By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Arizona — Cool, calm and extremely focused is 18-year-old Derek Kraus, who is set to run double duty in both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and K&N Pro Series West at ISM Raceway.
The Stratford, Wisconsin native will be making his fourth Truck Series start of 2019 for Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 ENEOS Toyota Tundra. A year ago, Kraus made his series debut at Phoenix where he started and finished eighth.
Kraus said there are things that he’ll be able to carry from last year such as dealing with traffic, but not a whole lot when it really comes down to it.
“It’s going to be a good weekend. We’ll fire it off with the Truck race and tomorrow we’ll finish it off with the K&N West race,” Kraus told Motorsports Tribune. “I’ll be able to carry over a few things before the race tomorrow and then tonight during the race being in traffic and stuff. We’ll be able to carry that into the K&N race. More seat time will help for sure.”
BMR is also the same team Kraus’ been tearing it up on the regional level where he’s scored seven victories (five in the West and two in the East). Among those victories on the West Coast were sweeping both races at Tucson Raceway, a wire-to-wire triumph at Douglas County, surviving the madness at Meridian and accomplishing the Kern County Raceway Park four-peat.
Kraus’ teammate Brittney Zamora describes Kraus as the guy to beat in K&N and a teammate he can lean on due to both being competitive and having the will to win.
“Every race he goes to. He’s on his A-Game, so he’s the one you need to beat. If your times are close to him and you’re consistent, have a good feel for the car,” Zamora said. “You know you’re going to have a good race. Some of my best races in the series have been with him. It’s pretty cool to run neck-and-neck like that.
“In Colorado, we were running side-by-side for like 15 laps. Like good clean racing. It’s good to have a teammate like him. Being in the series for three years, he just have that knowledge and experience that I’m still gaining as a rookie.”
While Kraus has been the class of the K&N West field, he’s also had to overcome major hurdles like recovering from a crash due to contact from Max McLaughlin at Iowa Speedway to finishing fourth and rallying from losing a lap due to a flat tire to score another fourth at All-American Speedway in Roseville.
Kraus’ capitalization has resulted into a strong championship points lead after 13 races. As a result, all has to do is start his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry in Saturday’s Arizona Lottery 100 and the 2019 K&N West title will be his.
When reflecting back on his dominant campaign, Kraus said that outside of engine woes at Sonoma and the flat tire at Roseville, his championship campaign has been good.
“It’s been a good year so far and we’ve been able to be more consistent,” Kraus said. “Unlike last year, I felt like if we didn’t win, we finish 15th or 10th or something stupid like that. It’s been a good year thus far and we’ve been very consistent so that helps a lot.
“We really had to battle all year. We’ve had a lot tough battles like at Meridian with Jagger (Jones) and then other races too. We don’t really know what could happen. You take it one race at a time, so you got to stay focus at the one race you’re at. If you do your job at the racetrack and finish well, the points will take care of yourself.”
On top of the pit box for Kraus’ truck race at Phoenix is Kevin Bellicourt, who primarily calls the shots for Zamora but also oversees Kraus’ and Hailie Deegan’s K&N cars.
A focused Kraus said it helps having Bellicourt on his side and have the chemistry needed to have a successful Lucas Oil 150, but also in the finale at Homestead next Friday and beyond.
“I feel like we get along really well and everything’s worked out really well for me and Kevin so far this year,” Kraus said. “We got to focus on what’s ahead of us, like tonight and tomorrow night. Then we’re going to Homestead next weekend so we just got to try to finish the season strong and I feel like we can do that really well. Whatever happens in the off season happens.”