ride just inside the top-five. 

Then when the opportunity presented itself with the youthfulness of Garrett and Dollar getting together on a restart with 44 laps to go, Kraus did what he had to do, splitting the middle between the pair to drive by and cruise away en route to victory. Arguably, it was probably one of the best textbook restart passes that you will probably see all season. As he said post-race, “I might’ve gotten in the grass, but I got it done.”

While the pass highlighted the night, the field was arguably calm throughout without any serious wrecks, except for Brittney Zamora collecting Tanner Gray in her second spin on debut night. However, that doesn’t mean that the fans were not delivered a show. The drivers raced for positions door-to-door all night long within and outside of the top-five, sometimes making light contact along the way – but hey, rubbin’ is racing on the short tracks. 

There have been concerns about the state of NASCAR with some of the rule changes and an array of talented, experienced drivers stepping away over the past couple seasons. However, the next generation is there ready to take their place, and that was on display Monday night.

There are several drivers in the field that could easily make an impression in NASCAR’s top-three ranks down the road. Ty Gibbs proved himself with a runner-up in his K&N Pro Series debut, while Sam Meyer placed fourth in just his seventh start. 

– Although some of NASCAR’s rule changes recently haven’t gone over well, the decision to go to competition cautions with five minute breaks is very welcoming.

Essentially, when the caution comes out and if you choose to pit, you can take your time with your service, before returning on the track. If you chose to stay out, you get to start ahead of those who pitted; the cars that pitted then follow behind, in the order they were in entering pit road for service.

As a result, you keep the balance of strategy onto whether to pit or not, while not having to worry about possible consequences of a bad green flag pit stop. 

Kraus was one of the several drivers who elected to pit under the first caution, while four other drivers stayed out. Dollar and Garrett were among those who did not get service under either yellow flag, and it showed with the handling going away as laps were ran. Meanwhile, Kraus’ adjustments kept the No. 16 Toyota underneath him so he could make the move when it counted.

– Can we also applaud NASCAR for their cost-saving measure in only allowing one single set of General Tires for the event? On top of the money not being spent, it also teaches the drivers about conserving equipment – something we know can come in handy when they move up the ranks. 

Hailie Deegan has been regarded as one of the top up-and-coming female drivers, with plenty of media shined her way. She has also backed up the talk by winning a K&N Pro Series West event last year, too. Unfortunately after starting on pole, mechanical issues plagued her night all the way to a 16th-place finish.

Her evening continued to get worse, as she also wrecked out of the Pro Late Model event at New Smyrna following the K&N Pro Series race after getting loose off of the corner. Look for her to bounce back and prove herself in the upcoming races.

While the focus for many is the action at Daytona International Speedway, February in Florida is busy with racing events. Bubba Raceway Park and Volusia Speedway have something for dirt fans each night, while New Smyrna Speedway hosts their World Series.

If you want to get a glance at the next generation, checking out any of these events is a must as they always put on a good show. The best part? Fanschoice.tv is live streaming each night for free for your viewing pleasure. 

– Deegan wasn’t the only driver to find trouble during the Pro Late Model event. The Mike Skinner-owned team saw both of their drivers black-flagged for jumping the restart, with the second call being gut-wrenching as it saw Jamie Skinner go from victory lane to last car on the lead lap. 

The Pro Late Models have been putting impressive side-by-side racing together on-track, while stealing the headlines. The restart controversy follows up the first night where Colin Kravil and Derek Griffith wrecked racing for the lead, and Deegan called out Jeremy Miller for a motor advantage. For the record, while Deegan wrecked out, Miller drove from the back to third after blowing his engine in practice; for Kvapil and Griffith, neither was able to rebound as they would have hoped on Monday.

– The Florida based modifieds are causing fans to talk for all the wrong reasons. The racing was pretty much strung out single-file, with the race experiencing a lengthy delay at the end to clean up fluid. It would’ve been better to call a time limit on the end of the event, and move on. Thankfully Bob Dillner eased some of the pain with his interviews and commentary for those at home.

Doug Coby may say that he is just down there testing, but he’s doing a fine job in the process as he put together a dominating performance in pacing every single lap en route to victory. Despite the races getting longer in the coming days, he’ll be a threat to sweep them all – but don’t start engraving the trophy yet.

Patrick Emerling and Matt Hirschman put together an impressive battle for second through the final 10 laps, with Hirschman looking for every way possible around for second. While it seems worth nothing now after Emerling was disqualified for a left-side weight violation, they could easily give Coby a run for his money over the next couple nights.

Ryan Preece is another name that can’t be forgotten. He had the speed to race up through the pack and could’ve been right there with the top-five, but an unscheduled pit stop for the car being stuck in gear put him behind. 

– The Super Late Models didn’t have the smoothest night of competition, with a couple big accidents eliminating drivers from the event. The frustration was echoed by the drivers, with Ryan Moore saying, “They have enough trouble lining up. You can’t expect them to know how to race.” 

At the front of the field, talent was the name of the game with arguably the best Super Late Model driver across the country Bubba Pollard conserving his equipment through the first half, before scoring the victory. Despite having won practically every big event across the United States – well, except the Snowball Derby, this marks his first win down at the World Series. 

He isn’t driving his own car, though, as he was asked to drive Dave Rogers’ entry with Rogers having surgery. The first night it seemed that Pollard was out of place, scoring a fourth-place finish by mere luck after the leaders got together. Now that he has the No. 11 driving as he wants, this may be the start of a dominating run from here on out.

Dan Frederickson led the first half of the event, and appeared set for a strong podium performance. However, with Pollard closing in, he made a mistake and got up into the wall. Ultimately, that caused him to drop through the running order. Heartbreaking.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.