After four years away from full-time action in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Derek Thorn came back to chase a championship.
With one race left on the schedule, the Lakeport, California, driver finds himself in the exact position he was hoping he would be in. Thorn leads the championship standings by 26 points as the series heads into the NAPA Auto Parts 175 presented by West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, on Saturday night.
“The Sunrise Ford team — this is my third year driving for them, with the gap in the middle when I wasn’t — the guys have really come a long way and the equipment has been awesome this year,” Thorn said. “As with anything else, sometimes you hit a home run with the setup, and other times we have struggled with the setup, but we’ve been consistent.”
“Sometimes, life throws you lemons and you try to make lemonade out of it. We’ve been really fortunate on the luck side.”
Thorn has finished inside the top-10 in the first 13 races, capturing two checkered flags (Colorado & Evergreen) and finishing inside the top five in all but one race. Since his worst finish, an eighth at Sonoma Raceway in June, the veteran has been on the podium five times.
RACING-REFERENCE: Derek Thorn’s Career Stats
The story of his season could quite possibly be the adversity the team has overcome on more than one occasion, including the last time on track at Roseville. Thorn was running towards the front of the field when he spun while battling with Derek Kraus and Cole Rouse — two Bill McAnally Racing teammates. After heading to the back of the field, Thorn was able to work his way back and finish third, a crucial effort in helping him be in position to clinch.
“We’ve been dealt some bad cards, but we’ve been able to salvage some pretty decent finishes even on our bad days,” Thorn said. “Our bad runs weren’t as bad as some of the other guys bad runs.”
Thorn won the 2013 series championship just a year after finishing third in the standings with two victories in 2012. In his title campaign, Thorn won three races and finished inside the top-10 in all but one event — remarkably similar to his statistics heading into the finale this year.
He edged Cameron Hayley by just six points for his first trophy, but will have a little bit more breathing room this time around before the green flag flies.
He credits the equipment improving over his time away, and the relationship with his Sunrise Ford teammates, Ryan Partridge and Trevor Huddleston, for his success.
“I think our team, I’ve been around Ryan but I never really knew him on a personal level. The team aspect is the best it has ever been with Sunrise Ford,” Thorn said.
“To have myself and Ryan get along so well, and the crew chiefs to get along, our team dynamic… we wouldn’t be where we are in the No. 6 if it wasn’t for the No. 9 or the No. 22. If we go to the track and we aren’t where we need to be, we can take some of their notes and fit it into our car. Without the knowledge, we wouldn’t be sitting where we are right now in the points. I’m proud of the entire group and I feel like we really hit it off. We wanted to be 1-2 in points, and I’m sure Ryan wants to be where I am at. But when we sat down with Bob at the beginning of the year, that was our goal.”
Thorn finished second at Kern to open the season, coming up just a little bit short in a race won by Derek Kraus. He is hoping to grab his first career checkered flag at the half-mile, and end the season in style.
“I’ve been racing Super Late Models over the last few years, and I’ve won a championship there, and with Bob, but I have still yet to win a championship on the same night I win the race. I feel like going into it, it’s a cool deal to be in this situation as this point in time,” Thorn said.
“Bob Brunacti has done a great job to get us to this point. We have a sizable lead where we can just focus on the race. I think it takes some pressure off of us to preform. We can just work on trying to win the race.”
Thorn will win the title by finishing 21st or better, 22nd or better with a lap led, or 23rd of better with most laps led, regardless of what Rouse and Partridge do: CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS GRID
NAPA Auto Parts 175 presented by West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Notes:
- Off his first career win last time on track at Roseville, Rouse will be looking to end the season with two straight checkered flags. Rouse was leading at Meridian Speedway when his teammate, Hailie Deegan, passed him on the final lap, relegating him to a second-place finish. After winning the pole at Roseville, Rouse led 58 laps and celebrated for the first time in his 27th start. In two prior starts at Kern, Rouse has shown plenty of promise. He’s finished third in both races, and led 26 laps in March. Rouse leads Ryan Partridge by just three points for second in the standings.
- Hailie Deegan, who became the first female K&N Pro Series driver to win at Meridian, will look to conclude her season inside the top five in the standings. She leads Trevor Huddleston by eight points for the spot and the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. In March, in her debut at Kern, she started eighth and finished seventh.