One of the pleasures in life is reuniting with an old friend.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will do just that when it rolls into Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway on Saturday, March 22 for the NAPA 150 for the first time since July 2011.
“We’re pleased to have the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West back at Irwindale Speedway,” said Doug Stokes, vice president of communications for the Irwindale Event Center. “Putting up a strong showing at Irwindale is always a good sign for any race team. This is the track that always asks the max from cars, drivers, and crews and that consistently has produced some of the most competitive races on the K&N West calendar.”
The track became synonymous with the series since it opened in 1999. Irwindale hosted 21 series events over a 13-year span and the shiny crown jewel situated inside the Los Angeles market became a home track, of sorts, for the series.
Eleven different series drivers went to Victory Lane at the half-mile oval nestled in the San Gabriel Valley with Austin Cameron leading all drivers with five wins. Brendan Gaughan won three straight in the 2001 season and Jason Bowles claimed three wins in a row over the 2008-09 seasons. Steve Portenga won the inaugural event in 1999 and now serves as crew chief for David Mayhew.
Greg Pursley won the last K&N West race at the track en route to the series championship followed by Derek Thorn, Dylan Kwasniewski and Eric Holmes. Perhaps not coincidentally, each of those four drivers has won series titles.
In addition to the 21 K&N West events, the facility hosted the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown from 2003-11 that included several NASCAR series over the span, but always included the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East.
Of the cars entered into the NAPA 150 only a dozen or so have experience at the track in a K&N machine with a handful of them having just one start under their belts. Pursley is the only past track winner in the field. Jack Sellers leads all drivers with 18 Irwindale starts followed by Brett Thompson with 15. Both Sellers and Thompson are expected to be on hand for the NAPA 150.
The Race: The NAPA 150 is the second race of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season. It is the second of 12 oval track events and 14 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ 22nd visit to the Southern California facility, but the first since July 2011.
The Procedure: The starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials while the remaining four starting spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps covering 75 miles.
The Track: Irwindale Speedway is a half-mile paved oval with blended banking of six, nine and 12 degrees in the corners and banking of six degrees in the straights. The track opened in May 1999 and has capacity for 6,500 spectators. The facility is located in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California and is just 25 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. There are multiple racing configurations available with half-mile and third-mile ovals along with an 1/8-mile drag strip.
The Records: The one-lap qualifying record was set by Butch Gilliland on June 19, 1999 at 17.871 seconds, 100.722 mph. The 150-lap race record was established by Austin Cameron at, 1 hour, 0 minutes, 16 seconds, 75.664 mph on Oct. 23, 2004.
PHOENIX RACE NOTES
New Blood: Brandon McReynolds has three NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts to his credit, but the NAPA 150 will be his first at Irwindale. In fact, it will be his first at any series track not named Phoenix International Raceway where each of his three prior outings occurred.
Season Debut: Patrick Staropoli is making his K&N West season debut at Irwindale. The Harvard graduate has made three NASCAR K&N Pro Series East starts this season and occupies the fourth position in the championship standings with a pair of top-10 finishes.
Early Season Anomaly: The Phoenix opener commonly draws drivers from NASCAR’s other series and this year was no exception, but it’s a little odd that four of the top five in points will not be on hand at Irwindale. Only Greg Pursley, fourth, will participate in the NAPA 150. Points leader Cole Custer is a part-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series competitor while Brennan Newberry (2nd) and Nick Drake (3rd) are full-time K&N East drivers, who will be at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway on March 22. Fifth-ranked D.J. Kennington is a perennial championship contender in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.
Meet & Greet: As a lead-in to the series’ return to Southern California, K&N Engineering will host a Meet & Greet event at its Victoria Gardens store located at 7833 Monet Ave., in Rancho Cucamonga. Several drivers will be on hand from 7-8 p.m. PT on Thursday, March 20.
School Outings: Throughout the season last year’s series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Dylan Lupton will be making school visits with the message that young people can chase their dreams and still remain in school. In conjunction with the Irwindale event, Lupton will make stops at Jefferson Middle School in San Gabriel, Calif., from 9-9:45 a.m. and Las Palmas Middle School in Covina, Calif., from 1:10-1:50 p.m. PT. Both visits will be on Thursday, March 20.
LAST TIME OUT: Talking Stick Resort 75 at Phoenix International Raceway
Pole sitter Cole Custer claimed his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West victory by holding off Brennan Newberry on a green-white-checkered finish. Nick Drake crossed the line in the fourth position.
• With the win, Custer joined an exclusive group of drivers to have won races in both the K&N East and K&N West. He became just the ninth driver to accomplish the feat with the other eight being Chuck Bown, Ricky Craven, Brian Ickler, Kwasniewski, Joey Logano, Andrew Ranger, Ken Schrader and Peyton Sellers.
• Two-time NASCAR Canadian Tire Series champion D.J. Kennington scored his best finish in a K&N Pro Series points race in seven tries with a fifth-place effort. Kennington was a runner-up in the non-championship NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown in 2011.
NEXT TIME OUT: Stockton 99 Speedway
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will make its 20th trip to Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway on Saturday, May 3. Last season, eventual series champion Derek Thorn took the checkered flag followed by Sergio Peña and Cameron Hayley.