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NASCAR K&N Pro Series Rookie Kody Vanderwal Takes Advantage of Opportunity

NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver Kody Vanderwal at Meridian Speedway

Rookie Kody Vanderwal is 10th in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West standings after 11 races

What started as a one-race deal in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West has turned into a productive rookie campaign for Kody Vanderwal. The 16-year-old driver from Colorado was racing late models and trucks in Tucson, Arizona, when the K&N Pro Series West had its season opener in March.

Vanderwal was offered a ride for the K&N Pro Series West race and he finished in the top 10 in his debut. After the race in Tucson, Vanderwal had the opportunity to drive in the races in Bakersfield and Irwindale in California. After two more productive results, Vanderwal had the backing and support to continue the season.

“At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t have any goals,” Vanderwal said. “It was just a random chance. One race, one off deal thing.”

Vanderwal finished ninth in the race at Kern County Raceway, in Bakersfield, and was eighth in the race at Tucson, giving him two top 10s in his first two races. His results in Irwindale, a pair of 100-lap races, weren’t as good. He was 14th in the first race and 15th in the second race. Both were respectable finishes. More importantly, Vanderwal brought the car back in one piece.

“It was an awesome learning experience for me,” Vanderwal said. “After that whole deal, we decided to run the whole season. We’re all learning like crazy. It was a God deal. He wanted us to do this for a reason.”

Vanderwal didn’t disappoint. He had his best result at The Orange Show Speedway in California in May, a fourth-place finish.

“We were getting more comfortable. We were starting to work together better,” Vanderwal said. “We didn’t have an amazing car. We went down a lap early on. Had a few small issues. All this came down to attrition. All those guys kept wrecking each other. It was luck, good communication.”

He followed with perhaps his best race of his rookie season at Colorado National Speedway, his home track. He qualified 11th and worked his way through the field to finish fifth. His car lost second gear during the race and he had trouble on restarts. Plus he made contact with another car and suffered damage for a good portion of the race.

“That’s my home track. That was a big advantage there,” Vanderwal said. “Toward the end, I worked my way up to fourth.

“We had a really good car there at the end of the race. That was a really fun race.”

NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver Kody Vanderwal at Meridian Speedway

Kody Vanderwal has two top-five finishes in his rookie season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

But Vanderwal’s season took a turn for the worse at Iowa Speedway in July. He finished in 34th and last place in the race that pits the teams and drivers from the K&N Pro Series East and West against each other. It started a string of three races in which Vandewal finished outside the top 10.

“It started in Iowa,” Vanderwal said. “That’s just a really big track. We didn’t qualify well. Got caught up in a crash on lap 6. We had to tear the nose off of it. That was like three seconds off the pace for the whole first half.”

Vanderwal’s crew repaired the nose of the car, but the air box was damaged in the crash. His car overheated and he had to withdraw to the pits on lap 69.

“I had to pull off,” Vanderwal said. “That was the end of that night.”

He ran into more trouble at Evergreen Speedway in Washington and Douglas County Speedway in Oregon in the next two races and he dropped to 10th in the K&N Pro Series West standings.

“We just showed up with the totally wrong set-up,” Vanderwal said about the Douglas County Speedway race. “We struggled all day in practice and qualifying. We made a few adjustments for the race, but the car went from being a little but loose to the tightest car I’ve ever driven in my life. It wasn’t working at all.”

With three races to go in the K&N Pro Series West, Vanderwal said he wants to put together some more top-five races. The next stop is Meridian Speedway in Idaho on Sept. 30.

“I know we can do well there,” Vanderwal said. “It’s another one of those survive tracks. I feel like we’re working together well now. We’re looking forward to that.”

The season ends with races at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., and Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.

“We definitely want to stay in the top 10 in points,” Vanderwal said. “We definitely want to finish off the season with a couple more top fives. Obviously, a win would be a major goal. Right now the McAnally cars are in their own ZIP codes. That would definitely be very difficult.”

Vanderwal said he would like to return to the K&N Pro Series West next season. But he does not have a deal in place presently.

“The goal and hope for next year is to run K&N again,” Vanderwal said. “We don’t really have any plans yet. The dream is to go all the way. It takes all three. It takes talent, it takes people and it takes money. All the things have to fall into place at the right time. Can’t really expect any of that to happen but we have to try.”


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