The NASCAR K & N Pro Series is one place where aspiring stock car drivers can hone their skills and prepare for the challenges at the national touring level.
As a way to track and chart some of the more promising drivers in the developmental ranks, NASCAR has developed the Hunter Index, a power poll of the top NASCAR prospects in the nation.
The list of drivers will include those racing in the NASCAR K & N Pro Series, Whelen All-American Series, Mexico Series, Canadian Tire Series, Whelen Modified Tour and the Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The preseason poll was released this week with three-time Whelen All-American Series national champion Philip Morris atop the list. Sergio Pena, who nearly won the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January, came in at No. 2. Nick Joanides, a driver from Woodland Hills who became the first person to win the NASCAR Super Late Model and Late Model championship at Irwindale in the same year, came in at No. 4.
The poll will be released monthly and will include a variety of drivers. The panel voting on the poll consists of motor sports writers from around the country and NASCAR representatives, including Brett Bodine, chairman of the NASCAR resume committee.
The panel also included media members Shawn Courchesne representing the Northeast, Adam Fenwick from the Southeast, Tim Haddock of HaddockInThePaddock.com from the West Coast, and Greg MacPherson from the Canadian publication Inside Track Motorsports News. They were joined by NASCAR public relations representative Jason Christley.
Here is a look at the preseason Hunter Index:
PRESEASON HUNTER INDEX1. PHILIP MORRIS (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)
Why he’s here: Veteran Late Model driver scored two wins, two seconds and a third over his final six races at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford (Va.) to win his third national championship in the last four years.
2. SERGIO PENA (NASCAR K & N Pro Series East)
Why he’s here: Made a memorable series debut at Toyota All-Star Showdown by winning the pole, leading 54 laps and finishing second to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano.
3. RYAN TRUEX (NASCAR K & N Pro Series East)
Why he’s here: Ended 2009 with seven top three finishes in the final eight races to claim the series championship.
4. NICK JOANIDES (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)
Why he’s here: Had five wins, three seconds and a fifth in final nine races in Super Late Model season at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) and finished third in the national standings. Also won the Late Model title at Toyota Speedway.
5. PAULIE HARRAKA (NASCAR K & N Pro Series West)
Why he’s here: Had two wins in the final three races of the West to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors and finish fourth in points. He was ninth in NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
6. TED CHRISTOPHER (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour / NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)
Why he’s here: Won the Whelen Modified season finale at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway. He had three wins and two seconds in last six Whelen All-American Series races in winning track title at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway and finishing fifth in national standings.
7. ANDREW RANGER (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1)
Why he’s here: Closed out his second championship with three top 10s, including a win in the second-to-last race of the season. Also finished 15th in NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
8. KEITH ROCCO (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)
Why he’s here: Record nine top five finishes, including three wins, in final 10 races running asphalt Modified at three Connecticut tracks to finish second by Morris in the national standings.
9. EDDIE MACDONALD (NASCAR K & N Pro Series East)
Why he’s here: A win (New Hampshire), a second (Lime Rock) and ninth (Dover) to wind up second in series points. Finished eighth in NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown.
10. BRETT MOFFITT (NASCAR K & N Pro Series East)
Why he’s here: Was second behind MacDonald at New Hampshire, and then won at Dover to end the season. He was also fourth in the West race at Iowa.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ryan Preece (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), David Mayhew (NASCAR K & N Pro Series West), Eric Holmes (NASCAR K & N Pro Series West), D.J. Kennington (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1), George Brunnhoelzl III (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour)
Photo: Jonothon Gomez and David Mayhew converse following their qualifying runs during the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale in January. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)