Two races, two hundred laps, and plenty to takeaway from the duel (or dual, if you prefer) in the desert.
A couple key takeaways from the Port of Tucson Twin 100s this past Saturday.
The biggest is this may that this could be the most wide-open championship race in recent memory.
While the championship race has been tight between two and sometimes three drivers in the last several years, the top five in championship points after three races are separated by only nine points.
The Bruncati duo of Derek Thorn and Ryan Partridge had the best night at Tucson this side of Kody Vanderwal. They finished second and third, respectively, in the first race, and then swapped positions in the second.
“It was a fun race,” said Partridge, who led 68 laps in the second twin only to lose the lead late in the run. “Just kind of by happenstance stance, we fell into the lead: Drove hard on the first lap and the lane opened up and went straight to the lead.
“We were able to run up front at a conservative pace. I thought we saved enough, but on the last restart, we got a good jump and drove it down into the bottom, which is where we’d been running all night, and it was pretty greasy down there and we four-wheel drifted across all three lanes. That gave the guys behind us a chance to get a good run and they were able to get by us.”
Partridge was able to get by Thorn for second in the closing laps but ran out of time to track down Vanderwal.
“We had a really good car,” said Thorn. “We saved in the first; not everybody was knowing what to do there. We were fortunate to save the right amount of tires for the end of the run, we just weren’t quite able to pull it off.
“The second race, (Partridge) was better and (Vanderwal) was just as good. We made a run out there at the end and gave it our best.”
Thorn is no stranger to the championship chase and the formula to win it. The 31-year-old from Lakeport, California, took home the 2013 title on the strength of three wins but also eight finishes in the top three over 15 races that year. He only finished outside the top six twice, and the second time was the finale when he already had the title locked up.
PHOTO GALLERY: PORT OF TUCSON TWIN 100s
Thorn singled out the Bruncati crew for Sunrise Ford/Eibach Springs/Lucas Oil Ford teams for getting he and Ryan Partridge in position to challenge for the wins: “They worked hard to get second and third in both races. It was good points day for both of us. Hopefully we can put the rest of the season together like this and hopefully we’re up front in points.”
Bruncati’s cars have won at least two K&N Pro Series West races in each of the last six years.
Since 2014, Bill McAnally Racing (30), Bruncati (9) and Gene Price Motorsports / Jefferson Pitts Racing (9) have accounted for all but eight wins in the West. Steve McGowan had six of those with David Mayhew between 2014-15, and HScott Motorsports / Turner Scott Motorsports had the other two.
That’s what made the breakthrough win by Kody Vanderwal especially significant: He gave John Wood his first two wins as a car owner. A veteran driver himself, Wood typically fields multiple car per race and has provided for an opportunity for numerous drivers throughout the years. While not a big budget operation, his team has been an integral part of the series. And now, with Vanderwal, a possible championship contender.
“I love this track, it’s a lot of fun, it kind of suits me,” said Vanderwal, who parlayed his first career win into a sweep of the evening. “It gave me a lot more confidence, getting that first win.”
The twin 100s also showed how quickly fortunes can change.
If it wasn’t for an overheating issue in the season opener at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, Vanderwal may well have found himself the points leader leaving Tucson.
Meanwhile, Kern winner Derek Kraus cost himself with a little bit of aggressiveness. Kraus was penalized for jumping a restart in the opening stages of the second race. By the time he took his pass through penalty following a subsequent caution, the race was back to green and he lost a lap. Unfortunately, the caution he needed didn’t come until race leader Partridge had lapped a few cars on the tail of the field and Kraus never got back on the lead lap despite having some of the best lap times of the night.
The 16-year-old from Stratford, Wisconsin, chalked up an 11th to go with a fourth in the opener and is five points back of Thorn and three ahead of his BMR teammate Cole Rouse.
- Vanessa Robinson put together a pair of strong runs at her home track. Robinson, who has competed in the Whelen All-American Series at Tucson and was the 2015 Arizona Rookie of the Year, finished fifth and sixth in the two races driving for Jefferson Pitts Racing.
- Robinson’s JPR teammate for the event, Devin Dodson made the trek from Maryland to make his K&N Pro Series debut. Dodson, 19, finished sixth and ninth.
- Two weeks ago, Tucson wasn’t on the schedule for Will Rodgers. But the 23-year-old from Murrieta, California, got the call from Bob Farmer to run the No. 4. Rodgers finished ninth and seventh. Rodgers, who had a pair of wins last season, is expected to run a handful of K&N Pro Series and ARCA races this year.