Martin-McClure Racing announced Hunter Baize as the driver of their No. 13 Reynolds Wrap Toyota Camry earlier this month. The Bremen, KY driver has high hopes for his second NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season. The deal came together after Eric McClure contacted Baize with a couple of races remaining last season.
“We hope to win a championship,” Baize said. “I think that we’ve built a team that can. I think taking what I learned the last year, taking their success, I believe we’ll be a contender at any race we enter and I think we’ll be around in the championship discussion.”
The team had 3 wins in 12 races. Chad Finchum scored their first victory at Bristol (TN) Motor Speedway. NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie Austin Cindric won at Virginia International Raceway ( VIR) and Watkins Glen (NY) International.
“That was one of the contributing factors to piquing our interest and eventually signing with Martin-McClure Racing. …To win 3 of them that’s a pretty dang good percentage. I think we’d all sign up for that. It’s amazing what they did in a limited schedule and I’m excited to see with my success last year and theirs as well what we can do together.”
Martin-McClure Racing is owned by NASCAR Xfinity Series competitors Hal Martin of Galliano, LA and Eric McClure of Chilhowie, VA.
“It’s cool to have their expertise. I can come to them with any questions I might have. They’ve raced a lot of those tracks with the XFINITY schedule, so it’s gonna work out well I believe.”
Baize cited his touring series experience in preparing for 5 consecutive races at tracks that were not on last year’s schedule. South Boston (VA) Speedway will host a doubleheader on May 6. Baize expects the repaved .4 mile oval to be “crazy fast.” Baize brings experience to the next 2 venues hosting their first race. Baize raced at Memphis (TN) International Raceway with the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour in 2013. The ¾ mile oval formerly hosted the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. Baize has a pole and top 10 finishes at Berlin Raceway in Marne, MI in the ARCA Racing Series and CRA series.
“We blew a right front there but we were pretty quick before that so having that experience there I think that will be important to us.”
Baize is preparing for South Boston and Thompson (CT) Speedway Motorsports Park through races on the iRacing simulation.
Baize’s first season was the final for HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks. The Mooresville, NC team won 4 consecutive championships with Dylan Kwasniewski, Ben Rhodes, William Byron, and Justin Haley.
“They were the benchmark during their time. I enjoyed my time at HScott with Justin Marks. They treated me well. We had good racecars. I enjoyed working with my crew chief Chris Bowen and all the guys there. … I hate to see them go and I hope the best for everyone I met working there, just a group of great guys at HScott and I hate to see them out of the series.”
The 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year finished fourth in points with 1 top five and 10 top tens. Once Baize hit his stride, he compiled 7 consecutive top tens at VIR, Dominion, Stafford, Columbus, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Watkins Glen. The best finish for the Bicycle Playing Cards/Pine Mountain Chevrolet was fifth at Iowa.
“We kind of kept our heads down last year and eventually me and Chris (Bowen) finally got a feeling that we could work towards in the racecar and that’s such an important thing for a driver and a crew chief, the chemistry to know where you’re working towards and to understand each other’s terminology … We worked well together and I was excited to get on that stretch when we did and It felt pretty cool there.”
Three races stood out for Baize where “poor circumstances” got in the way of a potential victory. Baize was quickest in practice at Bristol before suffering a blown engine. He started at the rear of the field with a new engine. Baize was passing for fourth when the engine blew with about 10 to go.
“Bristol I believe we might have had something for MMR. it would have been fun to race with ‘em. I think we were at least the second best car and maybe could’ve competed for that.”
The inaugural race at Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, VA saw Baize finish eighth after a lap 42 spin while battling for fourth. Baize recovered from a crash with 11 laps remaining at Stafford (CT) Motor Speedway to get ninth.
Baize began his career in Go Karts before moving the to the Baby Grands, which features ⅔ scale stock cars. He claimed Rookie of the Year honors and second in the standings in 2012 before going CRA racing full time in 2013.”
Baize is working on running at least one CRA race this season after last year’s effort was rained out.
“It was good racing in the CRA. I enjoyed my time there, for sure. Obviously, I occasionally go back. …I do enjoy that and I definitely think it’s helped prepare me for the next levels.”
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener is February 19 at New Smyrna (FL) Speedway.
Sources: Nicholas Teto/YankeeRacer.com