AVONDALE, Ariz. – Nick Drake led wire-to-wire, holding off the competition in a green-white-checkered finish, to capture his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series victory with a win in the Casino Arizona 100 as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West wrapped up its season at Phoenix International Raceway on Thursday.
Drake, who raced as a rookie this season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, was making his second appearance in the K&N West. He had finished third at Phoenix in February in his previous series start.
The 18-year-old from Mooresville, North Carolina dominated Thursday’s event – winning the pole award during qualifying earlier in the day and keeping his No. 99 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota out front for all 103 laps around the one-mile oval.
“It’s pretty special for all our NAPA guys,” Drake said of his win. “To finally get the job done and do it the way we did, leading every lap, it was pretty cool.”
Drake – who had run up front in races during the season, only to have things go sour in the final laps – expressed his relief to finally get the win.
“Being so close all year long and to finally get it done in the last race of the year, it’s going to make the winter a lot easier for all of us,” he said of his Bill McAnally Racing team. “Everyone is pretty pumped up here. It gives me a lot of confidence that we can actually get the job done and put the whole deal together. Going into next year, we know we can run up front and win races.”
To get the victory, Drake had to hold on in a final two-lap dash to the finish that featured three-wide racing for the lead.
“I knew green-white-checkered (finishes) always get hairy, no matter where you are or what series you’re in,” Drake said. “I had to do everything right and I slipped a little bit in (Turns) 1 and 2 and we were three-wide going down the back stretch getting in and we all got together. We all hung onto it. I came out of (Turn) 4 in the lead.”
Drake’s biggest challenge earlier came from his BMR teammate Cole Custer, who moved from fourth on the grid to second by Lap 21 and shadowed the leader for most of the event. Their cars came in contact in Turn 3 when Custer attempted an outside pass just after a Lap 90 restart. Drake maintained the lead, although smoke trailed from his right front tire during the late caution that led to the race distance being extended.
“I was concerned, but at that point there was nothing I could do about it,” Drake said of the tire rub. “I tried not to give it too much thought. If it were to blow, we would have went into the wall. If it didn’t blow, we would win the race. So, it was out of my control. It’s obviously not something you want to see with two laps to go.”
Custer went high in the turn after the contact and lost multiple positions, then had to battle back in the closing laps to finish third in his No. 00 NAPA AUTO PARTS/HAAS Automation entry.
“We had a real good car,” said the 16-year-old who hails from Ladera Ranch, California. “The first half, I felt like we had the best car and I was just saving my stuff. We were just riding behind Nick there. After the halfway, either they made their car better or we got really loose and I just couldn’t get the gas down coming off the corner. That was kind of what hurt us a little bit.
“The last few laps it was real fun racing,” Custer said. “Me and Nick were both going for the win. We rubbed a little bit. I was running him a little bit tight and he was not going to back off because it was for his first win. I think that was just good hard racing. The last green-white-checkered, we were going three-wide. That was some of the best racing I thought we’ve had all year. ”
Series veteran Greg Pursley finished ninth to clinch his second series championship.
Drake and Custer led the way among a four-car challenge by BMR. All four drivers were in the top 10 by Lap 75, but misfortune struck for Brandon McReynolds and Chris Eggleston in the closing laps. McReynolds’ No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota scraped the wall in Turn 1 after the Lap 90 restart and he dropped from sixth to finish 20th. Eggleston faded from 10th to finish 22nd, meanwhile.
Drake, who made the transition this year from racing open-wheel sprint cars on dirt to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, finished 10th in the K&N East championship standings – with one pole, four top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 16 starts. His career-best series finish of second came in May in the K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway.
Drake became the fourth first-time winner in BMR’s No. 99 entry this season. Patrick Staropoli got his first win at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway, Eggleston scored his first win at Colorado National Speedway and Christian PaHud scored a win in his series debut at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif.
Custer was trying to add to his record-setting season, which began with his win in the K&N West season opener at Phoenix in February. The NASCAR Next driver, who competed in select events in the East and West divisions of the K&N Pro Series this year, scored a K&N East victory at Richmond (Virginia) International Raceway in April.
Custer is also racing a limited schedule in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where with a win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September he became the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history. In June, Custer had become the youngest driver to win a pole in the truck series. In addition to the victory and two poles, he has five top-10 finishes in eight starts in that series.
Three of his five career starts in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West were at Phoenix – where in addition to his win he has two poles.
Custer is doing double duty at PIR, returning to compete in the truck series race on Friday.
McReynolds, a NASCAR Next driver who saw his streak of nine consecutive top-five finishes come to an end on Thursday, was wrapping up his first full season of competition in the K&N West. The 23-year-old from Mooresville, North Carolina finished the year fourth in the championship standings with two poles, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. He had two career-best second-place finishes this season.
Eggleston, who took the win in K&N West action at Colorado National Speedway earlier this season, was making just his fourth series start, driving the No. 25 H2O Fire Protection/NAPA Filters Toyota.
The Casino Arizona 100 is scheduled to be televised on FOX Sports 1 on Nov. 16 at noon ET.