Derek Kraus got Bill McAnally Racing back on track, Hailie Deegan moved closer to making history, and tempers flared as fenders banged on the tight .400-oval in Roseburg, Oregon.
Here’s a few key takeaways from this past weekend’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Douglas County Speedway.
Winning Matters. A Lot.
Earlier this season, a team manager remarked — when asked about the up-for-grabs nature of both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and West championships — that the difference maker will be bonus points. At the series’ short tracks, were positions are at a premium, leading the most laps and winning are a big factor in the season-long championship chase.
To wit: The difference between the points Kraus got for his win and Deegan’s runner-up finish (six points) was the same as between Deegan’s second and Trevor Huddleston’s eighth-place finish (also six points).
So while Ryan Partridge (seven top fives in seven races) and Thorn (six top fives) have more out-performed Kraus more consistently to date, it’s Kraus’ second win — to one each of Partridge and Thorn — that has allowed him to move within nine points of the championship lead held by Partridge.
Aside from the combination races with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park, and the wild card of racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, the wins will be worth premium points at remaining four short tracks.
Just as importantly for Kraus and BMR, it got them back on track after a string of finishes behind the Sunrise Racing duo.
“Once we built that lead up, I was a little concerned by one of my tires wearing out a little bit too much just because of how big of a lead we did get,” said Kraus. “And then I knew there was going to be yellow because that’s literally always how it works on me. It happened at Meridian last year, and it happened at the Kern this year. I knew I was going to get yellow and suddenly there was a yellow right in front of me. And luckily we had a good restart.
“I knew I just had to get a good entry into (Turn) 1 and then keep it on the bottom and clear it off on the corners.”
It was the ninth time in the last 12 years that BMR has gone to Victory Lane. But just the second win this year for the organization that compiled 29 wins between 2014-17.
“It’s really big for Bill, just because last year how successful we were,” Kraus said, “and then this year they threw the new tire at us, and I feel like that’s where Sunrise really have a lot of experience, so they learn quicker than what all three of our BMR guys did.”
Deegan Moves Spot Closer To History
Deegan’s second-place finish matched the NASCAR K&N Pro Series mark for best finish by a female. Julia Landauer was second at Idaho’s Meridian Speedway in 2016, Nicole Behar finished second at Irwindale Speedway in 2015, and Kenzie Ruston finished second at Iowa Speedway in 2014. It was Deegan’s seventh top 10 in as many starts and third straight top five on a short track.
“I knew that in the beginning I was going to have to make some moves,” said Deegan, who qualified fourth. “The past couple races I’ve always been like “okay, let’s just sit and ride, we’ll be there in the end.”
“But now I was like, ‘I’m going to start making some moves in the beginning, try something new’ and it paid off. I’m realizing now what I need to do to run up in the top three. I feel like I just kind of clicked (about) what needs to happen, and so we’ve definitely been working for it and we’re getting better and better.”
Deegan gained attention with her seventh-place run in the West opener at California’s Kern County Raceway Park, and then used pit strategy to lead a race for the first time in the East race at Memphis Motorsports Park. The 16-year-old NASCAR Next had two shots at teammate Kraus on late-race restarts, but the preferred inside groove proved too much to overcome.
“Third’s almost the preferred position behind the leader,” Deegan said. “So I feel like I’m just trying to work down make sure that guy in third can’t get up under me. … But we had a good run.”
Her performance earned praise from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winner from Sunday.
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) July 3, 2018
Learning Curve With Tires
The biggest difference in the K&N Pro Series this season has been the transition to bias-ply tires. The teams and drivers have spent the first half of the season trying to get acclimated to tire wear and adjusting setups to accommodate the new reality. As Kraus noted, the Sunrise Racing team has been able to adapt a little quicker than the BMR trio.
“I think every race is a curveball,” said Partridge. “Every track has a different dynamic and the tire kinda shows us a different side of it so it’s tough. What kind of worked for us in Colorado didn’t really work here, we searched all weekend. We just gotta keep searching, keep working at it and try to find something that makes these tires happy and just the car overall happy.
Said Thorn: “These tires are just a different animal and its taking some getting used to for all of us, and we haven’t given up on it. We got some good runs with it.”
For Deegan, she has had less to unlearn.
“I feel like no matter what these guys do they’ll out experience me,” said Deegan. “But coming on the new tire, it’s something I didn’t have to get used to not driving on old tires, so maybe it’s helped a little bit.”
The heat and close quarters led to some bent fenders and hurt feelings from late-race action. Both Cole Rouse and Matt Levin saw top five runs short-circuited by late spins following contact. Levin was relegated to ninth after getting together with Thorn, while Rouse finished sixth after a run-in with Partridge. Rouse voiced his displeasure after the race with a now-deleted tweet, but expect Partridge chalked it up to the environment.
“Well it was just some tight racing; I mean it’s a short track,” said Partridge. “Our Sunrise Ford cars weren’t too good, so the track position seemed very valuable. Wee kinda struggled a little bit at the end and I say struggle, but in reality you look at the times and everybody was pretty close so track position again was very valuable.
“So yeah, we’re just racing hard and (Rouse) started racing me really hard and then raced (Thorn) pretty hard, and I came in and kinda repaid the favor and he ended up going around. But it’s just one of those racing deals on a short track. I was really not trying to get into him too hard, I just wanted to squeeze underneath him, but again that’s racing.”
One driver who benifited from all the shuffling was Kody Vanderwal. The Colorado teen qualified eighth but emerged relatively unscathed with a third-place finish. It was his best finish since winning the twin features at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway.
“I just saved my tires and it ended up being a better setup in the long run,” said Vanderwal. “So right at the end I was really good them picking off one by one. I just ran out of time a little bit to get the leaders but happy with the outcome.”