K&N East Race Preview: Thompson

Thompson

The K&N Pro Series East will return to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the first time in eight years. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will celebrate its at its past while looking at its very bright future with the running of the Busch North Throwback 100 on Saturday, July 8, returning to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut, for the first time in eight years.

Thompson is the oldest asphalt track in the United States and was a cornerstone in the early rise of the Busch North Series, which later became the K&N Pro Series East. Stars of the series' early years, including inaugural champion Joey Kourafas, four-time champion Andy Santerre and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Mike Stefanik will be among the series’ most significant drivers on hand.

Fans will have the opportunity to celebrate the success of some of the all-time greats at Thompson, they will also have a window in the future of NASCAR. Current K&N Pro Series East point leader Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Chase Purdy and Chase Cabre are all members of the current NASCAR Next class and all rank inside the current top five in the point standings.

Burton and Gilliland have combined to win four of the seven races this season, while third through seventh in the championship standings are separated by just six points.

Fast Facts

The Race: The Busch North Throwback 100 will be the eighth of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule. 

The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 30 cars, including provisionals. The first 26 cars will qualify through the group qualifying process while the remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The races will be 100 laps, spanning 62.5 miles. There will be a five-minute break at or near the completion of Lap 50.

The Track: Built out of the aftermath of a devastating hurricane in the late 1930s, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park opened in 1940 and is the oldest asphalt race track in the United States. Dubbed “The Indianapolis of the East” at the time of its incarnation, the .625-mile banked speedway has played host to early Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races. NASCAR Hall of Fame member David Pearson won at Thompson in a Cup Series race at the track in 1969.

Located on 500 acres of rolling hills, the facility is currently home to the oval, a 1.7-mile road course, a .10-mile quarter midget track, a 4.5 acre autocross area and a full 18-hole golf course.

Race Winners: There have been 20 different winners in 27 K&N Pro Series East races at Thompson, with former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ricky Craven and two-time series champion Mike Stefanik with three victories each at the track. Bobby Dragon, Jerry Marquis and Brad Leighton each won two times at Thompson in their careers.

Race Notes

Throwback Schemes: Eighth drivers entered in the Busch North Throwback 100 will sport throwback paint schemes to pay tribute to some of the series’ most influential drivers in the early years of the series.

Chase Cabre will run the No. 6 instead of his usual No. 4 in honor of Tommy Houston, the North Carolina driver who won during the inaugural 1987 season at Stafford. Todd Gilliland’s No. 16, which already features the iconic NAPA paint scheme, will carry the name of Stub Fadden, who started more than 200 series races, in honor of the longtime driver of the No. 16 NAPA machine, and Jared Irvan will carry the No. 4 to honor his father Ernie Irvan, who won 15 times at the Cup Series level. Ruben Garcia will move the No. 03 to recognize Rogelio Lopez, who in 2005 became the first Mexican driver to win an oval race in the series. Chase Purdy’s No. 17 will honor Dale Shaw, the 1994 champion, and Doug Coby’s No. 43 will recall the ride of Mike McLaughlin, a seven-time K&N race winner including one victory at Thompson. Ted Marsh's No. 31 Whelen Engineering ride, which like the No. 16 NAPA, hasn't changed much over the years, will sport the name of Marsh's first driver in the series, Ted Christopher.

In perhaps the most obvious bridge from the past to the present, Eddie MacDonald’s No. 71 will feature the look of Andy Santerre, the four-time champion whom MacDonald competed alongside for several seasons early in his career.

All the throwback cars are slated to have the driver they are honoring on the roof above "passenger" side window.

Past & Future Stars: Santerre, Kourafas and Stefanik head a list of notables from the series' history who will be part of the festivities. Stefanik won the series titles in 1997 and '98 while also winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships those same seasons. But they won't be the only past stars on hand. Three-time series champion Jamie Aube, two-time series champion Mike Olsen, former NASCAR Cup driver Irvan and Lopez are also scheduled to be in attendance.

The K&N Pro Series East races at Thompson have provided fans a glance into the sport’s future. In 2008, the race held at Thompson was won by Trevor Bayne — now a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver and winner of the Daytona 500 in 2011. Martin Truex Jr., who has two Cup Series wins this season and ranks second in the standings, won a K&N Pro Series race at Thompson in 2001.

Feels Like The First Time: Todd Gilliland, of Sherills Ford, North Carolina, is competing full-time in both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West divisions this season. With four West wins this season as he defends that championship from a year ago, Gilliland inched closer to a title in the East with his win in the series’ most recent event.

Gilliland won at Berlin Raceway last weekend, in the series’ inaugural race at the facility, for his second career East win. He also won at New Smyrna Speedway in the 2016 season opener.

Through eight races, Gilliland sits just 19 points behind leader Harrison Burton, a three-time race winner this season.

Modified Men: A pair of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champions expect to make starts in the Busch North Throwback 100 at Thompson.

Four-time and defending Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby of Milford, Connecticut, will drive the No. 43 for MDM Motorsports at Thompson in what will be his first K&N Pro Series start. Coby has five career wins at Thompson in a Modified and has finished in the top five in nine of his last 13 starts at the track.

Ryan Preece of Berlin, Connecticut, will drive the No. 31 Ted Marsh Racing entry at Thompson. The 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion, Preece has two wins and five poles in his career at Thompson — where he he is a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champion. After running a full NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule in 2016 for car owner Johnny Davis, this will be Preece’s fourth career K&N Pro Series East start and his first at Thompson.

Proving Ground: Since 2007, four drivers earned their first career NASCAR win in the K&N Pro Series before going on to win at least one race in all three of NASCAR’s national series. Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney have all won Cup, XFinity and Camping World Truck Series races after scoring K&N wins, with Logano and Dillon each having competed at Thompson. Chase Elliott and Daniel Suarez are each one Cup win away from joining that prestigious list of drivers.

Of the top 25 drivers in the Cup Series standings heading into Daytona last weekend, eight won their first NASCAR races in the K&N Pro Series, including 2008 Thompson winner Bayne. Two-time K&N Pro Series East champion Ryan Truex won the last race held at Thompson in 2009, and he’s currently seventh in the Camping World Truck Series standings.

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