AUDIO/RECAP: Gilliland Dazzles in K&N West Debut; Wins at Phoenix as Eggleston Claims Title

Ryan O'Hara Audio, Featured, Touring Series, West 0 Comments

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Audio and recap by Race Chaser Online West Coast Correspondent Ryan O’Hara — Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —

Todd Gilliland may not be old enough to have a driver’s license, or even a learner’s permit, but the 15-year-old, third-generation driver proved Thursday night at Phoenix International Raceway that he can wheel a stock car.

Gilliland, the son of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor David Gilliland and grandson of 13-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (NKNPSW) winner Butch Gilliland, was the surprise winner of the season-ending Casino Arizona 100 for the gladiators of the K&N West field — even though he did not have the fastest car.

The competitor with that distinction was 16-year-old K&N East regular J.J. Haley, who started on the 21 Means 21 pole and was the class of the field. The Winimac, Ind. teenager lead 95 laps — all from the drop of the green flag — until the five to go mark proved to be his undoing.

Haley cut a right-front tire and pounded the outside retaining wall in turn three, sending him to pit road for repairs and handing the lead to Gilliland, who was making his series debut and had been marching his way through the field from the ninth starting position.

Just prior to Haley’s crash, the young Gilliland was advised by his team to save his tires — the team informing him of their concern that the leader might be wearing out his right-front tire — and that scenario ultimately proved to be the case.

Haley’s crash set up a green-white-checkered finish and although reigning K&N East champion William Byron — who will make his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut on Friday night for Kyle Busch Motorsports — closed in on the final restart to make one last run on the bottom in turn one, Gilliland’s No. 54 Frontline Enterprises Toyota cruised home to the win and made him the third Gilliland in K&N West history to celebrate the spoils of victory lane.

“This is unbelievable,” said Gilliland, who eclipsed Gray Gaulding as the youngest winner in series history at 15 years, 5 months, and 28 days old when he took the checkered flag. “It’s so special to have my dad and grandpa here to celebrate with me. It was really unfortunate [what happened to J.J.], but we had the second-fastest car tonight and you have to be in position to be able to capitalize on something like that. We did that tonight and it’s why we’re sitting here right now.”

“My grandpa doesn’t really come to a lot of races — this is probably his second one all year, so it’s just really awesome for us all to be together and celebrating this. I can’t believe it.”

Ironically, Gaulding set the record that Gilliland broke on Thursday in the same event two years prior.

Both David and Butch Gilliland were in attendance Thursday night for young Todd’s triumph. David scored four K&N West victories over the course of his career in the series, including a win at Phoenix in January of 2005, and lauded his young son after the race.

“Good golly, can you believe it?” said David Gilliland. “He’s good. I’ll tell you what, he’s good. I’m so proud of him and everybody. It’s a brand new car for us, and man we just gotta thank God. God gave us the power to work and get this car done, and God has given Todd an amazing ability to drive the race car and do things that guys like Kyle Busch can do, and so I’m just really proud of him. Man, I love that boy.”

Byron finished second, and said that while he gave Gilliland a run on the final restart, the No. 54 just had enough to get away.

“I tried to get him — I got a pretty good restart and we were even [going into turn one] but the Liberty University Chevrolet was tight all night and I couldn’t keep up with him off the corner. I wanted to race [Todd] clean because he’s always raced me clean, and this is cool for him. He did a great job — I raced him in late models and now to race him again in the K&N cars was a lot of fun. He’s going to have a good year next year.”

One of Todd Gilliland’s Bill McAnally Racing teammates, Brandon McReynolds, followed Byron in third and admitted after the race that he is ride-hunting ahead of the 2016 season. Byron’s HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks teammate Dalton Sargeant and Sprint Cup regular Landon Cassill rounded out the top five.

Haley limped home in 21st — the final car on the lead lap — and cited debris after the race as an aiding cause of his right-front tire failure.

“The right front had a piece of scrap in it and blew, I guess,” Haley said. “I just hate it for these guys. This was our race tonight, and [a win] got away again.”

Overcoming an engine failure in practice and a bump on the last lap from rival Noah Gragson, Chris Eggleston gave Bill McAnally Racing their sixth K&N West championship Thursday night in Phoenix. (Getty Images via NASCAR photo)

Overcoming an engine failure in practice and a bump on the last lap from rival Noah Gragson, Chris Eggleston gave Bill McAnally Racing their sixth K&N West championship Thursday night in Phoenix. (Getty Images via NASCAR photo)

Behind all of that chaos was the hotly-contested championship battle — fought tooth-and-nail between four K&N West regulars — and after blowing his primary motor in practice early on Thursday, Chris Eggleston and the same BMR team that carried Gilliland to victory lane put all the pieces together and carried the 26-year-old to his first, and team owner McAnally’s sixth, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship.

Eggleston held a four-point lead entering the race in the most-chaotic title tile in K&N West history, and it came down to blows – literally – on the final lap.

After running a clean race throughout the finale, Eggleston was given two solid smacks in turns three and four by his primary adversary, 17-year-old Las Vegas, Nev. native Noah Gragson.

The shots rung as potential payback for the duo’s run-in at All-American Speedway in California last month as much as because the championship was on the line, but the move ultimately backfired on Gragson, whose contact sent the No. 99 of Eggleston into the No. 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr. Bassett collided with Eggleston and then spun down the track into Gragson, who had nowhere to go.

Eggleston was able to get through the chaos and soldier home to a 10th-place finish, claiming the ultimate prize by seven points over Gragson, who was able to limp home in 13th.

“I don’t usually get nervous before races, but this one definitely had me nervous,” Eggleston said. “There was a lot on the line. It got pretty exciting there on that last lap going through [Turns] 3 and 4. I thought the No. 7 (Noah Gragson) was going to retaliate and get us, and he did get there. I didn’t realize he was honestly that close — I thought he was a car length or two back — but I swear, I saw the whole season flash in front of my eyes there for a second. I apologize to whoever I ran into. I was just trying to save [the car] after I got run into.”

“Man, what a night, though. I’ll tell you what, here at Phoenix International Raceway, these boys deserve it, every guy on this team. Man, there’s so many people to thank — Bill McAnally, especially, for giving me this chance. It’s unbelievable. I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive this thing.”

The title puts a cap on an incredible first full-time season for Eggleston, who garnered his opportunity at BMR this year by virtue of a one-off effort at his home track of Colorado National Speedway in 2014 that resulted in a victory and led to McAnally wanting to have the Erie, Colo. racer back this season — a wise move on all fronts, as the final tally proved.

“Today was special,” said McAnally, who also guided Sean Woodside (1999), Brendan Gaughan (2000-2001) and Eggleston’s spotter Eric Holmes (2008, 2010) to championships in the K&N West ranks. “To be able to give Chris the opportunity to win a championship, this whole team worked exceptionally hard. I’m just glad that we could pull this together for our sponsors — NAPA Auto Parts, NAPA Filters and Toyota.”

“Did you watch that last lap?” McAnally asked all in attendance during the post-race press conference. “This guy earned [the trophy] the hard way. He was up on two wheels for a while there and still managed to bring it home. I’m as proud as I can be of him.”

Ryan Partridge finished right behind Eggleston in 11th and wrested third in the final points standings from Oregon teenager Gracin Raz, who suffered motor problems late in the going and finished six laps down in 24th.

The Casino Arizona 100 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

Eggleston and the rest of the top NASCAR K&N Pro Series West drivers will be honored at the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Dec. 12.

 

Audio with race winner Todd Gilliland:

Audio with runner-up William Byron (via NASCAR media):

Audio with third-place Brandon McReynolds (via NASCAR media):

Audio with series champion Chris Eggleston:

 

RESULTS: NASCAR K&N Pro Series West; Casino Arizona 100; Phoenix International Raceway; Nov. 12, 2015

  1. Todd Gilliland
  2. William Byron
  3. Brandon McReynolds
  4. Dalton Sargeant
  5. Landon Cassill
  6. Harrison Burton
  7. Travis Miller
  8. James Bickford
  9. D.J. Kennington
  10. Chris Eggleston
  11. Ryan Partridge
  12. Alex Schutte
  13. Noah Gragson
  14. Greg Pursley
  15. Johnny White
  16. Todd Souza
  17. Blake Williams
  18. Clay Green
  19. Austin Reed
  20. Ronnie Bassett Jr.
  21. J.J. Haley
  22. Nicole Behar
  23. Matt Levin
  24. Gracin Raz
  25. Ben Kennedy
  26. Ron Norman
  27. Spencer Davis
  28. Brett Thompson
  29. David Mayhew
  30. Kaz Grala

 

About the Writer

Ryan O’Hara is the West Coast Correspondent for Race Chaser Online. He is also an established boxing writer, serving as the Executive Editor for ThaBoxingVoice.com.

NASCAR came to O’Hara at an early age through a myriad of family and friends, with the Prescott, Ariz. native meeting Dale Earnhardt Sr. at the very first race he attended on November 5, 2000 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The 22-year-old is a soon to be early graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a degree in Global Security and Intelligence Studies.

Email Ryan at: RaceChaserRyan@gmail.com

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @OHaraSports

Email Race Chaser Online at: news@racechaseronline.com

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