Attendance was booming at Kern County Raceway’s Friday practice for the 3rd Annual SRL Winter Showdown. Forty-six drivers traveled to Bakersfield, California but one outshined the rest with a dominating persistence.
Willie Allen ran fastest in four consecutive sessions of the day’s practice. The Tennessee native expressed his satisfaction in simple words.
Allen made only a few changes to the setup of his No. 4 Super Late Model throughout the day. Each alteration ended up being an improvement, including a new shock combination.
“We have a lot of stuff that’s new on the car to start the 2017 season,” Allen explained. “We’ve worked really hard out in the shop and it’s exciting to see it pay off.”
Allen hopes that his early weekend success is a foreshadowing of a bigger victory on Saturday.
“We’re going to keep plugging along and hopefully everything will keep falling our way,” Allen said. “It’s a big field and today definitely gave us confidence moving into the weekend.”
No team was able to match Allen’s consistency, including big-name competitors such as Erik Jones. The 2015 Camping World Truck Series Champion opted not to follow the minimalist strategy of his competitor which put him just short of clenching the fastest time in the final round of practice.
“We’ve been making changes all day long in the car to get a little bit better in the center and try to keep the drive off in it which has been our strong suit here,” Jones said.
Jones spoke of the track conditions which varied drastically throughout the day as scattered clouds drifted over the speedway.
“Conditions changed a lot, especially in that last practice,” Jones said. “We went from being pretty warm and sunny to getting shaded up quite a bit there towards the end. Times definitely fluctuated with the heat. It’s a sensitive track, which will play into qualifying tomorrow.”
Short track experience on the West Coash is something that Jones admits he lacks. Drivers like Allen and Pollard who are also a long distance from home yet doing well, adds to his determination.
“It’s a really cool place, though more challenging than I thought it would be,” Jones said. “To see a diverse car count like this is really encouraging for sure. A lot of time, work and money has been put into this event.”
Jones will continue to make the necessary changes to his machine to try and adapt with the weather this weekend. He believes his team just needs a little more time to get it perfected.
Two-time defending winner of the Winter Showdown Bubba Pollard also struggled slightly with the drastic climate changes.
“It’s always hard with the sun coming out and disappearing like it did, which cooled everything off,” Pollard said. “It definitely changes the racetrack, making it tighter, and you have to keep adjusting to that.”
Pollard said that a well-balanced car is the key for these situations. He believes if your machine is balanced, finer tuning is all that will be needed come Saturday.
“Things are going to change a lot even by tomorrow, but we’ve worked really hard,” Pollard said. “We’ve only made small changes to the car and have achieved a good balance so we’re happy with it. It’s new, so we’re shaking it down and working a few things out.”
Greg Pursely was the only other driver to come close to beating Willie Allen’s time in the final practice session. Pursely was content with his car’s performance but is anticipating this weekend and any challenges it may bring.
“The car is really good,” Purely said. “We came out here Tuesday and tested and have pretty much stayed on old tires up until our mock qualifying run today. It’s supposed to be colder Saturday which might start us all over, but we’ll be close.”
Fans can take a look at Thursday’s practice session on-demand by visiting Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage presented by AP Brakes and JRi Shocks.
Those unable to make it out to Kern County this weekend can watch the Winter Showdown beginning at 6:30 p.m. PT/9:30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Click here to purchase a live pay-per-view video ticket today.
-By Melissa Strahely, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com