Craig Murto: Pena grabs K&N win in Virginia

Sometimes racers skillfully do what they must to win. Sometimes racers are lucky. Sometimes racers are in the right place at the right time. Sergio Pena was skillful, lucky, and in the right place at the right time when he won the Biscuitville 125 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Virginia International Raceway.

The 22-year-old racer from Winchester made only his third start of the season at the challenging road course on Saturday. REV Racing hired Pena to fill in for their regular driver this season, Jay Beasley, who is suffering from some medical issues.

The first half of the race was uneventful for Pena. In hindsight it appears he was saving his tires. There was a halfway break in the action, but teams were not allowed to change tires unless they had a problem. Pena seemed content during the first half of the race to run around 10th to 14th in the 18-car field.

The action heated up in the second half of the race, and Pena worked his way to the top five. Following a number of late-race cautions, it all got down to one last attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.

Pena restarted fifth. As the cars headed into Turn 1 – a great passing area under braking – leader Austin Hill spun. As the leaders emerged from the dust, Dalton Sargeant held the lead followed by Kaz Grala and Pena.

By the time the cars came back around to take the white flag, Sargeant overcooked Turn 7, leaving Grala and Pena to fight for the win. After some contact – it was the last lap, after all – Pena grabbed the win, followed by Grala, David Garbo Jr., Collin Cabre and J.J. Haley.

Pena first impressed people by starting on the pole and finishing second to Joey Logano in the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale a number of years ago. He won three times in his sophomore K&N season of 2011. Following a part-time schedule in 2012 he came back full-time last year and scored another victory.

Racing’s all about the money you can bring to the table, though, and Pena was out this season until REV Racing brought him back to take Beasley’s seat for a few races. Currently Pena is scheduled to be in the car at least two more races. Beasley’s name is still on the car.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pena won on the road course. Prior to his first oval racing experience at Shenandoah Speedway, he cut his teeth in the Formula BMW Series. And his full-time job this year is working as a high-performance driving instructor for Bill Scott Racing (BSR) at nearby Summit Point Raceway; his students will certainly be impressed by his most recent win.

Pena is well-spoken, personable, and has a good head on his shoulders. He knows that even at the young age of 22, without the money behind him the opportunities for advancement in racing are slipping away rapidly. It’s just the way the industry is these days, and he accepts that; he considers himself very lucky to have a job as a high-performance driving instructor.

Personally, I think BSR would look really good on the side of a K&N car. Pena may not be able to get that Xfinity or Cup ride he once dreamed of having, but he sure could represent a sponsor well at the K&N level. It’s obvious he still knows how to win.

In fact, nothing’s been confirmed, but you might see Sergio Pena race at Shenandoah on Saturday night. He did race one of Sam Beaty’s cars there in recent weeks, and with Late Models going 100 laps on Saturday it wouldn’t surprise me to see Pena behind the wheel.

Roy Deese Jr. proved that he still knows how to get a dirt Late Model into Victory Lane as he grabbed last week’s win at Hagerstown Speedway. J.T. Spence proved to be the driver to beat last week at Winchester.

And Scott Dixon pulled one out of the hat when he won the IndyCar title by winning the double-point season finale at Sonoma, Calif. He tied Juan Pablo Montoya in points and won the title because he had more wins on the season. It’s Dixon’s fourth championship.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.