K&N East Race Preview: New Jersey

New jersey

The JustDrive.com 125 will be the 13th of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule. (Photo: Getty Images)

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The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship battle between Todd Gilliland and Harrison Burton heads to the road.

The two NASCAR Next drivers will continue their back-and-forth Saturday as the series returns to New Jersey Motorsports Park for the JustDrive.com 125. The race is the second in a span of three races that will be contested on a road course in the final quarter of the 2017 season.

Heading into New Jersey, Gilliland — by virtue of his win in the most recent event at Virginia’s Langley Speedway — holds a slim six-point lead over Burton atop the championship standings. Both drivers have four wins this season to tie for the series lead in that category, and they are the only two drivers to finish in the top 10 in all 12 races this season.  

And, adding more intrigue to the K&N Pro Series East championship chase, both have performed remarkably well on road courses. At New York’s Watkins Glen International last month, Gilliland finished second and Burton finished third. 

Prior to this season, Burton had made three career road-course starts and never finished better than 11th, though he has qualified inside the top 10 in three of his four career road course races. Gilliland’s only road course start outside of Watkins Glen this season came in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, when he finished sixth at California’s Sonoma Raceway in June. He did, however, post a pair of runner-up finishes at Utah Motorsports Campus in 2016 with the West series

Fast Facts

The Race: The JustDrive.com 125 will be the 13th of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East schedule.

The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 starting positions will be determined from group qualifying and the final four will be determined through provisionals. The race will be 55 laps, spanning 126.50 miles, and will be run in two segments with a five-minute break at or near the conclusion of Lap 28.

The Track: New Jersey Motorsports Park has held only one NASCAR touring series event in its long history, as the road course facility has ties to World War II. Located next to the Millville Airport, an airport that was "America's First Defense Airport" in 1941, the track sits on 500 acres and has two separate road course layouts.

Race Winners: Noah Gragson won the inaugural NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2016.

Track Records: The race record belongs to Noah Gragson at 82.755 mph (1 hour, 31 minutes, 43 seconds) and was set in 2016. The track qualifying record was set in 2016 by Justin Haley at 99.473 mph (1 minute, 23.239 seconds).

Race Notes

Road to Success: From a development perspective, road courses have become an important step on the NASCAR ladder. NASCAR national series road course winners like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano — all current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers — have either a NASCAR XFINITY Series or Camping World Truck Series road-course win on their resume, and each spent time on road courses at the NASCAR K&N Pro Series level to gain experience. From a competition perspective, road-course races remain unpredictable and the kind of wild card the championship contenders will need to manage with just two races remaining in the season.

Tight at the Top: Gilliland leads Burton by six points, marking the second time in the last three seasons that the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title race has headed into the final two races of the season with the championship contenders separated by fewer than 15 points.

In 2015, Scott Heckert trailed William Byron by 13 points entering the series finale at Dover while Justin Haley had a 29-point lead over Kyle Benjamin headed into the finale last year.

Six-Pack: After finishing eighth at Tennessee’s Memphis International Raceway in June — winless up to that point — Gilliland has become far and away the series’ hottest driver.

Over the last six races, Gilliland has four wins and two second-place finishes. The NASCAR Next driver, has led 359 laps over the six-race stretch with wins at Michigan’s Berlin Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and Langley. His win at Iowa vaulted him into the K&N Pro Series East point lead for the first time since he won the season opener in 2016.

Back in the Fold: For the second time this season, Will Rodgers returns to NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competition.

Rodgers made his series debut at Watkins Glen, where he scored his first career K&N Pro Series win. He’s currently fourth in the K&N Pro Series West standings with seven top-five finishes and nine top 10s in 11 races this season.

Rodgers will drive the No. 7 Solvang Brewing Company Ford for Jefferson Pitts Racing, the team he currently competes full-time for.

Rev On The Road: Rev Racing has had a strong showing on road courses. At Watkins Glen, Ruben Garcia Jr. and Jay Beasley finished fourth and fifth, respectively, while Chase Cabre came home seventh. Last year at New Jersey, Collin Cabre was fourth and Garcia sixth, and the team won at Virginia International Raceway in 2015 with Sergio Pena behind the wheel.

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Each Wednesday at 4 p.m. (ET), hosts Kyle Rickey and Buddy Long give you all the news, race results and highlights from NASCAR Modified and K&N Pro Series East and West races from all over the country along with interviews with race winners and news makers.

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