The biggest season kickoff in the history of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West culminates in Southern California at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday with a first-ever series doubleheader.
The Twin NAPA 100s at Irwindale are the final two of four races in eight days that make up the start of the 2017 season, known as the NAPA 500 Challenge.
The four races feature 500 laps of competition with special bonus awards up for grabs. The series opened its season in Arizona at Tucson Speedway on Saturday, March 18. The circuit will visit Kern County Raceway Park near Bakersfield, California on Thursday, March 23, before heading to Irwindale.
Bill McAnally Racing has 12 wins at Irwindale Speedway, including victories the past three years. BMR’s lineup for this year’s event includes defending series champion Todd Gilliland, who won there last year; the 2015 series champion Chris Eggleston, who went to Victory Lane there in 2015; series rookie Derek Kraus, and second-year driver Riley Herbst.
Gilliland – a Southern California native who resides in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina – looks to double his success of a year ago at Irwindale Speedway, when he scored his first of six series victories for 2016 in the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry. The 16-year-old, third-generation driver went on to have a sensational season – winning the series championship as a rookie.
This year, he is running the full schedules in both the East and West divisions of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
“I love the Irwindale race track,” said Gilliland, a member of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights NASCAR’s rising stars. “The shape of it and the progressive banking makes for great racing.
“The Twin 100 races, with the super late model race in between, will be a great night for the fans and a new twist for the K&N Pro Series schedule,” he said.
Gilliland finished second in the season opener in Arizona at Tucson Speedway on Saturday.
Eggleston, who drives BMR’s No. 99 NAPA Filters / H2O Fire Protection Toyota Camry, finished third last year at Irwindale after winning in 2015.
“I’m so looking forward to going back to Irwindale,” said Eggleston, who hails from Erie, Colorado. “It’s where I won my second career K&N race for Bill McAnally Racing. That place is so fun, riding around the top on the cushion. It’s another one where you have to conserve tires and be careful not to go too hard.
“I know all the guys at BMR will get the No. 99 NAPA Filters Toyota up front,” Eggleston said. “We’ll try to double down that night and get two wins.”
Eggleston won the season opener Saturday at Tucson. He would net a giant $100,000 bonus if he can win all four races in the NAPA 500 Challenge. Other bonuses are up for grabs in the program, as well, for drivers finishing in the top three, top five, and top 10 in all four events.
Kraus will be competing in his first series event at Irwindale, driving the No. 19 Carlyle Tools / NGK Toyota Camry for BMR.
“Irwindale will be a new track for me,” said the 15-year-old from Stratford, Wisconsin. “My only experience with that one is on iRacing. Hopefully, that will help me and we’ll have a really good run there.”
Kraus says the doubleheader fits his approach to racing.
“I really like racing constantly and getting into the most races we can,” he said.
Kraus finished sixth in his series debut at Tucson.
Herbst of Las Vegas finished sixth as a rookie in last year’s K&N West race at Irwindale. He is running a limited series schedule this season, while racing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series. He drives the No. 54 UFC GYM / NOS Energy Drink Toyota Camry.
“Irwindale is a track that we could finish in the top three in both twin 100-lap races,” said Herbst. “It’s a track I love.”
He added his perspective, meanwhile, on the doubleheader there.
“The twin 100s are a very interesting concept,” he said. “I feel like it will be good racing, but we will need to be careful because we have another race that same night.”
Herbst came away from Tucson with a ninth-place finish.
Irwindale Speedway has long been a popular track for BMR, with the team winning eight of 11 series races there between 2001 and 2007. In addition, BMR won the inaugural NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at the speedway in 2003. With a win at the state-of-the-art facility in 2014, Patrick Staropoli started the team’s current winning streak – leading to the victories by Eggleston and Gilliland.
Various NAPA activities are slated at Irwindale, starting off with BMR providing special rides for NAPA guests in the two-seater NAPA Toyota on Friday evening. The NAPA Hospitality event on Saturday is always a focal point along the speedway’s busy midway.
The twin NAPA 100s, which are scheduled to be televised on NBCSN on April 1 at 4 p.m. PT, will be the third and fourth events on a 14-race series schedule. Irwindale Speedway has hosted 24 series races since opening in 1999.
The four series races which make up this year’s season kickoff parallel the Western swing by NASCAR’s top premiere series – with the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Auto Club Speedway in nearby Fontana the same weekend the K&N West is at Irwindale.