No one really quite knows what to expect when the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Pro Stocks hit the track for the first time on May 5. But, that only adds to the excitement surrounding the 2019 season for Seekonk’s premiere class — a year that will certainly provide drivers with a chance to showcase their driving talent.
Offseason rules changes, which included the elimination of bump stops, is going to put some of the success of the car back into the drivers hands. It’s certain that crew chiefs and setups will still make a monumental difference, but, the new rules are going to open the door for some new challengers.
No matter what, if anyone wants to win in the Pro Stocks, they are going to have to go through David Darling first. The veteran has won the last two titles in convincing fashion, and he is a six-time champion of the top division. Make no mistake — he is likely going to unload at the front of the field — and he is going to win races. The team Darling has put together over the last few years has been a flashback to a decade ago when he dominated.
But Darling has challengers right on his tail. Dylan Estrella, a two-time Late Model champion who moved to the Pro Stocks last year and picked up the victory in his first race behind the wheel, has a brand new car and is looking to challenge. With support from Everett’s Auto Parts, Estrella is hoping to be the first driver to figure out the new rules and click off a few victories early in the season. Speaking of Everett’s, Fred Astle is another driver inside the stable, but he has much more experience than Estrella.
A former six-time Pro Stock champion in his own right, Astle definitely has to be pleased with the new rules changes as he looks to re-create some prior magic behind the wheel. The support from his sponsor is clear — and even though Astle hasn’t grown any younger — his driving talents behind the wheel haven’t gone anywhere.
Neither has Rick Martin’s talent. Another polished veteran of the division, Martin is more than pleased to hear of the new rules and already expects to run more competitively on the track. Martin is another former champion who is ready to challenge for victories consistently again. The support from his team and list of supporters has him ready to roll for another year.
Veterans Ryan Vanasse, Mike Brightman and Kevin Casper aren’t going to be easy to beat either. All three are former winners in the Late Model division and each of them have victories in the Pro Stocks over the years. Can their prior Late Model experience help them with the new rules? Only time will tell. But each of them are definitely going to be a threat to visit Victory Lane this year.
It’s expected that 2015 champion Angelo Belsito returns for at least a partial schedule, while outsider Richard Duranti and veteran Bob Hussey are among the early registered drivers. And, there’s another competitor who you can’t overlook. Jake Johnson, who picked up the Rookie of the Year last year, is registered for the 2019 season and looking to create a repeat performance by visiting Victory Lane.
The 2019 Pro Stock season gets underway on Sunday, May 5, as part of Seekonk’s annual opening weekend, which will include a Custom Car Show on Saturday, May 4. The opening Pro Stock feature of the season will be a Power 5 race, scheduled for 45 laps.