K&N West Preview: Kern and Irwindale

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Of the drivers entered at Kern and Irwindale, only Chris Eggleston and Todd Gilliland have won races at either track. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Entry Lists: Kern | Irwindale 

Just five days after kicking off the 2017 season at Tucson Speedway, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West teams will be put to the test with three races in a three-day span to close out the NAPA 500 Challenge series.

The series heads to Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, for the NAPA Auto Parts 150 on Thursday, March 23, before rolling to Irwindale Speedway in Irwindale, California, for the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 100s on Saturday, March 25. The Twin 100s will stand as two separate points-paying events.

2015 K&N West champion Chris Eggleston got his season started on the right foot, holding off his Bill McAnally Racing teammate Todd Gilliland — last season’s series champion — to win at Tucson on Saturday. If he can sweep the tripleheader this week, he would earn the $100,00 prize that comes with capturing all four legs of the NAPA 500 Challenge.

It won’t be easy for Eggleston. Gilliland led 70 of the 150 laps at Tucson after winning the pole for the season opener. Rookie Garrett Archer, in a Jefferson Pitts Racing Ford, was a strong contender at Tucson, Zane Smith and Will Rodgers. Of the drivers entered at Kern and Irwindale, only Eggleston and Gilliland have won races at either track.

Fast Facts

The Races: NAPA Auto Parts 150 and the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 100s will be the second, third and fourth of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West schedule. 

The Procedures: For all three events, the maximum starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 cars will secure starting positions based on the group qualifying process. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. At Kern, the race will be 150 laps (75 miles) with a five minute break occurring at or near the conclusion of lap 75. At Irwindale, following the conclusion of the first 100-lap race, there will be an approximately 90-minute break for teams to prepare for the second event and get through pre-race technical inspection.

NAPA 500 Challenge:
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Kern is the second race in a four-race “NAPA 500 Challenge Series.” With the K&N West competing in four events over an eight-day stretch to begin the season, NAPA is offering a $100,000 bonus to any driver to win all four races. $10,000 will be given to any driver who can finish in the top 3 in all four events; $5,000 to any driver finishing in the top 5 in all four; and $1,000 to a driver who finishes in the top 10 in all of them. The series finishes with the Twin 100s at Irwindale on Saturday.

The Tracks: Kern County Raceway Park sits on 120 acres and opened on May 18, 2013 with a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event. It’s a half-mile oval with progressive banking of 12 to 14 degrees in turns and eight degrees on the front and backstretches. Irwindale Speedway is a half-mile paved oval with progressive banking of between six and 12 degrees in the corners and six degrees in the straights. Located in the San Gabriel Valley, Irwindale is just 25 minutes from downtown Los Angeles and features multiple racing configurations with half-mile and third-mile ovals along with a 1/8-mile drag strip.

Race Winners: There have been four different winners in the five previous K&N West races at Kern. Greg Pursley, the only repeat winner at the track, won the first two races held there. Todd Gilliland, winner of last year’s race at the track, is the only active driver with a win at Kern. There have been 14 different winners in the previous 24 races at Irwindale, with Austin Cameron owning five career wins at the track. NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Brendan Gaughan and Jason Bowles each have three wins there.

Pole Winners: There have been four different pole winners in the five previous races at Kern, with Greg Pursley winning two of them. At Irwindale, there have been 15 different pole winners in 24 previous races. Jason Bowles won three poles, while six drivers all have two.

Race Notes

Teamwork: The two most recent champions in the K&N Pro Series West, Bill McAnally Racing teammates Chris Eggleston and Todd Gilliland, were the class of the field in the season-opening event at Tucson Speedway. Eggleston was fastest in practice, Gilliland won the pole and the two drivers started on the front row, led all the laps and were running first and second at the checkered flag. Teammate Derek Kraus finished sixth. As they head into the three events this week, history is also on their side. Of all active drivers in the series, only Eggleston (Kern) and Gilliland (Kern, Irwindale) have wins at either of the two tracks

Rookie Roll Call: Series rookies finished in positions three through eight at Tucson. Garrett Archer, Zane Smith and Will Rodgers finished in the top five, with Kraus, Brandon Schilling and Kody Vanderwal finishing behind that trio. Archer’s third-place finish came in only his second career series start. The learning curve will be steep this week: None of that impressive rookie crop has ever made a start at either Kern or Irwindale.

Right Direction: Blaine Perkins has never finished in the top 15 at either Kern or Irwindale, but he’s coming off a solid 11th-place showing at Tucson and he has some history on his side at Irwindale. Crew chief and car owner Steve Portenga has two career wins at Irwindale as a driver, including the inaugural K&N West race at the track in 1999. Over the two wins, the second of which came in 2005, Portenga led 150 of the 400 laps he completed.

Heading West:
The first third of the K&N Pro Series West schedule coincides with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and its “NASCAR Goes West” swing, which began in Las Vegas and Phoenix and continues through Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Four of the top six drivers in the Cup Series standings have won K&N West races in their careers — including point leader Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney — while Kevin Harvick (who is seventh in the current standings) was the 1998 series champion and is a native of Bakersfield, California. Both Blaney and Logano won their first career NASCAR races in K&N West competition.

NASCAR Coast to Coast
Each Wednesday at 4 p.m. (ET), hosts Kyle Rickey and Buddy Long give you all the news, race results and highlights from NASCAR Modified and K&N Pro Series East and West races from all over the country along with interviews with race winners and news makers.

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