Tuesday, May 9, 2017

No Signs of Gilliland Slowing Down in Title Defense

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Every driver in every car not lettered with the No. 16 on the side will be out to stop the momentum of reigning series champion Todd Gilliland when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West returns to action in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Spokane County Raceway in Washington on Saturday, May 13. The race marks the series’ first visit to Spokane since 2013.

A member of the 2016-2017 NASCAR NEXT class, Gilliland has won three of the first four races of the season, giving him nine wins over the last 15 months, and his sweep of the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 100s at California’s Irwindale Event Center in late March built him a 13-point cushion over teammate Chris Eggleston atop the standings a quarter of the way through the schedule. Eggleston, who won the season opener at Arizona's Tucson Speedway, has been the only driver to slow the 16-year-old Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, teen’s march toward a second consecutive championship.

Gilliland became the youngest NASCAR champion, national or touring, in history by winning the 2016 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West title.

While the two Bill McAnally Racing drivers have combined to win the first four races of the 2017 season and sits one-two atop the standings, they aren’t the only drivers off to a hot start. Rookie Will Rodgers is the only other driver to finish in the top five in every single race to date. Rodgers, 22, finished a career-best third at California’s Kern County Raceway Park before posting back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the twin features at Irwindale.

Part of Gilliland’s success this season, without question, has been his ability to start up front. He’s won all four pole positions this season and hasn’t finished worse than second. In his young K&N Pro Series West career, Gilliland has 10 wins, 10 poles, 16 top fives and 18 top 10s in just 19 starts. He’s only finished outside the top 10 once — at California’s Sonoma Raceway last June, a 24th-place finish that he followed by winning the next three consecutive races. That streak matches his current career-best three-race winning streak.

PLACE: Spokane County Raceway, Spokane, Washington
DATE: Saturday, May 13
TIME: 8:15 p.m., PT
AIRDATE: NBCSN, Friday, May 13 at 10 p.m. PT
TRACK LAYOUT: .500-mile asphalt oval
2016 WINNER: N/A
EVENT SCHEDULE: Saturday, May 13 – Garage opens: 11 a.m.; Practice: 3-3:45 p.m., 4-4:45 p.m.; Group qualifying: 5:15 p.m.; Driver autograph session: 6:25 p.m.; NAPA 150: 8:15 p.m.
TRACK CONTACT: Germane Smith, (916) 676-0010 or gsmith@billmcanallyracing.com
TWITTER: @spokaneraceway
NASCAR IMC CONTACT: Brooke Franceschini, (386) 631-6142), bfranceschini@nascar.com

The Race: Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 will be the fifth of 14 races on the 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West schedule.

The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 24 cars, including provisionals. The first 20 cars will secure starting positions based on the group qualifying process. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (75 miles) with a five-minute break occurring at or near the conclusion of lap 75.

The Track: A .500-mile asphalt oval, Spokane County Raceway is a multi-use venue that includes a paved oval for stock car racing, a 2.3-mile road course and a full quarter-mile drag strip.

Race Winners: There have been two different winners in the two previous K&N Pro Series West races held at Spokane. Eric Holmes won the inaugural series race at the track in 2011, while Greg Pursley won the most recent event held there in 2013.

Pole Winners: In the two previous events at Spokane, there have also been two different pole winners. Dylan Kwasniewski won the pole in 2011, while Cameron Hayley was the pole winner for the 2013 event.

Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 Notes:
Home Track Advantage: When Spokane’s Nicole Behar finished second at California’s Irwindale Event Center in 2015, she posted the highest race finish in series history by a woman. Behar, returning to full-time K&N Pro Series West competition this season, is hoping that her first series visit to her home track will provide her first career win.

Behar sits fourth in the current standings with four straight top-10 finishes to begin the season, equaling a career-best stretch she first accomplished from July to August in 2015. The 19-year old driver has proven an ability to drive through the field — improving better than 10 spots each race from her average starting position of 17.2.

Return Engagement: Park City, Utah, driver Michael Self has made an impressive return to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West this season.
After missing the season opener, Self has aligned with longtime series owner Bob Bruncati to drive the No. 9 Sunrise Ford/Eibach Springs/Lucas Oil Ford, and he’s been off to a strong start with his new ride. In his first start in the series since the 2013 season finale, Self finished sixth at California’s Kern County Raceway Park and then went on to post finishes of sixth and third, respectively, in the NAPA Auto Parts Twin 100s at Irwindale two days later.

Self won six races from 2012-2013 in the series and finished a career-high of fourth in the final standings in 2013. He never finished outside the top 10 in the standings in any of the four full seasons he competed in from 2010-2013.

Rookie Crop: A total of four rookies sit in the top nine positions in the K&N Pro Series West standings heading into Spokane. Will Rodgers ranks third overall with top-five finishes in all four races to start the season, while Derek Kraus and Garrett Archer are fifth and sixth, respectively. Both Kraus and Archer have three top 10s already this season. Kody Vanderwal is ninth in the standings with a pair of top-10 finishes.

Championship Pedigree: While no champion’s title run contained a win at Spokane during the 2011 and 2013 campaigns, two of the most accomplished drivers in K&N Pro Series West history earned wins in the only two races held at the half-mile track. Three-time series champion Eric Holmes won the inaugural K&N West race at Spokane in 2011, leading 95 of the 200 laps, while two-time champion Greg Pursley won the most recent event at the track in 2013.

Qualifying also provided a glimpse into the NASCAR future, with Dylan Kwasniewski — a future series champion and NASCAR XFINITY Series driver — won the pole for in 2011 and Cameron Hayley sitting on in 2013. Hayley spent three seasons in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and finished a career best of sixth in the final 2015 standings.