The math is pretty simple, really.
For 16-year-old Sam Mayer of Franklin to become the youngest champion in NASCAR history, he has to finish 27th or better Friday in the K&N Pro Series East race in Dover, Delaware. Thereâll be about 18 cars there.
In other words, itâs all over except the command to start engines and the trophy presentation.
Â âWe were amazing at the beginning of the year, but they just kept getting better and better,â Mayer said of GMS Racing.
âAt the first race of the year at New Smyrna Speedway down in Florida, we were disappointed in a fourth-place finish right off the bat. So we knew immediately that we were going to go out and win races this year.â
Indeed, Mayer has won three times in the division, which fits between late models and NASCAR trucks. He has finished among the top five in all but one of the events and also raced well in his limited ARCA starts and his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut, all with GMS.
An interesting twist on Mayerâs championship story is his toughest competitor for much of the season: 18-year-old Derek Kraus of Stratford. And one more twist: They appear to be the only Wisconsin drivers to have competed full time in either division.
Kraus, who is poised to win the K&N West title, led the East championship for a time before a slip to third in points led California-based team owner Bill McAnally to pull back.
âI feltÂ that it was pretty cool to be where we were as long as we were,â said Kraus, who won twice while competing in the first eight East events.
âWe were 12 points out of the lead and it was one of those Thursday nights where we were at Bristol (Tennessee) âŠ and Saturday we were at Evergreen (Speedway in Monroe, Washington). âŠ It was definitely complicated, but it was really cool to be in the position we were for as long as we were.â
Krausâ win Saturday night in Meridian, Idaho, gave him four for the season and pushed his points lead in the West to 40 with three races left. A winner can collect a maximum of 48 points at each race, but with small fields expected for at least two of those remaining events, even a last-place finish would mean a hit of only about 20 points. If Kraus takes the crown itâd be the ninth for McAnally in 21 seasons.
For both the East champion-in-waiting and the West championship leader, this has been a season of growth. Then again, thatâs a large part of the purpose of the series.
In Mayerâs case, he has learned about timing his starts and restarts and how being less aggressive in qualifying can actually make him go faster.
âWe didnât have many lows this year and if they were, they were top-fives,â Mayer said. âI really canât complain. I just learned so much over the course of the year and my team has learned so much, and now weâre going to be able to hoist a trophy at the end of the year.â
Kraus has learned to think his moves through more completely and to not be as hard on himself. Â With three races to go, he has matched his totals for wins (four), top-fives (eight) and top-10s (11) from all of last season, when he was fourth in points.
âItâs been a good year so far and itâs really fun when youâre having a year like this and youâre not tearing up race cars,â Kraus said. âYouâre more preparing for the next race than repairing the car at the shop.â
Mayerâs plans for next season are essentially set. With the K&N series and ARCA coming together, he will defend his title in a shortened East series and run the 10 combination events. Heâll also do some more NASCAR truck races.
For Kraus, who is completing his third season in K&N West and turned 18 a month ago, this would seem to be about time to make a step up. But budget and opportunity can be limiting factors. Kraus has some ideas of what might be next, he said, but nothing is set in stone.
Wisconsin has a rich history of champions across NASCARâs various national platforms: Alan Kulwicki of Greenfield (1992) and Matt Kenseth of Cambridge (2003) in the Cup Series; Travis Kvapil of Janesville (2003), adopted Illinois native Ted Musgrave (2005) and Johnny Sauter of Necedah (2016) in the truck series; and Steve Carlson of West Salem (2007) in the Whelen All-American Series, a points competition for weekly short-trackers around the country.
Come Friday, Mayer will add his name to that list, and five weeks later, Kraus might as well.
Both understand what that means.
âBeing part of that history, and eventually maybe making it to the Cup Series, that would be awesome,â Mayer said. âAnd having that history behind it would honestly be one of the best feelings ever, knowing Iâm following in the footsteps of great Wisconsin racers.â