Cue the jaws music.
After winning last season’s event at Sonoma Raceway, Will Rodgers will return this weekend to defend his title. Only this time with a team he’s never driven for in his 30-plus starts in the K&N Pro Series.
"Excited to be going back to Sonoma Raceway," Rodgers told NASCAR.com. "This deal came together pretty much last minute. Matt Levin has provided the opportunity for me to jump in a car and defend that win. I think we’ll have a shot at giving it a good one. It’ll be my fourth year in a row running that race, but obviously coming back to hopefully defend my win from last year there."
Racing-Reference: Will Rodgers Career Statistics
Rodgers will be racing the No. 40 Risk Management Advisors Ford, supported by the American Liver Foundation. Since his last series start (August of 2018), Rodgers has been focusing on the business front of his career. From securing sponsorship to developing new relationships, he’s planning to solidify plans for 2020, a year where he "hopes" to be in the national series.
Rodgers’ four K&N wins have come on road courses (Watkins Glen, 2017, New Jersey (2017, 2018) and Sonoma (2018)). Coming in as one of the favorites and the defending winner comes with some added expectations.
LAST SEASON: Will Rodgers On Cruise Control At Sonoma
"I think there’s always pressure going back to defend a win," he said. "Obviously you don’t want to go back and make a fool out of yourself and not have a chance of winning again. This year is a little fresher, given the fact that I’m going to be in brand new equipment, stuff I’ve never raced before on a road course, with a team that hasn’t been proven on a road course as of yet. That gives me some added pressure to try and prove they’re good wherever they run and also back up my results."
With over 30 cars entered, the field is by far the largest and most competitive field of the K&N West season to date.
"The last few years have been pretty stacked," he said. "This year is definitely included with one of those. Got a bunch of Xfinity and Cup guys that’ll be showing up along with K&N regulars. It’s positive pressure as long as I keep spinning it that way and perform the way I know that I can."
There’t no doubt Rodgers wants to and can win. But he understands the situation laid out before him. Driving with a new team unproven on road courses with drivers who are not as familiar as him presents a unique challenge that he’s up for.
"Being that I have a lot of experience on road courses and the reputation, they’re bringing me in on a chance," he said. "And what I’m to do is carry the flag for the team and make sure all the drivers are up to par on how to run Sonoma and be competitive. Advising the equipment, making the necessary adjustments to be competitive. I’ve been training a few of those drivers. Matt Levin and Austin Thom included, who’ll be my teammates. Along with some other K&N West regulars. Hopefully some of that will pay off."
As a child, Rodgers was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a severe and chronic disease of the liver. Thankfully, he went into remission at the age of five. But Rodgers is adamant that shouldn’t diminish the importance of the issue he has overcome and lived healthily with for over two decades.
"I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the liver community, given that it’s such a huge deal around the world where not a lot of people know about it," he said. "There’s never been an ambassador for liver disease, at least a celebrity/athlete/politician that’s been willing to speak up about it. I’m trying to fill that role given my path, what I do currently. I know I can make a huge difference."
Rodgers’ pursuit of back-to-back Sonoma victories will take place in the Procore 200 on Saturday, June 22 at 1:30 p.m. PDT. FansChoice.TV will have live coverage of the event.