February 23, 2014 — Bruce Nuttleman/Speed51.com photo — NEW SMYRNA, Fla. — Young stars were out in full force all week at New Smyrna Speedway, and Saturday night’s finale was no different. But it was the NASCAR veteran who walked away with the grand prize.
Sixteen-year-old Kyle Benjamin ran away with the Bruce Gowland Memorial 100 Super Late Model race. It was Benjamin’s first win of the 48th Annual World Series of Asphalt Racing. Steve Wallace finished fourth and earned the overall World Series championship.
“It’s a big momentum boost,” said Benjamin. “I’ve god some pretty big races coming up … It’s really cool to have this win to start the season and get everyone in a positive attitude. I’m ready to start.”
Wallace won last Saturday’s 35-lap feature, and it was his consistent finishes — he was top three in the first six races and fourth in the seventh and final race — that resulted in the championship.
“It means a lot,” said Wallace of the title. “Seven nights of hardcore short-track racing ain’t easy to come by, so to be the champion of that … I’ve always wanted to come down here and win the championship. All the short-track legends — Dick Trickle, my dad — have come down here and won races.
“It feels good to come down here and leave with the big trophy.”
This is the 13th straight year there has been a different World Series champion in the Late Model division. Dick Trickle, Mark Martin, Pete Hamilton and 1994 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion David Rogers have taken home the title over the years.
And 25-year-old Travis Cope finished second to claim the track’s Triple Crown for the second straight year. Cope won New Smyrna’s first two extra-distance Super Late Model races (Jan. 4 and Jan. 28).
“We might have shown up earlier if we knew what we were up against,” Cope said “Tonight, I just had a handful the whole night, made a couple of stupid mistakes I should have made. I think we maybe could have wound up battling Benjamin for the win.
“He had a good car, but I think we could have been right there with him.”
Tyler Dippel, 14, originally crossed the line in second but was disqualified in post-race technical inspection. That moved Brandon Watson up to third behind Benjamin and Cope. Wallace and Alex Labbe rounded out the top five.
Stephen Nasse was sixth, follwoed by Brendan Brock, Rogers, Joey Mucciacciaro and Daniel Webster.
Wallace virtually clinched the title when Stephen Nasse, who won three of the week’s first four races, was collected in a Lap 68 wreck.
“I’m just glad the track came to us – we’ve been working on the car all week,” said Benjamin. “We started at a low and made our way to a high. I have one of the best crew chiefs in the business and he helped me progress all week.
Benjamin led the first 25 laps before contact with Cope on a restart allowed Wallace to slip by. Benjamin worked his way back into the lead on Lap 77 and withstood two cautions en route to the victory.
Brad May edged Alex Guenette at the line to win the 35-lap Pro Late Model feature. Guenette, 17, was the 2013 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series rookie of the year. Spencer Davis, 15, claimed the week-long division title.