BRASELTON, Ga. (AP) — A 15-year-old driver gave away his first professional racing championship by racing too conservatively in the title-deciding finale.
Connor Zilisch, who is managed by NASCAR star Kevin Harvick, believed he was in position Friday to wrap up the Mazda MX-5 Cup title and even allowed another driver to pass him on the last lap — a decision that cost him 10 points.
Because of where rival Jared Thomas was running, Zilisch's team told him he didn't need to push and was fine where he was in the running order. But when a post-race penalty changed the finishing order, Thomas was moved up a spot in the standings and picked up another 10 points — enough to snatch the championship from Zilisch.
“I can only see what’s in front of me and they were telling me on the radio that Jared was out of the race, and to just bring it home and I would win the championship," Zilisch said. “So I did that, and on the last lap I pointed another driver by as they were going for the win and I didn’t want to get wrecked. I gave the spot up, and Jared ended up getting enough spots to jump me on the last lap. Super unfortunate.”
The result cost Zilisch the $250,000 that goes to the champion. But he did earn $80,000 for rookie of the year before Zilich and his father left Road Atlanta to drive to to Virginia International Raceway for another race.