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Back in the time when EuroNASCAR Champion Ander Vilarino raced against Kyle Larson and William Byron

Ander Vilarino is one of the most successful and well-known drivers in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. The Spaniard was the first NASCAR European Champion in 2012 and defended the title with another exceptional year in the 2013 season. In 2015, he scored his third and last championship win to date. Those outstanding performances earned Vilarino the chance to travel to the US for the NASCAR Champion’s Week multiple times and compete against other successful drivers. NASCAR fans will recognize the names that the EuroNASCAR legend took on at a racetrack in real life and in the virtual world.

« We were there for the NASCAR Champion’s Week, » Vilarino told EuroNASCAR.com. « Kyle [Larson] and William [Byron] were the ARCA Menards Series East Champions when I met them. The ARCA Menards Series was the place to be for drivers working their way up to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series. Both were the most promising prospects in the USA when I was there. Every year I was on the other side of the Atlantic, we saw that the ARCA Menards Series champions were the biggest prospects.”

Getty Streeter Lecka Ander Vilarino Kyle Larson
Credits: Getty Images for NASCAR / Streeter Lecka

Not only did Vilarino meet those two talents who are now among the top drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, but the 22-time EuroNASCAR PRO race winner also recognized how Larson and Byron were viewed at the time. « Larson was seen as the driver with more potential of his generation, » he said. « From the first moment we were there, it was crystal clear that Kyle was going to have a heck of a career in the NASCAR Cup Series, you saw how the media and NASCAR treated him. »

Vilarino raced against both Larson and Byron in kart races that were part of NASCAR Champion’s Week in the mid-2010s. According to Vilarino, Larson was the local hero at the kart track and the current Hendrick Motorsports driver already knew the circuit, while the EuroNASCAR PRO champion had to learn the twisty track from scratch. « I was able to race him the whole race, » said Vilarino. « It was an amazing race and we finished within 0.5 seconds, it was a fun race. That was in December of 2012. »

Getty Streeter Lecka Ander Vilarino Gopro Motorplex
Credits: Getty Images for NASCAR / Streeter Lecka

That was the year Larson won the ARCA Menards Series East title, while Byron won the championship three years later in the 2015 season, when Vilarino returned to the States after his third NWES title. Vilarino had Byron as his competitor on the track, and once again the Spaniard put in a brilliant performance.

« It was another good race, » he said. « We raced hard, but there was a caution to bring the field back together for two or three laps. I managed to lead most of the laps and was in the lead on the last lap. Two turns from the end, Chris Eggleston, the ARCA Menards Series West champion, pushed me wide, he tried to do the bump and run. It was too much and that’s why William passed both of us.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story: « I did the bump and run on Chris in the last turn, » laughed Vilarino. « William won and I was second, Chris was third. We were all close together and had a good battle.”

Getty Todd Warshaw Ander Vilarino Daytona 2013
Credits: Getty Images for NASCAR / Todd Warshaw

« In 2013, a few months after I won my first EuroNASCAR championship, we went to Daytona for the Battle at the Beach, » Vilarino continued. « I raced there in a ARCA Menards Series car and I was right behind Kyle Larson before my car broke down. It was nice, I was right behind him trying to follow him. I think his car was heavier than mine because there were some cars with fiberglass bodies and some with metal bodywork.”

« I think I was eleventh when my car let me down. Kyle won the Modified class race. On Saturday, he was part of the Xfinity Series race and that was where he had his big crash.” Larson crashed into the fence at Daytona International Speedway after a scary hit.

« It was an unbelievable crash, » said Vilarino, who still relishes the opportunities he’s had in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. « Those were the times I hung out with them during NASCAR’s Champion’s Week. We did the photo shoots together and met the media. We had speeches at the dinner, which was really nice. It was amazing to share those moments with those drivers. I personally experienced how the great drivers in the USA are much more open than the ones here in Europe.”

Featured image by Getty Images for NASCAR / Streeter Lecka

Season Schedule 2024 Landscape
Credits: NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Daniel Pflug