RIDGEWAY, Va. – Before 2023, there were many who doubted Derek Kraus‘ ability as a racer. However, after Saturday, April 15, Kraus is now two for two in NASCAR Xfinity Series career top-10 finishes.
On Saturday night, Kraus finished eighth in the series’ semiannual visit to Martinsville Speedway and joined his temporary Kaulig Racing teammates Daniel Hemric and Chandler Smith among the top-10 finishers of the 250-lap event.
“It’s been a struggle to get all three of them to be in the top 10 here recently,” Smith told Frontstretch. “A little bit here and there. So, it’s good to have all three of them in there and a good day for the company for sure.”
Kraus’ result comes within only a few months after being let go from McAnally-Hilgemann Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series No. 19 entry — a team that has since earned its first win with its new driver Christian Eckes.
But for Kraus, it could very well have been a blessing in disguise. The 21-year-old was tagged by team owner Matt Kaulig and team president Chris Rice to race part time in the team’s revolving driver No. 10 entry. It was a chance for Kraus to put new life in his decelerating NASCAR career, and Saturday showed that he’s taking full advantage of being with a new friendly organization.
“It feels like a big family,” Kraus told Frontstretch. “Honestly. They do a really, really good job with getting everyone welcomed.”
Other teams may not have welcomed him as much, either. However, instead of being presumed for failure like some other teams may have done for the winless former Truck Series racer, Kraus was taken seriously immediately.
“I’m here for only two races guaranteed,” Kraus continued. “So, they could be like, ‘Just put this thing together. This kid’s only going to be here for two races.’
“But they were welcoming as soon as I walked in the door. It’s definitely a lot of fun to drive for these guys.”
Finishing just ahead of him was teammate and 2021 Xfinity Series Champion Hemric. For the driver of the No. 11, it’s his fifth top-10 result of 2023. An impressive feat for the 32-year-old to be sure. However, Hemric, who is still winless in the series since his one and only victory at Phoenix Raceway in the championship decider in 2021, was still looking for a better result.
“I thought we had a top five race car,” Hemric told Frontstretch. “It’s hard to give up three rows there and not go to the outside of row two there with the next to last restart. We were fortunate to finish seventh.”
But after a poor performance at Richmond Raceway where he finished 24th and one lap down, he’ll take it.
“It was good to just finally get across the start/finish in the top 10 and move on next week where it’s a place we know we can win as well,” Hemric said. “I mean, top 10s are great, but when you’re actually moving forward in the field, that’s what’s good for confidence.”
Finally, there’s Smith.
The 20-year-old was fresh off of his first career Xfinity win after earning it in only his 10th career start coming at Richmond only two weeks earlier. Like Hemric, it was his fifth top-10 finish of the season. Also like Hemric, he had expected better.
“We fought and clawed all day,” Smith said. “We didn’t really have that great of a No. 16 quick type product. Just kind of average. [We] couldn’t really go anywhere and stayed about the same spot all day.”
For Hemric and Smith both, a top 10 will likely always be a step down from their expectations after becoming Xfinity race winners. Kraus, however, is still searching for that full-time ride where he can call home like he once did with McAnally. With a search like that, he’ll need to take every top 10 — and any opportunity — he can get.
“I just don’t want to be the one that breaks the streak,” said Kraus. “But so far we were able to keep the streak going. [It’s] a boost in confidence. We’re working on it and trying to do the best that we can.
“I just can’t thank Matt [Kaulig] and Chris Rice enough for this opportunity.”
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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