Eric Holmes has won four NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races this year, but he said his best race was a runner-up finish at Portland International Raceway in July.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Racer Eric Holmes
NAPA/Bill McAnally Racing's No. 20 Toyota
The two-time West Series champion turned what could have been an eighth place finish into a second place. He said it's races like the one in Portland that lead to championships.
"The way the race worked out, the way our planning of the race, we knew we weren't the car to beat," said Holmes, a 35-year-old driver from Escalon, Calif. "We had to figure out a different way to beat them. We definitely beat them that way, but we were lucky. That's what you have to do when you want to win championships. You got to have to have some luck on your side. I'm not proud of them days, but as far as team and making calls and being smart, that's what you got to do on your bad days. If you can make a bad day a second-place finish, that's pretty darn good."
Holmes has been pretty darn good since the second race of the season. He won at Phoenix International Raceway in April, a much-needed victory that put Holmes back in the West Series championship picture after a disastrous season opener at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif.
Holmes finished 20th in the season opener and put his team in a huge hole in the championship standings right out of the gate.
"In previous years, I've won the first race," said Holmes, driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing. "I've done very well in the first race and had the points lead after the first or second race. This year, definitely started in a hole. I knew it wouldn't be easy to dig our way out. Going to Phoenix for the second race and winning really helped, kinda got us some momentum."
Holmes won again at Douglas County Speedway in Oregon in June, but still trailed David Mayhew in the West Series standings after four races. It wasn't until the fifth race of the season at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma that Holmes passed Mayhew for the lead in the West Series standings. Holmes finished fourth at Infineon Raceway and Mayhew came in 23rd.
Holmes went three races between his second and third win. In that span, Andrew Ranger, Patrick Long and Auggie Vidovich, drivers who don't regularly run in the West Series, each won a race. Ranger and Vidovich posted the first West Series wins of their careers. Long, a champion sports car driver in the American Le Mans Series for Porsche and two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, won the second race of his West Series career. Holmes said it was an example of how deep and talented the fields in the West Series have become.
"In previous years it was me and Jason Bowles and Mike David, pretty much the top three," Holmes said. "Both them guys are gone. Now it's Mayhew and Paulie (Harraka) and (Jonathon) Gomez and (Greg) Pursley. There are some really good teams this year racing. I don't think the competition's any tougher, every year you have two or three guys who are really tough to race with and you got to look out for. In other years we had Joey Logano come in, we've had some other guys, but definitely the road races. I've always thought I was a decent road course racer, but this year with Patrick Long and Ranger and some of them guys coming in, they definitely made it tougher on us."
With three races remaining in the West Series schedule, Holmes has a 114-point lead over Mayhew in the West Series standings. Mayhew said it will be challenging to catch Holmes, especially with races at tracks that have been favorable to Holmes in the past.
"It's definitely hard," Mayhew said. "We had a couple good races the last couple that we gave away with running out of gas and parts failures on the car. Those really hurt when we were quite a bit better than him. We know once we got to these short tracks, he's tough to beat. He always has been. Hopefully we'll put a good run together and gain some points back."
Holmes won the West Series championship in 2006 and 2008. His first championship, he said, was unexpected.
"My first championship, we weren't even going to run for a championship," Holmes said. "We had one car and one engine and we were just going to run a couple races. We ended running for it and winning it."
His second championship came with his current team, Bill McAnally Racing. Holmes said there was tremendous pressure on him to win the West Series championship for a couple of reasons.
"When I started driving for Bill in 2008, he hired me to win the championship," Holmes said. "NAPA hadn't won a championship in eight years and Toyota had just signed on. He says, 'I'm putting you in the car to win the championship.' That was totally different. I had the pressure of doing it and we went out and did it."
His third West Series championship is within reach and he wants to end the season with a strong run.
"This year has been a little different," Holmes said. "We made a lot of changes in the winter. We probably haven't been as dominant. I'm usually top of the charts at practice and qualifying. I've had to back up a little bit in the races and focus on getting the best finish I can out of my car. It's working for us right now, but we definitely need to get the car into victory lane and lead some laps and get some points."
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