For Hub City Times
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Florida — Fifteen-year-old Derek Kraus notched a third-place finish in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut on Sunday, and an attempt by his Bill McAnally Racing (BMR) teammate Todd Gilliland for a repeat win in the season opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway was derailed by a flat tire.
Gilliland was leading when an apparent piece of debris cut his right front tire with less than 50 laps to go in the Jet Tools 150. Despite losing a lap and falling back to 23rd after a pit stop, Gilliland managed to charge back through the field to finish ninth.
Kraus was making his first start with BMR, driving the No. 99 Carlyle Tools Toyota Camry. Although he started sixth on the grid, Kraus found himself losing ground after an early restart.
“The guy in front of me got a bad restart,” Kraus said. “He missed a shift or something, and I got drawn all the way back to about 10th. I was just riding. Then the handling kind of fell off before the break, and we dropped back pretty far.”
Veteran crew chief Ty Joiner and the Carlyle Tools team went to work at the midway break making adjustments, Kraus said.
“After the restart, we started picking them off,” he said. “It was really good.”
Kraus took fifth on lap 125 and third on lap 134.
“I knew the car was going to be pretty good because of Ty,” Kraus said. “I had a lot of trust in him, so I really didn’t worry about it.”
Gilliland, who started fifth, had steadily moved forward and charged into the lead on a lap 81 restart after the midway break. It appeared the 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, could be headed for his second-straight win in the New Smyrna event until he slowed with a flat right front tire on lap 102. He lost a lap in making a pit stop for another tire.
“Everyone on the … team worked hard all day,” Gilliland said. “They gave me a really good car. We blew a right front while we were leading. From there, we were just trying to get as many positions as we could.”
Gilliland, a member of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights NASCAR’s rising stars, is tackling the full schedules in both the East and West divisions of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this year.
Much like Gilliland did a year ago, Kraus will focus on racing the full schedule in the K&N West as a rookie this season while also competing in select K&N East races.
Sunday’s race, which was won by Ronnie Bassett Jr., is scheduled to be televised on NBCSN on Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. EST. It was part of the 51st Annual World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing on the half-mile oval at New Smyrna, and it marked the fourth series race at the track.
The next event on the K&N Pro Series East schedule will be at Greenville Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina, on April 8.