Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Plans Change Fast For Kody Vanderwal

Kody Vanderwal had seven top 10 finished last year in his first season in the
K&N Pro Series West (Photo Courtesy Otto Kitsinger/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Via NASCAR Media

Kody Vanderwal will be making his third visit with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to Kern County Park Raceway in California on Thursday.

To think, Vanderwal almost didn’t make it to his first race at Kern.

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season opens in Kern County. Vanderwal, a 17-year-old driver from Colorado, is entering his second season in the K&N Pro Series West. He was supposed to race only one time, the season opener at Tucson Speedway in Arizona last year. But he continued, entering every K&N Pro Series West race and finishing in the top 10 in the K&N Pro Series West standings.

He doesn’t measure the success of his first season by the results of his races. He considers it a success because he started and finished every race on the schedule. He had two top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 14 races.

“I would definitely say it was successful considering the fact that it wasn’t planned at all,” Vanderwal said. “It was originally supposed to be just a one-race deal for the season opener in Tucson and it kind of snowballed into the full season. The end of the season wasn’t all that great. Still in the grand scheme of things ninth place in points was successful for our rookie campaign.”

Kyle Vanderwal had seven top 10 finishes last year in his first season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

Vanderwal didn’t start racing until he was 11 years old. But he remembers going to the race track with his dad when he was 6. He was able to work in the pit areas during the races and in the garage during the week. He was always around his dad, Rudy Vanderwal, and his cars.

When Kody turned 11, his dad put together a 1972 Monte Carlo for him to run in enduro races.

“That taught me a lot about how to pass cars, how to draft, how to control a car,” Vanderwal said. “Never had a whole lot of success doing that up until we modified that car slightly bit and took it to Colorado National when I turned 14 for the pure stock class. Nearly won my first race out. Ended up winning three races and finishing second in all but two of the other ones.”

Kody Vanderwal said he returned to dirt track racing after a stint on the asphalt track at Colorado National Speedway. But he has yet to win a race on a dirt track.

“I never did win a race. Something always happened,” Kody Vanderwal said. “I either ran out of fuel or broke a wire or had a flat tire or whatever, you name it. I still have never won a dirt main event.”

He will get another chance on the dirt when the K&N Pro Series West visits the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 30.

Kody Vanderwal is a junior in high school. He has been homeschooled and will be managing his school schedule with his K&N Pro Series West schedule and racing super late models at Colorado National Speedway. He also plays football for the Dayspring Christian Academy eight-man team. He’s a defensive end and offensive guard. But he is debating whether to play football in his senior season.

“I’ve never had a real passion for anything other than racing,” Kody Vanderwal said. “I’ve played football since the first grade. I may or may not play my senior year. I played last year. I would most likely be a starter on varsity. I’m not sure whether schedules will work out or not.”

His focus is on racing. He wants to improve on his rookie campaign. He knows the field in the K&N Pro Series West is competitive and talented. He got a taste of the depth of the field at the K&N Pro Series East season opener at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. He finished 11th in a car prepared by Bill McAnally Racing in a field that included some of the top teams and drivers from the K&N Pro Series East and West.

Vanderwal finished ninth in his first race at Kern County. He didn’t have quite the same result in his second trip to Kern County, in the season finale. He crashed his car in practice finished 18th in the team’s back-up car.

Vanderwal said he is looking forward to returning to the track in Bakersfield in the No. 43 Bultrite Signs/LaSalle Oil Toyota. His team, which is a joint effort between Patriot Motorsports Group and Flying Dutchman Racing, has expanded to two cars and is committed to running a full season. He has experience on the tracks in the K&N Pro Series West, which should translate into better results. He knows where he can improve at Kern County from the two races from last year.

“We should have had seventh (in the first race). I threw it away on one of the restarts,” Vanderwal said. “I guess that was inexperience. The last race of the season, we blew a right front (tire) in practice and destroyed the primary car. The backup car was hardly worthy of being on the track. It wasn’t a very good race for us. But we showed some speed in practice.”

The Bakersfield 175 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Kern County Raceway Park will practice and qualify Thursday afternoon, with the green flag scheduled for approximately 8:15 p.m.

He has high expectations, but he doesn’t know exactly what kind of potential his team has.

“I don’t know exactly what to expect,” he said. “I know our cars are going to be more prepared. Our team is going to be more experienced. I’m going to be more experienced, so I expect to run better. I don’t know exactly what to expect about how much better.

“Basically, we’re trying to compete for a win. That’s what everybody is doing. What else are we doing if we’re not trying to win?”

News & Notes
The Numbers Game: Bill McAnally Racing will feature a slightly different look this year, as two-time defending champion Todd Gilliland moves up to the national series, and 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Derek Kraus slides into the seat of the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. Kraus won at Kern to close out last year in the No. 19. That car number is now with BMR’s Hailie Deegan, a NASCAR Next driver and series’ rookie. And Cole Rouse, won won the CARS Late Model title last season, returns to the K&N Pro Series West in the No. 99 NAPA Filters Toyota.

Rouse finished eighth in 2016 in the West in the No. 6 for Bob Bruncati. That ride for Sunrise Ford will be filled by Derek Thorn, who won five times in it between 2012-13 and won the series championship in ’13.

Thorn has a pair of sixth-place finishes at Kern, and also won Kern’s big money Super Late Model race, the Winter Showdown, in 2017.

Rod Johnson Jr., who ran the No. 4 at Kern in last year’s finale, will pilot the No. 44 Thursday to allow Harvick to run his No. 4 for fans who follow his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series successes.

Return Engagement: David Mayhew posted a pair of top five finishes in his two starts last year, and he’ll return to Kern Thursday in the No. 17 MMI Services Chevrolet. Mayhew, who has 10 career K&N Pro Series West wins, has led the most (146) laps of any competitor at the Bakersfield half-mile. He has four top fives in six races there. He also won an astounding 15 times in the Late Model division at Kern in 2013 en route to the track’s inaugural NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I title.

Nothing New: While this is the season opener for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, seven drivers in the field already have K&N Pro Series track time and experience on the new radial tires this year thanks to running the East opener at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway last month. Rouse finished second and Kraus was fourth in the New Smyrna 175. Deegan, Salvatore Iovino, Jesse Iwuji, Andrew Tuttle and Vanderwal also made their season debuts in Florida.

Streaking: Harvick has made plenty of headlines with his three straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins this season. He enters Thursday on another winning streak: Two straight K&N Pro Series victories. Prior to his win at Sonoma Raceway last year, Harvick was the highest finishing West driver (second overall to a then 16-year-old Joey Logano) in the inaugural combination race at Iowa Speedway in 2007. He was credited with a West win, under the race rules at the time. His previous start before that? He was 13th in the 2005 West opener at Phoenix.

Full Schedule: In addition to the K&N Pro Series West opener, Thursday night at Kern will also feature the track’s Whelen All-American Series Late Model division. Harvick will serve as Grand Marshal for the Happy Harvick 50 for the division. Kern’s Super Stock and Les Schwab Tires Spec-Mod divisions headline the racing on Saturday, March 24.