Justin Haley autographs the K&N mini helmet after his win at Greenville Pickens Speedway
The first three races of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season produced three different winners. The first race in February added a bit of drama on the final lap.
Todd Gilliland won the Jet Tools 150, the season opener in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida on Feb. 14. What looked like a costly pile-up on the final lap turned out to be an avoidable incident. The race was extended an extra lap because the proper flags were not displayed from the flag stand.
As a result, the drivers continued for an extra lap. The three race leaders, Gilliland, Spencer Davis and Ronnie Bassett Jr., collided on the final lap. Bassett crossed the finish line first, but the win was awarded to Gilliland.
“It was crazy,” Gilliland said after the race. “We had it under control to start. We may have lost it a little bit there at the end. But it all fell back into our hands.”
Bassett said he didn’t see the flags from the stand and continued to race for the win even though the race was technically over.
Tyler Dippel takes a victory lap after his win at Mobile International Raceway
“First thing, I never saw the white flag,” Bassett said. “The spotter would come on the radio and he said we’re coming to the checker this time. Any racer is going to race to the checkered flag. Went down into turn one and got cleared down to the bottom. The two leaders got together in three and four. I went up underneath them and when I got up underneath them, they came down a little bit. We all got together racing for the W. I don’t know what happened after that.”
Bassett ended up in third place. Davis was second.
Gilliland, a third-generation NASCAR driver from North Carolina, won his second K&N Pro Series race in as many starts. He won the season finale in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix International Raceway last year.
Tyler Dippel won the second K&N Pro Series East race of the season at Mobile International Raceway in Alabama on March 12. “It’s so unreal. I can’t believe this happened,” Dippel said. “I really don’t have words for it.” Dippel, a 15-year-old rookie, won the Mobile 150 presented by Mobile Sports Authority in his second K&N Pro Series start. He crossed the finish line after a green-white-checker finish.
“We started fifth. We had a little bit of a mess up on our second lap in qualifying,” Dippel said. “The car was running really good. I knew we had something when the green flag dropped. Made a couple of moves at the start and kept pace with myself. Got the lead really early there and got out front and just rode it.” Davis was the runner-up for the second race in a row, while Jesse Little was third.
Todd Gilliland fights for the lead and wins the Jet Tools 150 at New Smyrna Speedway on February 14
“At the end of each run, we would be right back up there,” Davis said. “Restarts hurt us a little bit. We had our car set up for the long runs. That bit us with that green-white-checkered. We tried to make something happen. At least we got to second. We maintained the points lead. That’s a good thing.”
Dominique Van Wierwingen led the first 29 laps of the race. The driver from Canada started on the front row next to Davis, who won the pole. She took the lead on the first lap and set a K&N Pro Series East record for leading the most laps in a race by a woman driver. The previous record in the 30-year history of the K&N Pro Series East was four laps.
Another teenager won the third race of the K&N Pro Series East season. Justin Haley, 16, won the Kevin Whitaker 150 at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina on March 26. It was his first win in 23 career starts in the K&N Pro Series East.
“We played a safe race. Saved the tires for the last 75. Tried to use the first 75 as a judge for the last 75,” Haley said. “The first run I was holding back but the second run we were pretty much all out.”
Haley took the lead from Kyle Benjamin on lap 143. Haley led the last six laps of the race. Benjamin was second after winning the pole and leading a race-high 122 laps.
Bassett was third, followed by Davis in fourth. It was Davis’ third top-five finish of the season. Davis leads the K&N Pro Series East standings after three races. He has a three-point lead over Benjamin. The top four drivers in the K&N Pro Series East standings are separated by only six points. Haley is third with 121 points. Dippel is fourth with 120 points. Bassett is fifth, nine points behind Davis.
The next race in the K&N Pro Series East is the PittLite 125 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 16.