Brett Thompson remembers his first race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series well. It came more than a decade ago at Rocky Mountain Raceways in Utah. He had some issues in qualifying and started last. But he maneuvered his way through the field for a top-10 finish.
NASCAR K&N Pro Series Driver Brett Thompson
"That was a long race, that was probably a 250- or 300-lap race," said Thompson, a driver from Jerome, Idaho. "It was a lot of fun and that's what got me hooked on the series. We had been racing the late models and stuff like that. That felt like a big step. I was excited. It was a fun race. We started racing the series and haven't stopped."
Thompson made the 100th NASCAR K&N Pro Series West start of his career at Phoenix International Raceway last month. He's been racing in the West Series since 2000 and has seen it change significantly, from shorter races to pit stop changes to different tracks. The K&N Pro Series West doesn't visit Rocky Mountan Raceways anymore. It doesn't have 300-lap races very much anymore either.
"Phoenix is one of our longer races," Thompson said. "It's one that really hasn't changed. We still run the same amount laps like we always have. That always suits my driving style better. I usually make a steady run toward the front. But we go to these little short tracks and it's a lot of short runs. We run 10 laps and then there's caution, then run another 10 laps, then there's caution. It doesn't give you time to move through the field sometimes. You have to qualify up front and just hold your position."
He's coming off a fifth-place finish at Phoenix. He started the race 17th in the 36-car field and made his way through eight caution periods to get to the front of the pack.
"We just ran our own race. I knew I had a good race car," Thompson said. "Sometimes you got give up qualifying to race well. Slowly worked our way to the front. I think we made it as high as third. On the last restart, the guy in front of me missed a shift and we lost a couple positions and ended up fifth. It's a good start to the season. It's where we want to start. It puts us right there in the points."
Thompson has won only one race in his career in the K&N Pro Series West. It came in 2004 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield. He had four top-five and five top-10 finishes that season and was 16th in the final West Series standings.
But when asked if any of the 100 K&N Pro Series West races he started stand out, he said, "I always think about the last race."
"Winning at Bakersfield was big," Thompson said. "That's a track everybody enjoyed and misses now. Got a win there before it tore down."
His best season came in 2008 when he posted eight top-10 finishes in 13 races and was fifth in the West Series standings. He has finished in the top 10 in the West Series standings five times.
"The enjoyable part is the fact that we're still racing," Thompson said. "It's still tough competition. I still like the cars that we drive. The biggest change that I've seen from when I started is the length of the races have gotten shorter. They're not pit-stop type races like we used to have all the time. I kind of miss that."
Another change is in support and sponsorship. K&N came in to sponsor the series in 2010 and Thompson said he's noticed a difference in how much attention the West Series is receiving since the switch. He compared it to the days when Winston sponsored the series.
"When Winston went away, it kind of floundered for a while. It was kind of a joke without any big support," Thompson said. "K&N, they're involved. They're just as involved as Winston was. That's what we expect as racers. Seeing representation at every race, that's exciting for us. That's what it takes, I think."
The next race on the K&N Pro Series West scheduled is at All-American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., on April 16. It will be the 101st start of Thompson's career. He's off to a good start in his 11th season in the K&N Pro Series West and he said he wants to make it his best season yet.
"I would expect a top-three finish there," Thompson said. "I think I'm capable, the crew is capable. The equipment's better this year and that's what we need. In year's past it seems we always lacked one of those things, whether it was crew or equipment or maybe my focus wasn't there. This year, I think we have everything we need to go after a championship. That's what we're doing."
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