BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It wasn’t easy, but Thursday was Todd Gilliland’s day at Kern County Raceway Park.
After winning the only practice of the day at the California track, the 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, N. C., piloted his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota to his eighth career 21 Means 21 Pole Award in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. He then backed it all up with the victory in the NAPA Auto Parts 150.
The win, his eighth in the series, keeps Gilliland’s chances alive to compete for a $10,000 prize in the NAPA 500 Challenge. He must finish in the top three in the next two races at California’s Irwindale Event Center to win the bonus money.
“The first half we tried to save our tires as much as we could,” said Gilliland, who lead 72 laps. “We didn’t make any adjustments for the second half. From there, we started to pick up the pace a little bit. When we got to the lead, we tried to back it up – but it was hard with my teammate Derek Kraus right there on my bumper.”
“We had some really fast Toyota Camrys here tonight,” he added. “It’s something we’re going to keep moving forward with – BMR with a front row start and 1-2 finish for a second straight week.”
Going into overtime after multiple late-race cautions, the 156-lapper came down to Bill McAnally Racing teammates Gilliland and Kraus.
Though 15-year-old Kraus made some gutsy moves to get his No. 19 Carlyle Tools Toyota alongside Gilliland in the closing stages, he came up just short, finishing second in only his second K&N Pro Series West start.
“We started sixth and moved up quickly,” Kraus said. “Our Carlyle Tools / NGK Spark Plugs Toyota was really good at the beginning of the race. It fell off a little bit, got a little tight. At the break, we fixed it a little for the first 10 or 15 laps, but it got tight again and kind of wore the right front tire. That’s what made the difference at the end of the race.”
“We’ve got a really good BMR team,” added the second-generation driver from Stratford, Wisconsin. “The crew is really good and that helps me a lot, along with Bill’s confidence in me.”
Following Kraus were Will Rodgers, Tucson winner Chris Eggleston and 10-time series race winner David Mayhew.
Kraus was not the only one to contend with Gilliland, however, as Michael Self was the top driver for the first half of the race in the No. 9 Sunrise Ford/Eibach Springs/Lucas Oil Ford for team owner Bob Bruncati.
Leading 84 laps, the early pace soon atrophied for Self, a 26-year-old from Park City, Utah, as he lost the lead to Gilliland on lap 95 and fell outside the top three. From there, the six-time K&N Pro Series West race winner battled with Eggleston and Rodgers before coming home in sixth.
Nicole Behar, who rallied from the rear of the field after an unapproved adjustment, Blaine Perkins, Kody Vanderwal and Todd Souza completed the top 10.
The night went much worse for a few other series talents, as Brandon Schilling brought out two cautions throughout the night after losing his No. 30 Family Air/Tucson Speedway Ford in turn two.
Julia Landauer, who qualified seventh, ran as high as second in her No. 6 Sunrise Ford/Eibach Springs/Lucas Oil Ford. The run came to an end on lap 97 when she crashed with Matt Levin, later ending her night in the 12th spot.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will be back in action Saturday at Irwindale for the NAPA Twin 100s.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…