K&N West Crown Up For Grabs Between BMR Teammates At Kern
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – They started the season 1-2, and twelve races later, nothing much has changed.
Saturday, Todd Gilliland and Chris Eggleston will settle it.
The 2017 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season will conclude this weekend with a champion being crowned at California’s Kern County Raceway Park with reigning series champion Gilliland and Eggleston, the 2015 champion, the two drivers be battling for the title.
But that’s nothing new to the Bill McAnally Racing teammates. They’ve been neck-and-neck all season long.
The two drivers have combined to win 10 of the 13 races this season and have rarely finished far from each other when the checkered flag flies. Gilliland only has one finish outside the top 10 (12th at Washington’s Evergreen Speedway) and Eggleston’s worst finish this season is 10th, coming at California’s Sonoma Raceway earlier this summer.
While team owner Bill McAnally has earned a few championships in his time as an owner in the K&N Pro Series West, he said the credit this season goes to the men behind the wheel.
“It goes to our drivers first and foremost,” McAnally said. “They’ve been smart behind the wheel. We can do whatever we want at the shop, but coming to the race track, they can do something like not have enough patience or try too hard too early and give it away. So it’s about the drivers, but it’s also about the people. Everybody involved this year at BMR really cares. They’re putting the effort and rising to the occasion.”
Gilliland might be 17-years-old, but the NASCAR Next driver knows all about rising to the occasion. The Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, native has amassed six wins (and led 935 laps), 10 top fives and 12 top 10s this season in his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. And the defending champion is confident heading to a track he calls his favorite on the schedule.
“I feel pretty good,” Gilliland said. “It’s going to be a big race for us. After our last test out here, I think we’re going to be ready for it. We just have to keep at it. We’ve had really fast cars at Kern. I think we’ve won the last two races there. People are going to be watching us, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Gilliland leads Eggleston by 11 points (567-556) and can clinch the title by finishing seventh or better at Kern.
Eggleston, albeit the underdog, is maintaning an upbeat mindset heading into Bakersfield. The Erie, Colorado, native and driver of the No. 99 NAPA Filters Toyota has four wins, 11 top fives and 13 top 10s this season to go along with over 500 laps led.
“We feel pretty good,” Eggleston said. “The last couple races at Kern we took a different car, and this go around we’re taking a new car that we just built. It’s got two races on it, basically. It ran it Iowa Speedway and Evergreen. At Iowa, we had our best finish ever there of third. And then went to Evergreen and pretty much dominated that race and led every lap.”
“So I feel fairly optimistic. It’s a new car, it’s a good car, and it should be pretty solid. We’re just going to do everything we can to try and control what we can control. Try to lead the most laps, win the race and whatever happens with Todd happens. Whether it’s misfortune or not, we’ll let everything play out the way it should and do everything we can.”
Anything can, and will happen with everything on the line. Gilliland knows that better than anybody, as he saw his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title slip from his grasp and into the hands of champion Harrison Burton when he hit the wall due to a flat right front tire in the season finale at Dover International Speedway. He went into that race with an eight-point cushion in the standings, but left without the title.
Having been through that heartbreak, Gilliland said it changes the way he’ll approach this weekend at Kern to a certain extent. All while knowing that circumstances beyond his control can take him out.
“It’s really hard to control mechanical problems,” Gilliland said. “We saw that with Kyle Larson (being eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs due to a blown engine), and it’s hard to be mad about that. He had such a great season. But that stuff is just almost impossible to control. I think our cars are prepared to the best of our abilities and that’s what’s important. We’re putting our best foot forward.”
For a team owner to know that his team will be bringing home a championship is a bit of a relief. But with the title on the line and both drivers willing to do whatever it takes to come out on top, a plethora of nerves come along with it.
“I’ve never been in this kind of situation before, where we’ve got two of our drivers in contention,” McAnally said. “One of them is going to win the championship. It’s just how the cards fall and how things go. We found out with Harrison Burton there at Dover that things can turn around really quick.”
“We went in there with an eight-point lead hoping for the best, not that we were counting our chickens before they hatched, but we definitelly had the upper hand there with the points lead. And things turned around really quick. So we’re not taking anything for granted.”
As for team orders? There will be none of that.
“There’s no team orders,” McAnally said. “I just don’t want to hurt ourselves and that’s what I’ll tell them. We don’t want to create problems amongst ourselves. They’ll race each other hard, and they’ll race each other clean.”
Eggleston doesn’t expect the hard racing that the teammates have been exhibiting all season long to change just due of the significance of the race.
“It’s been pretty brutal, crazy, side-by-side leaning on each other,” said Eggleston. “I feel like he moves me more than I return the favor, but I wouldn’t expect anything different. The only difference is with the amount of points we’re both up on third place, we can’t finish any worse than second in the championship standings. So more or less, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Gilliland didn’t shy away from the notion of the two possibly beating and banging their way down to the wire for the championship, like they have so often this season, and recalled a moment when their racing got a little too heated.
“Everyone has seen us race each other, and we’re racing super hard for these wins,” Gilliland said of racing his teammate. “The only time Bill talked to us was last year after Douglas County. I ran into Chris at Stateline and he ran into me at Douglas and we both spun out. Bill gives us really fast race cars, and I think that’s being proved right now with Bill McAnally Racing 1-2-3 in the championship standings.”
“But we’re racing for these wins and we’re racing for a championship, so it’s hard to take it easy on each other. If we let each other win, who knows what the points would be like right now.”
The season finale, the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150 presented by NAPA Auto Parts is scheduled to go green around 8 p.m. PT on Saturday, Nov. 4 from Kern.