March 23, 2014 — race report by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Victor Decolongon/Getty Images for NASCAR — IRWINDALE, CA — Who says dreams can’t be realized?
Patrick Staropoli proved Saturday night that even the most far-reaching and improbable dreams can be achieved, and in remarkable fashion to boot.
Staropoli, a native of Plantation, Florida who won the 2013 PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge to inherit his PEAK-sponsored ride with Bill McAnally Racing, charged away from a furious scramble for second over the final fifteen laps of Saturday night’s NAPA Auto Parts 150 to score an upset victory the caliber of the Dayton Flyers over the Syracuse Orange in this weekend’s NCAA Basketball Tournament.
“Just an awesome night, I still can’t believe it. I’ll never forget this,” Staropoli said after climbing from his car. “I’m so excited to be standing here (in victory lane), I never would have imagined this a year ago.”
The win came in just Staropoli’s seventh overall K&N Pro Series start and just his fourth career K&N West appearance.
Series veteran David Mayhew made a late charge through the field to grab the runner-up spot, with Greg Pursley finishing in third despite leading the race early and running as high as second on the final restart. Polesitter Brandon McReynolds rallied back to finish fourth and sophomore driver Dylan Lupton rounded out the top five.
On the start, it was McReynolds who led the field to green over David Mayhew, but it was 2011 champ Greg Pursley who was making moves early, diving inside to take second and immediately pressuring the Mooresville native and taking the lead away on Lap 2 before falling back to fourth place on the longer run.
Once McReynolds grabbed the lead back on Lap 3, he brought his Bill McAnally Racing teammate Patrick Staropoli with him to the front and began pulling away to a second’s advantage until longtime series stalwart Brett Thompson began slicing his way through the field to second at Lap 16. Thompson began chomping into the advantage as McReynolds began working through traffic before ultimately seizing the lead at Lap 26.
Once Thompson took the lead, he began gapping the front-runners until the first yellow of the night flew at Lap 33 for a spin by Greg Rayl on the front straightaway, bunching up the field once again.
On the Lap 39 restart, Thompson got away from Partridge and McReynolds yet again and really began flexing his muscle, pulling out to a 1.3 second advantage over the field by Lap 47 as polesitter McReynolds began falling back through the field to conserve his equipment and save fuel, running sixth at the one-third mark of the race.
By Lap 55, Thompson was on cruise control when J.D. White spun in Turn 2 to draw the second caution of the event at Lap 58, wiping out a 2 second advantage for the No. 61 machine.
For some of the big players though, go-time began to ring from behind their visors, as Patrick Staropoli began slicing his way forward after the green flew again at Lap 64, with his teammate McReynolds in a three-wide scrum for sixth behind him as Thompson continued to lead the front four away from the rest of the field.
As the field crossed halfway, Thompson continued to maintain a consistent one second advantage despite rolling into lap traffic at Lap 84, but the man on the move was young rookie James Bickford. Driving for team owner Bob Bruncati and cousin to four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon, Bickford began to charge forward on the low line, moving into the top ten at Lap 92 and setting his sights on the race leaders.
At Lap 100, the top of the pylon still showed Brett Thompson’s number 61 machine, but Jessica Brunelli, Staropoli, McReynolds, Bickford and the rest of the heavy-hitters began to show that they were not to be forgotten about, moving through the top eight in a hurry despite Thompson’s two-and-a-half second advantage.
Polesitter McReynold hit the button at Lap 109, taking fourth away from Brunelli and setting his sights on the leader, but his charge was assisted by a Lap 119 caution for James Bickford’s spin in Turn Four that wiped out a near three second lead for Brett Thompson and a near-five second deficit for McReynolds.
With the field bunched up, it was Ryan Partridge who got the jump on the restart, swallowing up Brett Thompson and bringing Patrick Staropoli with him before Jessica Brunelli spun on the frontstretch to bring out the fourth caution of the night and set up a 15 lap shootout in southern California.
On the restart, it was all-out war, with Patrick Staropoli snatching the lead away from Ryan Partridge and Greg Pursley making a near-impossible four-wide maneuver stick to grab second, passing Mayhew, Thompson and McReynolds in one fell swoop with 13 laps to go and giving chase to Staropoli.
But try as he might, Pursley could not give chase to Staropoli while playing defense to keep Mayhew, McReynolds and the rest of the field behind him, and could only watch the PEAK Toyota cruise away into the starlight.
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 will air on FOX Sports 1 on Friday, April 4 at noon Eastern time.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West returns to action on May 3rd for an event at the quarter-mile Stockton 99 Speedway, also in California.