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K&N Pro Series West opens at Kern County Raceway Park in California

The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season kicked-off at Kern County Raceway Park in California on March 15th. A former K&N Pro Series West champion returned five years removed from his last title. The team that won the past three K&N Pro Series West championships opened its next chapter with new drivers and a new focus. Kevin Harvick, a hometown legend in Bakersfield and the 2015 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion, gave the K&N Pro Series drivers a taste of what it’s like to race against a top-level NASCAR Champion.

It was an exciting start to the K&N Pro Series West season.

Derek Thorn, Sunrise Ford, NASCAR, K&N Pro Series West, Kern County Raceway Park

Derek Thorn won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship in 2013.

The Sunrise Ford and Bill McAnally Racing teams, with five full-time drivers, are ready to battle for the K&N Pro Series West championship. Jefferson Pitts Racing plans to be in the mix as well. Here is a look at the top-contending drivers and teams in the K&N Pro Series West:

The Sunrise Ford team, owner by Bob Bruncati, is reaching into his past to try to produce a K&N Pro Series championship. Derek Thorn, who won the K&N Pro Series title in 2013, will be in one of the Sunrise Ford cars. Ryan Partridge, the runner-up in the K&N Pro Series standings in 2016, will be in the other car. Bruncati is bringing in a veteran presence to lead his team.

“I think he wants to get his program to the point where he feels like he can go out each and every week and compete for wins, do what it takes behind the scenes,” Thorn said in a NASCAR Hometracks interview. “I feel like Partridge is an extremely talented race car driver. We should be able to work through some things and get the program at Sunrise Ford to be where we want to be, to where we can go out each and every week and be confident that we can run up front.”

Thorn has five career wins in 37 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West starts.

Partridge is making his return to the K&N Pro Series West after taking a year off in 2017. He was third in the K&N Pro Series standings in 2015 and has won four races in his K&N Pro Series West career. He is reunited with his crew chief, Jeff Schrader. They combined in 2016 to finish in second place in the K&N Pro Series West standings.

“It feels like we are just a bunch of good ole boys working on race cars and having fun on the weekends,” Partridge said. “I think that’s really what it takes to stay relaxed, stay focused. There is zero animosity between anybody on the team. We’re all just going for a common goal. That what it feels like.”

Partridge is looking forward to working with his old crew.

“We’re talking apples to apples,” Partridge said. “As far as the chemistry of the team works that’s really important. You gotta be on the same level, same page with your crew chief.”

Bill McAnally Racing has won the past three K&N Pro Series West championships. Todd Gilliland won the titles in 2016 and 2017. Chris Eggleston won the championship in 2015 driving for McAnally. Both drivers are not with the team this year. Hailie Deegan and Cole Rouse are in. Derek Kraus, who won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year last year, is back in the team’s No. 16 car, the same one that Gilliland drove to consecutive championships.

Kraus won the season finale at Kern County Raceway Park to close out his rookie season. He was third in the K&N Pro Series West standings. His only win in 14 starts came at Kern County. He also posted nine top-five finishes in 14 starts.

Deegan, the 16-year-old daughter of X Games star Brian Deegan, is beginning her rookie campaign. But she is no stranger to racing. She has been winning off-road truck championships since she started racing when she was 8.

Rouse, an 18-year-old driver from Arkansas, had four top-five finishes in 14 K&N Pro Series West starts in 2016. Last year, he split time between racing in the ARCA Series and super late models. He was 11th in the ARCA Series race in Kentucky and 13th in the race in Kansas driving for Bill Venturini.

Derek Kraus, Bill McAnally Racing, NASCAR, K&N Pro Series West, Kern County Raceway Park

Derek Kraus was the rookie of the year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in 2017.

Kody Vanderwal, a 17-year-old from Colorado, returns for his second season in the K&N Pro Series West. In his first full in the K&N Pro Series West, Vanderwal had two top-five finishes in 14 races. His team expanded to two cars for the 2018 season. Vanderwal got a jumpstart to the season, entering the K&N Pro Series East opener at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida in a car prepared by Bill McAnally Racing. He was 11th in the race at New Smyrna.

He said he feels good about the direction his team is heading.

“It’s similar. We didn’t really have a permanent setup,” Vanderwal said referring to the 2017 season. “This year the main difference is we have two cars. We have a shop setup.”

He added that racing with McAnally’s team was a valuable learning experience.

“I feel like I learned a lot last year,” Vanderwal said. “I feel like I learned a lot as a driver at New Smyrna a couple of weeks ago running with a Bill McAnally car. I think we will be fast.”

Will Rodgers, who drove one of the four entries for Jefferson Pitts Racing in the opener at Kern County, finished in fifth place in the K&N Pro Series West standings last season. He had nine top-five finishes in 14 races, won one pole and led for 26 laps in the races he entered last year.

Todd Souza was sixth in the K&N Pro Series West standings. He had two top-five finishes, a third-place at The Orange Show Speedway in California and a fourth-place at Meridian Speedway in Idaho.

Matt Levin was 11th in the K&N Pro Series West standings in 2017. He had four top-10 finishes in 14 races.

Ron Norman was 12th in the K&N Pro Series West standings in 2017. He had two top-10 finishes in 14 races.

Harvick has won the past two K&N Pro Series West races he entered, the most recent coming at Sonoma Raceway in California last year. He has a celebrated career in the K&N Pro Series. He was the runner-up to Joey Logano in the inaugural K&N Pro Series race at Iowa Speedway in 2007.

Throughout the K&N Pro Series West opener at Kern County Raceway Park, it looked as though Harvick would continue his K&N Pro Series winning streak, however, on the last restart, Derek Kraus was able to pass Harvick on Turn 4 with a good ol’ Short Track nudge. Harvick fell back to ninth place and only had time to battle back to 4th before the checkered flag dropped. With Thorn, Rouse and Partridge finishing in the top 5, it will be exciting to see the battle between Bob Bruncati’s Sunrise Ford Team and Bill McAnally NAPA Team unfold through the 2018 K&N Pro Series West season.

The next NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will be a twin 100-lap feature at Arizona’ Tucson Speedway on May 5th.


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