NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
The common thread throughout the NASCAR Night of Champion Touring Awards Saturday was of a dream realized.
Seven NASCAR drivers collected their series championship trophies and received their coveted championship rings from NASCAR President Mike Helton in the ceremony held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
"To win this championship, to accomplish this goal, it means the world to me," said 22-year-old Ryan Preece, who became the youngest champion of NASCAR's oldest division, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
"Being part of this is amazing," said Ander Vilarino, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion. "I would have never imagined that one day I could say I'm a two-time NASCAR champion."
Preece and Vilarino were joined on the stage at the end of the night to show off their championship rings by NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Dylan Kwasniewski, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Thorn, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 champion Scott Steckly and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion George Brunnhoelzl III.
Brunnhoelzl won his fourth NASCAR tour championship, while Steckly picked up his third.
Kwasniewski, 18, became the first driver to win NASCAR's K&N Pro Series West and East titles -- and he did so in consecutive seasons.
"The drivers who graced the stage truly reflect the depth, talent and diversity of NASCAR in the 21st century," said George Silbermann, NASCAR vice president, regional and touring series. "And the seven NASCAR champions who were crowned embody the strength and future promise of our sport."
The championships were won in vastly different ways.
Brunnhoelzl used a midseason run of three straight wins en route to his title, while Vilarino started off the season with a NASCAR touring-series record six straight wins. Steckly, on the other hand, finished outside the top 20 in the first two races and rallied by winning the finale to edge rival DJ Kennington by two points.
"This year has been amazing," Steckly said. "To race at this level and with other drivers who are such strong competitors is something I am very grateful for and love doing."
The champions weren't the only ones to pick up hardware Saturday night.
In addition to the championship awards, each series rookie of the year was honored. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award winners were Jesse Little in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Dylan Lupton in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Cole Powell in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Luke Fleming in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Top rookie performers in three international series were Alex Guenette in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Santiago Tovar in Mexico's NASCAR Toyota Series and Yann Zimmer in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series.
The Most Popular Driver Awards for each series were also presented during the ceremony. The seven drivers honored with the prestigious award were Ben Kennedy in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, Cameron Hayley of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Guenette in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, Pepe Montano of the NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series, Freddy Nordstrom from the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series, Mike Stefanik from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Andy Seuss from the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Montano and Nordstrom were repeat winners from a season ago.
The top 10 drivers and car owners from each of NASCAR's touring series also were recognized during the gala.
"There are a lot of young faces here tonight that you will probably be seeing a lot more of in the future," Silbermann said. "They are the new ambassadors of our sport -- fearless and very talented on the race track and eager to prove their mettle."