The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West heads to Kern County Raceway Park this week for a special NAPA AUTO PARTS 150 event on Thursday, the second of four races in eight days that make up the biggest season kickoff in the history of the series.
The NAPA 500 Challenge features 500 laps of competition in those four races at three tracks, with big bonuses up for grabs.
Four Bill McAnally Racing drivers – series veteran Chris Eggleston, 16-year-old Todd Gilliland, 15-year-old series rookie Derek Kraus, and 18-year-old Riley Herbst – will be among those battling for their share of the winnings at the Kern County track southwest of Bakersfield, California.
Gilliland – a Southern California native who resides in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina – is focused on a repeat win at the high-banked, half-mile track. His victory there last year in the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry was one of six he scored during the season while capturing the championship as a rookie.
“I feel like our car at Kern County Raceway was one of our best we showed up with at a race track last year,” said Gilliland, a member of the NASCAR Next program that spotlights NASCAR’s rising stars. “I’m really looking forward to going back there. I feel like we’re going to be just as good, if not better, this year.”
Gilliland is coming off a second-place finish in Arizona at Tucson Speedway, where the series opened its season on Saturday. He is running the full schedules in both the East and West divisions of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this year.
Eggleston – the 2015 series champion from Erie, Colorado – finished fifth in each of his two previous visits to the Kern County track, in 2015 and 2016.
“We’re looking to improve on our run from last year,” said Eggleston, who drives the No. 99 NAPA Filters / H2O Fire Protection Toyota Camry. “I felt like we had a good car. My BMR team had the car dialed in. We kind of got shuffled back on the last restart.
“The track is fast and a lot of fun,” he said. “It should be good racing there on a Thursday night under the lights.”
Eggleston is coming off a win in the season opener 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 of Stratford, Wisconsin will be in the No. 19 Carlyle Tools / NGK Toyota Camry, making just his second series start and his first at Kern.
“I really like the track,” said Kraus, whose first laps in a K&N Pro Series car were at KCRP during a driver evaluation test session in the off-season. “It’s a great facility and it’s a track that’s fun to drive.”
Kraus finished sixth in his series debut at Tucson.
Herbst of Las Vegas is in his second year in the K&N West, running a limited schedule while competing full-time in the ARCA Racing Series. He finished fourth at Kern last year as a rookie. He wheels the No. 54 UFC GYM / NOS Energy Drink Toyota Camry.
“I’m very excited to go back to Kern County,” Herbst said. “That track is amazingly fast and smooth. I love the high speeds of the track and the side-by-side racing.”
Herbst finished ninth at Tucson.
Thursday’s race, which is scheduled to be televised on NBCSN on March 28 at 4 p.m. PT, is the second event on a 14-race schedule for 2017. It marks the sixth visit by the series to Kern County Raceway Park and the first of two series races there this year.
Action on the track Wednesday night will include the BMR two-seater NAPA Toyota, as NAPA guests get to go for a lap around the speedway. NAPA guests on Thursday, meanwhile, will get to view all the racing excitement from a VIP suite.
From Kern, the circuit will head to Irwindale Speedway for Twin NAPA 100s on Saturday, March 25.