All good things take a little time. … Max McLaughlin and the No. 1 Mohawk Northeast team return to action on Saturday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS) after a 54-day hiatus since the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (NKNPSE) opener at New Smyrna Speedway (NSS). Saturday’s Zombie Auto 150 will be his second-career NKPSE start after an 11th-place finish to start the season.
Max McLaughlin has lived that narrative thus far this season, his rookie campaign in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. Transitioning from racing on dirt to asphalt with literally no prior experience, McLaughlin’s start to the season has been a bit of a roller coaster.
A pair of third-place finishes at South Boston Speedway have stabilized the teeter totter than has been 2019 for the Moorseville, North Carolina native, who now sits sixth in the championship standings, one point behind Chase Cabre for fifth.
“We’ve had a chaotic start to the year,” he said. “To come home with two top three finishes says a lot about these guys. I have no asphalt experience before this year and to jump in the K&N car says a lot about this team for sure. We had a really good car. Feels great to be on the podium after the first two weekends this year.”
The No. 1 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota was up front for 23 laps on Sunday for the second WhosYourDriver.org Twin 100, and showed tons of speed early on. But McLaughlin wishes Mother Nature would’ve stayed away on Saturday night, as his car handled better at night rather than during the day.
“We probably could have stayed out front and had a chance of winning it,” he said. “We were just a little loose on the front side of that run and I was just doing everything I could. Wish I would’ve found the lower line a little sooner, but can’t be upset with two third place finishes. Pretty excited to build on that.”
To open the season at New Smyrna, McLaughlin came home 11th in his first career asphalt start, one that he now laughs at looking back on how new everything was. At Bristol, he nursed his car to a 13th-place result after breaking a shock.
“We’ve had a really slow start to the year,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes, we’ve had things go wrong. But it’s nice to have two podium finishes and we’ll build on it and hopefully well go get a win at Memphis.”
Overall, the transition for the 19-year-old has been a difficult one. Being in the race shop almost every day, as he has been throughout his dirt racing career, has helped accelerate the learning process.
“It’s been pretty crazy honestly,” he said on MRN Coast to Coast. “It’s been more than I thought so far in terms of learning. Obviously everybody thinks it’s going to be easier than it is all the time. I should know that by now in all the different directions I’ve jumped in my career. It’s been a huge learning curve, but luckily we’ve got a lot of good people at Hattori Racing Enterprises that speed up that learning process. I think a lot of things clicked for us this weekend.”
Four races in, four finishes. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself for McLaughlin given his background. “A lot of people think we’re crazy for going right into the K&N Series, but that’s where the opportunity was for me and I was never in the position to go asphalt racing before this,” he said. “I couldn’t ask to be in a better position, really.” McLaughlin and the No. 1 HRE team will look to build upon their podium weekend at Memphis International Raceway on June 1.