Our look back at the “Best of 2015” begins with the “Best Drivers”. This list includes the top 15 drivers of the 2015 that competed in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series (NWAAS), CARS Tour or unsanctioned Late Model Stock Car events last season. With the introduction of the CARS Tour it certainly made the rankings just that much tougher to make.
Every year a couple of drivers stand out and this year was no different. One guy accumulated 30 victories during the 2015 season but never competed in a CARS Tour event. Would that hurt his ranking? How much does a CARS victory weigh versus a NWAAS victory? Which one means more? Does 12 wins at one track make you a one-trick pony or is it more impressive than 3 CARS Tour wins early in the season and a just consistent enough run to win the title?
Every year we answer all these questions the best way we know how. Ranking the “Best Drivers” of the previous season and this year while it was difficult and while we believe that we could move many drivers around in different positions, we’re sure that this list has the right 15 best drivers. Take a look and let us know what you think of our list and who you think we got right or missed it on.
Best of the Rest
Here’s the guys that we feel could have made the top 15 but just missed the cut for one reason or another.
David Roberts — 5 wins at two different tracks and a track championship.
Stacy Puryear — 3 wins at two different tracks.
Ronnie McCarty — 5 wins at Kingsport Speedway and his first LMSC Championship.
Dexter Canipe, Jr. — 6 wins at Hickory Motor Speedway.
Chris Dodson — 8 wins at Southside Speedway.
Brian Purdham — 6 wins at Shenandoah Speedway.
15. Deac McCaskill
What an odd year. Deac McCaskill is ranked only as the 15th best driver of the season? Yep and he just barely made the cut for this one. He won a CARS Tour race at Southern National Motorsports Park and the Ronnie Barnette Memorial at East Carolina Motor Speedway and that’s pretty it. He did run consistently and stay in the fight for the championship in the CARS Tour but he didn’t compete at Martinsville and wasn’t his usual winning self this season.
14. Tyler Ankrum
Tyler Ankrum isn’t the type of driver who’s going to set the world on fire. However at the end of the race you look up and ‘boom’ there he is right near the front. Ankrum did pick up the win at Hickory Motor Speedway in the Fall Brawl but it was his consistent performance no matter where they traveled that put him on this list.
13. Myatt Snider
In discussing this list there were times that Myatt Snider was mingling inside the top 5 and top 10 but ultimately as we added everything up he slipped outside the top 10. Snider could easily have found himself as the number one driver on this list. His consistency and being a contender in every race speaks volumes for the young driver but once we compared his lone victory to drivers who had double digit victories on as many as six different tracks, the numbers just weren’t in his favor. Snider’s breakthrough victory in the UNOH Battle at the Beach shows huge signs of improvement and could be a momentum swing heading into 2016.
12. Greg Edwards
Langley Speedway is known to be a tricky flat race track and one of the locals who has it all figured out is Greg Edwards. He didn’t just figure it out this season but his season high seven wins propeled him into a tie for the points championship with brother Danny who won six events. Winning seven races on that tough track is enough to propel anyone on to the “Best Drivers” list.
11. RD Smith
RD Smith’s performance at Martinsville was all kinds of impressive. His rally to win the Ace Speedway championship was equally impressive. Ace Speedway had a crazy year. They started with one promoter and finish with an old promoter saving the day. They started the season under NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car rules and then finished the season under CARS Tour rules. Smith’s rally included five late season wins under the CARS Tour rules, which he had been competing in all season giving him six wins on the season.
10. Todd Gilliland
He started out the 2015 season hot as a firecracker winning the season opening CARS Tour race with a last lap bump and run on home track favorite Deac McCaskill. His performances from there were feast or famine. He finally picked up a second win on the season at Greenville-Pickens Speedway on August 15th. His greatest performance however didn’t come with a trip to victory lane at the end of it. That performance was a dominant performance at the biggest Late Model Stock Car race in the country at Martinsville Speedway. He dominated his heat race and then proceeded to dominate the feature race before being bumped out of the groove late but everyone knew who the fastest car was.
9. Bradley McCaskill
Winning at Southern National Motorsports Park, the “home of the McCaskill’s” is one thing. Winning a CARS Tour race at Concord Speedway is a completely different ball of wax. Bradley McCaskill did both this season. First he opened the season with a thrilling win at Southern National and looked to be the odds on favorite for the championship before a crash at East Carolina Motor Speedway took him out of the points battle. Later in the season while competing in select CARS Tour events he picked up a victory at Concord after the leaders tangled in front of him late. He capped off the season with a Limited Late Model victory in the Halloween race at Southern National. Quite a season for “the other McCaskill”.
8. Brayton Haws
He won three of the first five events on the CARS Tour and held on to win the championship in the tour’s inaugural season. Haws kinda flat-lined during the mid-season and late season stretch but managed to keep their points lead to the finish. Had Haws kept his performance level as high throughout the season as it was early on he could easily be one of the top three drivers on this list.
7. Matt Bowling
Winning seven races is a big deal. Winning seven races at two different tracks is a bigger deal. Winning seven races at Motor Mile Speedway and South Boston Speedway is a much bigger deal. That’s exactly what Matt Bowling did this season as he competed at both tracks regularly against the best competition that the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Cars has to offer.
6. Sam Yarbrough
14 wins. Sam Yarbrough had another big season at Myrtle Beach Speedway winning 13 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series races and the lone trip to the beach for the CARS Tour. Yarbrough’s great season was enough to propel him up this list despite not having a single win away from his home turf. If Yarbrough ever wants to be among the elite drivers, he needs to perform and win at another venue.
5. Trey Gibson
Without disqualifications that derailed Trey Gibson early in the season there’s no telling how many races he might have won. He also might have acquired both Upstate South Carolina track championships instead of just one at Anderson Motor Speedway. 12 victories at Anderson and Greenville-Pickens Speedway was enough to catapult Gibson up this list but did his tech woes keep him from going higher?
4. Kres VanDyke
Here’s another driver who’s tech woes got in his way this past season. Kres VanDyke has become the face of Kingsport Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway in the last couple of seasons. His 19 wins on the two tracks this season solidified that status. He had a couple get away from him in post-race inspection but 19 wins is pretty stout.
3. Tommy Lemons, Jr.
The three drivers ranked behind him had 18, 12 and 14 wins respectively. Tommy Lemons, Jr. with only three wins on the season used his second career Martinsville Speedway victory to propel past those three competitors. And it wasn’t just Martinsville. Lemons won another big race in the Rusty Harpe Memorial at Caraway Speedway as well as a single victory at Motor Mile Speedway. He also was very competitive week in and week out in the CARS Tour but bad luck bit him on several occasions keeping him out of the points battle.
2. Josh Berry
It would be easy to overlook what Josh Berry did in the 2015 season if you weren’t paying attention to him. He kinda floated around from track to track and from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series to the CARS Tour to the NASCAR Nationwide Series and he even competed in a non-NASCAR sanctioned event at Orange County Speedway. He won in everything that he raced except for the Nationwide Series and he was contender in it. The JR Motorsports driver has been nothing less than impressive for years and this year without competing for a championship anywhere he was even more impressive. He picked up 12 wins at six different venues. Yes, he won at six different venues in three different series. His three wins in the CARS Tour’s inaugural season tied him for the most wins with champion Brayton Haws though Berry only ran a handful of the events.
1. Lee Pulliam
Contrary to Berry, there’s absolutely no missing what Lee Pulliam was able to accomplish during the 2015 season. 30 trips to victory lane in just over 50 starts this past season including the track championship at Motor Mile Speedway, the NASCAR Virginia State Championship, the Virginia Triple Crown Champion and the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion. His 30 victories came at six different tracks across three states. One of those victories was at Kingsport Speedway, which had been one of the tracks that Pulliam had competed at but hadn’t won at. He also picked up his first win at Langley Speedway which was a track he’d never competed at. Now only two tracks stand in Pulliam’s way of him having won at every venue he’s competed at in a Late Model Stock Car. Those two tracks are both in the Upstate of South Carolina at Greenville Pickens Speedway and Anderson Motor Speedway where he was one lone start at each track.