NEW SMYRNA, Fla. – Derek Kraus bided his time, waited patiently and then struck when it counted to capture his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory during Monday night’s rain-postponed New Smyrna 175.
Held as part of the World Series of Asphalt Racing at the half-mile Florida oval, the race was a slugfest from start to finish, with Kraus coming out on top after a diving pass of both Ty Gibbs and Colin Garrett as they banged doors for the lead off turn four with 42 laps left.
From there, Kraus never looked back, holding Gibbs at bay on a late restart with 10 to go and driving away in his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry for Bill McAnally Racing.
After the race, the Stratford, Wis., native celebrated with a Polish victory lap, a backwards trip around the speedway that was first pioneered by fellow Wisconsinite and recently-inducted NASCAR Hall of Fame class member Alan Kulwicki.
“This was a really good car BMR brought me here,” noted Kraus, who started 16th in the 19-car field. “We struggled a lot in practice Saturday and Sunday. I was a little worried going into it, because we didn’t get through our mock runs and we had to start deep in the field. Once the race started though, I knew right away I had a good car underneath me, so that was really good. At the end of it, we did exactly what we needed to do here and ended up in victory lane.”
Kraus nailed the final restart from the top groove of the race track, the final piece to a plan to the race that he said he and his crew stuck to all night long.
“We had a plan right away to come in on that first break,” Kraus explained. “Right away, the car was pretty good, so that’s what we did. We stayed out during the second break and I feel like track position was big. It’s pretty tough to pass here. If you have a good-turning car like I did tonight, it was easier than it normally is.
“It’s always the outside that’s best here, though. The car fired off really well,” he added. “That helped a lot on the restarts … and then we didn’t spin the tires and got to the lead.”
The race was run in three stages Monday night, with three distinctly different names who each took a turn out in front of the field.
The first 65-lap stint saw polesitter Hailie Deegan jump to the early lead, but the star of the early going was DGR-Crosley rookie Drew Dollar, who charged forward from the outside pole and took the lead for the first time just before the first caution waved on lap 18 for a spin by Chuck Buchanan in turn three.
After ceding the point briefly to Chase Cabre on the ensuing restart, Dollar retook the lead on lap 29 and then fended off a series of hard charges from Colin Garrett to maintain command through the first of two competition cautions.
The beginning of the second act was where Garrett asserted his dominance, taking the lead from Cabre on the lap-67 resumption and easily leading every green-flag lap in that run, which was ended with 53 to go when Brittney Zamora spun in the second corner to bring out another yellow flag.
Garrett stayed on track again, as did many of the contenders, and when the green was displayed to kick off the last segment with 48 to go it was less than a lap before the yellow was back out as Deegan stalled in turns three and four with electrical issues.
That set up another restart with 44 laps left, where Ty Gibbs fired off like a bandit and wrested the lead away from Garrett off the bottom, but the two weren’t done fighting it out.
They banged doors exiting turn four two laps later, with Kraus running third, and the loss of momentum allowed Kraus to duck below both of them to assume the race lead for good.
Not even two late caution flags – one with 37 to go for a spin by Tanner Gray and a second with 18 laps left when Zamora crashed which erased a 2.293-second lead for Kraus – could stop him from pulling away.
Gibbs had a shot on the final restart with 10 to go, but could do nothing with Kraus and had to settle for second in his No. 17 DGR-Crosley/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“I got to run at Myrtle Beach (Speedway) in the Icebreaker, and that really helped me a lot to prepare for this one,” Gibbs noted. “I think I broke the front off a bit during the race … but this was a whole learning experience for me. I really believe I had a shot to win this; we just got a little too tight in the center as it got later in the race. We’ll take second though.”
Brandon McReynolds completed the podium ahead of Sam Mayer and Anthony Sergi, while Garrett faded to sixth at the checkered flag as his tires gave up.
“This was a statement run for us tonight,” said Garrett’s team owner, Sam Hunt. “We just used a little too much tire there at the end, but I’m so proud of Colin and the effort of this team. They knew we were here.”
Spencer Davis, Ruben Garcia Jr., Dollar and Connor Hall completed the top 10.
Derek Kraus, Ty Gibbs, Brandon McReynolds, Sam Mayer, Anthony Sergi, Colin Garrett, Spencer Davis, Ruben Garcia Jr., Drew Dollar, Connor Hall, Max McLaughlin, Tanner Gray, Brandon Oakley, Mason Diaz, Brittney Zamora, Hailie Deegan, Chase Cabre, Juan Manuel Gonzales, Chuck Buchanan Jr.