Chili Bowl winner earns NASCAR K&N Pro Series East ride MORE: Abreu inks deal for K&N Pro Series East ride " Home Tracks Competing in NASCAR wasn't on Rico Abreu's radar a year ago, but that was before the youngster began racing and winning sprint car races all across the country. Now, the 22-year-old, fresh off a huge win in Saturday night's Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, begins preparations for his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut next month at New Smyrna (Florida) Speedway. He is one of five drivers scheduled to compete in the K&N Pro Series for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks, joining William Byron, J.J. Haley, Scott Heckert and Dalton Sargeant. "Last year it wasn't," Abreu said of the roadmap to NASCAR, "until I had all my success. I set goals last year that I never thought I would achieve, and I achieved them." Abreu, who began competing in sprint cars in 2011, competed in more than 100 open-wheel races across various series. He posted 26 victories across 410 winged and non-winged sprint cars, 360 winged sprints and USAC midget competition. He captured the 2014 USAC Honda Midget Series national title in November. "At the end of last year the discussion came up," he said. "The opportunity was there and I said, 'why don’t we give it a shot?' Because I can always come back to sprint car racing if NASCAR doesn't work out or (I'm) not competitive." With triple-digit starts and much success during each of the past two seasons, Abreu said he believes he can be just as competitive in a stock car as he has proven to be in an open-wheel ride. "I feel I will be competitive with all the experience I've already gained racing 100 times a year," he said. "I’m on the same path as a lot of these NASCAR standouts were on. I'm pretty confident about all of it; I'm just really excited to see what happens in the next few months." Those "NASCAR standouts" are well known – Tony Stewart , Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson , each coming from the open-wheel ranks as well. It was Larson, the 22-year-old phenom who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, that helped pave the way for Abreu in sprints. "I always knew he'd probably end up in NASCAR," Larson said Tuesday. "I think he's going to do a really great job. He's winning every big race out there right now and I think he'll take to stock cars well." And Stewart, the three-time Sprint Cup champion, has already offered to help make sure that there are no snags as Abreu attempts to run the full 14-race K&N Pro Series East schedule while continuing to compete in open-wheel entries. "I'm planning on racing 120 times this year and as many as I can get in," Abreu said. "I was talking to Tony at the Chili Bowl and I told him there was a conflict where the K&N guys are at Dover and there are three sprint car races at Williams Grove ( Pennsylvania .). He said 'don't worry about that; I'll get you there.' So it's pretty cool that I've got Tony behind me on all this and Kyle; it just allows me to race even more than I was already planning." Crew chief Mardy Lindley, who helped guide Dylan Kwasniewski to six wins and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title in '13, will oversee Abreu's No. 98 team. "I’m on the same path as a lot of these NASCAR standouts were on." -- Rico Abreu
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Looking back at the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee's career MORE: NASCAR Hall of Fame profile of Bill Elliott DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – When Bill Elliott climbed into his Ford on a late-winter afternoon in 1976, little did fans at North Carolina Motor Speedway know they were witnessing the birth of a NASCAR Hall of Fame career. The 20-year-old Elliott, whose car was fielded by his father George and crewed by brothers Ernie and Dan, didn't last long in his NASCAR premier series debut. Engine problems sidelined the Elliotts early for a finish of 33rd in the 36-car field. In fact, Elliott's first campaign of eight races – four for his father and four with Bill Champion, another independent owner-driver – produced six DNFs. First impressions, however, can be deceiving. The Dawsonville, Georgia family may have lacked resources – as did many NASCAR premier series hopefuls during the economically depressed 1970s. What wasn’t in short supply was perseverance. The lanky, red-headed Elliott lasted long enough to catch the eye of Michigan industrialist Harry Melling, whose one-race sponsorship in 1981 dramatically changed NASCAR history. Elliott, born Oct. 8, 1955, ultimately won 44 races, 16th among all premier series drivers, over a 37-season, 828-start career that ended in 2012. All but two victories came on tracks longer than a mile in length; 16 of them from a pole position start. Elliott’s 55 career poles rank eighth all time. Proclaimed "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" by fans and media, Elliott and his No. 9 Ford Thunderbird set speed records at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway . His 212.809 mph mark established at Talladega on April 30, 1987 before engine restrictor plates reduced horsepower, is unlikely to be matched. Elliott was at his best on NASCAR's biggest stages winning the Daytona 500 twice and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway three times. In 1985 he completed an unprecedented sweep of Daytona, Darlington and the spring race at Talladega Superspeedway to capture the "Winston Million" – a $1 million bonus for winning those three of four marquee events. The driver's legion of fans voted Elliott NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver an unprecedented 16 times. While Elliott may have come from nothing in terms of economic support, his birthplace in Georgia's northern mountains provided something of a golden heritage. Stock car racing, rooted in the area’s moonshine culture, ran deep and produced many of the sport's earliest stars. Some argue that the impromptu Sunday night events in a nearby river bottom, in which the liquor haulers wagered on whose cars were the fastest, represented the origins of modern stock car racing in the 1930s. Four Dawsonville drivers – Gober Sosebee, Roy Hall, Lloyd Seay and Bernard Long – won races on Daytona's beach/road course from 1941-59. During the 1940s, 12 of 15 of those races were won either by drivers or owners hailing from the small community. NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Raymond Parks, a Dawsonville native, owned the car in which Red Byron won the inaugural NASCAR premier series championship. Elliott became the fifth Daytona winner among the "Dawsonville Gang" when he won the 1985 Daytona 500 . So it was no surprise that the Elliott brothers were enamored of cars and racing. Bill would take apart and reassemble his father's race cars; his older brother Ernie owned a speed shop. "Actually I got my boys into racing because I wanted them to stay away from the back roads," said George Elliott, whose Dahlonega Ford Sales dealership backed the family’s racing effort. "If they were going to be driving fast, I wanted them to do it in the right place." George Elliott's support could take his son only so far. Enter Melling, who agreed to sponsor the Elliotts in the 1981 Daytona 500 . His check was minimal – it barely covered the tire bill – but it opened a history-making relationship. "It was a heck of a deal for us because that was $500 more than we had," said Elliott, who responded by finishing sixth. Melling's automotive products graced the panels of Elliott's Ford for 13 races in 1981. Melling purchased the team in 1982 and over a 10-year period watched Elliott win 34 races and the 1988 NASCAR premier series championship after a pair of second-place points finishes. Elliott won 11 times in 1985, a season that included his "Winston Million" triumph. Elliott won at least once in 10 consecutive seasons beginning with his first victory in 1983 at the 2.66-mile Riverside (California) International Raceway. After departing Melling’s team at the end of the 1991 season, Elliott produced six victories and his third runner-up championship finish for NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Junior Johnson. He joined Ray Evernham's new Dodge organization in 2001 and won four more times – the last at North Carolina Motor Speedway in 2003, a month after Elliott’s 48h birthday. Another chapter in Bill Elliott’s legacy was written in 2014 when the champion’s son, Chase, won the NASCAR XFINITY Series title at age 18.
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