Four drivers from Bill McAnally Racing are ready for the green flag to wave as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West launches its 2017 season in Arizona at Tucson Speedway with the NAPA AUTO PARTS 150 on Saturday.
The Tucson event is the first of four races in eight days that make up the biggest season kickoff in the history of the series.
BMR drivers headed to Tucson include defending series champion Todd Gilliland in the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, 2015 series champion Chris Eggleston in the No. 99 NAPA Filters / H20 Fire Protection Toyota Camry, 15-year-old series rookie Derek Kraus in the No. 19 Carlyle Tools / NAPA Tools & Equipment Toyota Camry, and second-year driver Riley Herbst in the No. 54 UFC GYM / NOS Energy Drink Toyota Camry.
The 2017 season kickoff, dubbed the NAPA 500 Challenge, features 500 laps of competition in four races at three tracks – Tucson Speedway; Kern County Raceway Park near Bakersfield, California; and Southern California’s Irwindale Speedway. Bonuses are up for grabs, including a giant $100,000 award for any driver who wins all four events in the NAPA 500 Challenge.
Gilliland aims to carry over momentum from his sensational rookie season of a year ago when he won the series title, while scoring six victories. Eggleston, who had two wins last year, is also in the hunt for another series championship. Although a series rookie, Kraus looks to challenge his teammates and continue the success he has experienced in his quick progression up the racing ranks. Herbst, meanwhile, is running a limited schedule in the series, while competing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series this year.
All four BMR drivers look for a strong run at Tucson to get the season started.
“I think it’s going to be a really important race for us,” said Gilliland, a member of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights NASCAR’s rising stars. “The way we started last year, with the first two K&N West wins, was a big momentum booster to start the season. It got us an early lead in the points, which made it easier to manage through the whole season.”
The 16-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina finished second last year at Tucson Speedway.
“I feel like we’re going to be really good, again,” said Gilliland, who is doing double duty this year, running the full schedules in both the East and West divisions of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. “My crew chief, Chris Lawson, had some ideas that will make us better. I think we’re going to unload quite a bit closer this year and fine tune it and be in contention for the win.”
Eggleston finished third, just behind Gilliland, at Tucson last year.
“We’re really excited to go to Tucson,” Eggleston said. “It’s such a fun place to race at. There are so many grooves. You can run the bottom; you can run the middle; you can run the top. Yet it’s such a strategic race to save tires. You’re going to see a lot of guys dropping back and a lot of passing. It should be a really good show for the fans.
“I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel and working with all the BMR guys,” said Eggleston, who hails from Erie, Colorado. “It’s been a long off season and I’m excited to get racing under way.”
Herbst, an 18-year-old from Las Vegas, returns to Tucson Speedway after finishing seventh there a year ago in his rookie season.
“Tucson is a great track for good racing in all three lanes,” Herbst said. “I’m excited to get back there and better my results from last year.”
Kraus of Stratford, Wisconsin will be getting his first shot at the Tucson track, as he makes his series debut.
“I’ve watched the race from Tucson a few times on You Tube,” said Kraus. “It looks like a really fun track. Guys have told me there’s not a lot of grip. I can relate that to a track I run at home, in Wausau. So, I’ll rely on my experience there and look to get a good run.”
Kraus competed last month in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East season opener in Florida at New Smyrna Speedway, where he came away with a third-place finish.
“We look to keep the momentum rolling,” he said. “We’ve got a really good crew at Bill McAnally Racing and they’ve helped me a lot adjusting to these cars.”
From Tucson, the series will travel to Kern County Raceway Park for a NAPA 150 race on Thursday, March 23, and then to Irwindale Speedway for Twin NAPA 100s on Saturday, March 25.
The four series races that make up the NAPA 500 Challenge parallel the Western swing by NASCAR’s top premiere series, with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR XFINITY Series competing at Phoenix International Raceway the same weekend as the K&N West season opener in Tucson.
Leading up to the Tucson event, BMR President Bill McAnally is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a NAPA AutoCare Conference in Phoenix for attendees representing more than 75 NAPA AutoCare Centers throughout Arizona. He will be accompanied by the BMR drivers.
NAPA activities at Tucson Speedway will feature a NAPA Hospitality event on Saturday. In addition, BMR will provide NAPA guests with rides around the track in the two-seater NAPA Toyota on Friday.
The Tucson race is slated to be televised on NBCSN on March 24 at 5:30 p.m. PT. It will be the 15th series visit to the 3/8-mile track, including five season openers for the series held there from 1995 to 1999. The 1999 event was won by Sean Woodside as he began his championship season with BMR in the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS entry.