Derek Kneeland waits by his car after being introduced. Brewster Burns

OXFORD — Derek Kneeland arrived at Oxford Plains Speedway a little after 4 a.m. Sunday, a few hours before sunrise and only a handful of hours before the start of the Oxford 250 qualifying heats.

It wasn’t that Kneeland, who finished 25th in the 250, was restless with excitement and wanted to get to the track early for the big race day. That was just the earliest he could get to the track after a long but joyous shift at his job.

Hours earlier, just before 11 p.m. Saturday, Kneeland was atop Daytona International Speedway as the spotter for Tyler Reddick in the NASCAR Cup Series, helping guide Reddick to a fifth-place finish that earned Reddick the 16th and final spot in the upcoming playoffs.

Sunday afternoon, less than 12 hours after his plane landed at Portland International Jetport, Kneeland clinched a spot as a driver in the Oxford 250 for only the second time, and his first since 2013.

“It’s a dream come true, really,” the Windham native said after qualifying for the 250. “My wife (Carley) actually just told me off to the side, she goes, ‘We’ve been together seven years and almost married five, and I’ve never made it,’ on the attempts. I mean, last year I didn’t try. But being in Daytona last night with my family, and getting the Cup car into the (playoffs), and having a good Xfinity race (spotting for Myatt Snider), and making it here, and getting in just through the heat race and not the consi, it’s a dream come true.”

Kneeland finished fourth in his heat race. The top five in each heat earn a berth in the Oxford 250.

He started the 20-lap heat in fourth. That’s when some nerves started.

“I was more nervous about the start because with the rain (overnight and just before the heat races), I wasn’t sure what was going to happen there, with how the second lane was going to be,” Kneeland said. “Honestly, the car fired off really, really good, we had good bite off of (Turn) 2, and the hole opened so I was able to get to the bottom.

Derek Kneeland waves to the crowd after being introduced. Brewster Burns

“And then the caution did come out, we were on the bottom. And then, really, once I was able to get away from (Evan Hallstrom), I could kind of get into my rhythm and run where I wanted to at the corner exit, and we pulled away.”

Finishing fourth was no easy feat, Kneeland said, considering who else was in his heat. He started ahead of 2017 winner Curtis Gerry, 2018 winner Bubba Pollard and 2020 winner Johnny Clark, as well as former Pro All Stars Series champion Derek Griffith.

“I was like, ‘I’m going to have to pull out my big boy shorts if we’re going to make it in,'” Kneeland said. “And the guys did an awesome job … and we have busted our (rears) every day during the week when we can – and dream come true. This is awesome.”

His second time making it into the Oxford 250 is extra special for Kneeland, who drove a car in the big race for Gary Crooks in 2013.

“I’m going to enjoy this one. This is my car, these are my people, our equipment, and we showed them we belong here today,” Kneeland said.

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