Time flies, doesn’t it?
One year ago, Kody Vanderwal pulled off the upset of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season, winning not one but both twin 100s at Tucson Speedway, his first time visiting Victory Lane in his career.
Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the night we beat the odds and swept the Tucson #KNWest races. This weekend we get ready to do it all again. After a month and a half off I'm super pumped to get back behind the wheel! Comin' at ya @TucsonSpeedway pic.twitter.com/pVYBBmIl1a
— Kody Vanderwal (@KodyVanderwal) May 7, 2019
Coming into the race weekend off a 21st-place finish at Kern County Raceway Park and only having two career top fives, Vanderwal was a long shot to compete for the win. Heck, even he didn’t think too much of it — until he started turning laps.
“I just remember the Friday night test session, we never put new tires on or anything but we just did so many runs that night,” he said. “It took until the last run before I was happy. Saturday we hardly made any adjustments at all and we were towards the top of the board. Still, even then, I don’t think the whole garage had any idea we were as good as we were.”
The weekend was different from the start, Vanderwal said. Instead of being in the garage area with all other K&N teams, his No. 43 was off to the side. Working on their late model simultaneously, they were away from all the hustle and bustle of their competitors.
“It was just kind of a different feel in the garage all weekend,” he said. “I think we kind of shocked ourselves in Race No. 1 when I took the lead on Lap 10 and ran away. Almost everybody except me and a couple of my crew guys thought I was going way too hard and I was going to wear out my tires. We were shocked at how fast the car was, but I know that track so well. I knew what I could get away with. It was kind of a perfect storm.”
A lot has changed in the 365 days since those thrilling victories for the LaSalle, Colorado, native. A switch from Patriot Motorsports to Levin Racing among the biggest.
But a lot has also stayed the same. The two full-time employees working with Vanderwal at Patriot followed him to Levin, and they have pretty much the same road crew on the No. 43 as last season.
Change is inevitable in life, and NASCAR is no exception. Vanderwal, only 18-years-old, reflected on how he personally has changed behind the wheel and off the race track.
“It definitely gave me a lot more confidence, in our teams ability and in my own,” he said. “It kind of gave me a little different perspective that maybe I do belong. 2017 was such a weird year, we just kind of got thrown into it and didn’t really know what we were doing. (Tucson last year) was only the second race of the year, so it kind of made me realize there’s a reason that God had put me into this series and I can actually do this. It gave me hope that I might be able to move forward with my racing career.”
Racing-Reference: Kody Vanderwal Career Statistics
Vanderwal admits the results on track haven’t been what they’ve been looking for since Tucson last season, calling it “a pretty slow development,” scoring three top fives in 13 races. However, Vanderwal is confident heading back to Arizona.
“I feel pretty good about it,” he said. “I feel like we can definitely do it again. We took really good notes from the race last year, feel like we can probably get the car close to where the red one was. I have all the confidence in the world in my team and I know there isn’t anybody out there that knows Tucson like I do. That’s a huge advantage.”
But he knows the competition will be stiff per usual with points leader Hailie Deegan as well as South Boston winners Tanner Gray and Derek Kraus making the trek to Tucson. But one driver that most may have brushed by, Dustin Ash, is one that Vanderwal has his eye on as a main challenger.
“There’s going to be some guys there that are going to be really good too,” he said. “I remember one of the first Chilly Willy’s we went to, Dustin made everyone look silly. DGR is coming with Tanner Gray and they’ve been wicked fast everywhere. It won’t be easy but I definitely think it’s doable.”
The Port of Tucson Twin 100s at Tucson Speedway are scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 11.
- Matt Levin returns to his home track of Tucson Speedway leading the series in starts (five). This season, the driver of the No. 10 has scored back-to-back top 10 finishes.
- Tanner Gray and DGR-Crosley is making his second consecutive K&N West start. He’s coming home second at Irwindale in a photo finish to Trevor Huddleston and coming off his first career win at South Boston.
- Austin Thom will make his second career start for Levin Racing this weekend. He finished 14th at Irwindale in his series debut.
- Ash will make his second career NASCAR K&N Pro Series West start for Jefferson Pitts Racing; he finished third at Tucson in 2015. That start also came at Tucson, where he finished third. Ash has 59 Super Late Model wins at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, second all-time at the track, and won the inaugural Chilly Willy 100 at Tucson in 2014.