Since Mobile International Speedway (MIS) opened in 1965, the half-mile track in Irvington has been home to many exciting races. Few events, though, have been as highly anticipated as the return of NASCAR this weekend.

The inaugural K&N Mobile 150 takes place Saturday. The K&N Pro Series East is considered the top tier in NASCAR’s developmental stages before a driver can advance to its three larger national series.

“Mobile was very fortunate to convince NASCAR to come to Mobile,” Tommy Praytor, the race promoter, told Lagniappe. “We’ve had a great partner for the last four years [with ARCA racing], but NASCAR is the biggest brand in all of motor sports. Corporate sponsorships are running well ahead of last year because corporate America can identify with the NASCAR brand. The demand for media credentials is almost double than previous years.”

Praytor said several sections of the MIS grandstands have already been sold out. He said organizers are expecting a “big, raucous crowd” for the race presented by the Mobile Sports Authority.

This will be the second race of the K&N Pro Series. Todd Gilliland was declared the winner at the Jet Tools 150 in New Smyrna, Florida, after race officials determined an extra lap had been run. Ronnie Bassett Jr., who had taken the checkered flag, was moved to third place while Spencer Davis was awarded the runner-up points.

While Gilliland is not scheduled to race at MIS, Davis and Bassett are signed up to chase for the title. Sarah Cornett-Ching, who competed in the 2015 ARCA race in Irvington, will be back as a NASCAR driver. A list of other competitors scheduled to appear can be found at www.mobilespeedway.net.

“In addition to local support, the K&N Series brings another level of owners and sponsorship,” Praytor said. “Max Siegel, former music executive and president of U.S. Track & Field, owns three cars; Harry Scott, who fields cars in every NASCAR division, has three cars; and Lorin Ranier, who spent 20 years developing talent for Ganassi [Racing], has two cars. Kyle Benjamin’s car will unveil a new app in Mobile that was designed by the founder of ESPN, Bill Rasmussen, who will be here for the race, too.”

Activities begin Thursday with the haulers, cars and teams on display at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The drivers will have an autograph session during the last hour in the Aircraft Pavilion. Starting at 8 p.m., the Home Mortgage of America Green Flag Party is planned for the Holiday Inn in Tillman’s Corner.

On Friday afternoon, NASCAR teams will have practice sessions before pole qualifying at 6 p.m. Local racing action follows with Pro Trucks, Sportsmen and Bombers divisions. This will be the opening night of the Highway 90 Challenge Series. which will include competition at Sunny South Raceway in Grand Bay.

On Saturday, the grandstands open at 10 a.m. A football-themed pre-race ceremony and driver introduction starts at 1:30 p.m., with the Mobile 150 rolling at 2 p.m. Mobile native and NFL quarterback A.J. McCarron will be the grand marshal. The football squad from his alma mater — St. Paul’s Episcopal— will be there to celebrate their state football title.

Also being recognized is the late Kenny Stabler. Praytor said the Foley legend was a huge racing fan, and even sponsored several teams. Approximately 1,000 black-and-silver mini-footballs will be thrown to the crowd to mark the event.

“We just finished wrapping up a deal for national TV for Mobile,” Praytor said. “The NASCAR K&N Mobile 150 will be broadcast on NBC Sports a week or so after the race. This offers our fans the best of both worlds: see it live and at home.”

College briefs
● The Spring Hill College bowling team will compete at the U.S. Bowling Congress’s Intercollegiate Team Championships this weekend in Smyrna, Tennessee. The men are ranked No. 47 and the women No. 49. Four teams will advance from this sectional to the nationals. The Lady Badgers are coming off a win at a meet hosted by Florida A&M in Pensacola, with Miranda Singer making the all-tournament team.

● Jonina Brinson of the University of Mobile has been named the NAIA Indoor Women’s Field Athlete of the Year for the South Region. The sophomore established school marks in the long jump (5.74 meters, third-best nationally) and triple jump (11.69 meters, fifth-best nationally). She also qualified for the NAIA nationals in the 60-meter run (7.52 seconds) and 200-meter run (25.79 seconds).

● Two members of the USA men’s track team will participate at the NCAA Indoor Championships this weekend. Freshman Sean Collins of Mobile will compete in the pole vault after winning the Sun Belt title and also setting a school record of 5.42 meters. Rafael Scott of Lucedale, Mississippi, won the league title in the 60-meter dash in 6.67 seconds, after breaking the team mark in the semifinals at 6.65 seconds.

● In the program’s first year of eligibility for weekly conference awards, Spring Hill’s baseball team swept the honors from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Catcher Alex Jones was the player of the week (.375, 4 homers, 7 runs scored, 8 RBIs). Christian Bahlinger was the pitcher of the week (complete-game shutout of rival Mobile, allowing 4 hits, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts).

● The University of Mobile’s Mariah Plauth was the Southern States Athletic Conference women’s tennis player of the week. She is 5-0 at No. 1 singles and 4-1 in doubles.

● SHC outfielder Savannah Folse was the softball player of the week while teammate Caroline Sagrera was the pitcher of the week in the SIAC. Folse hit .636 in three games, scoring three runs and collecting two RBIs. Sagrera pitched a one-hit shutout over West Florida. For the year, she has a 1.78 earned run average.

● USA freshman Alexandria Stiteler is the Sun Belt women’s tennis player of the year for the third time. Currently ranked No. 52 in the nation, Stiteler has won 10 straight singles matches.

St. Mary’s team honored
The senior football team (7th and 8th grade) at St. Mary Catholic School will be honored this week for winning the 2015 Catholic Youth Organization city title. Helping to present the championship rings will be Paul Crane, a Vigor High graduate who played at Alabama and was a member of the New York Jets’ Super Bowl III squad. The ceremony for the Mustangs will be Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Mary Catholic Church.