DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In professional sports, playing a home game is considered an advantage for the competitors.
For James Bickford, driver of the No. 6 Sunrise Ford Ford in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series West, this weekend’s Carneros 200 at Sonoma Raceway can’t come soon enough. The sixteen year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, currently seventh in the series championship points standings, lives just 15 minutes from the track in Napa, California.
“I couldn’t be more excited about this race,” Bickford said. “Sonoma presents a lot of challenges, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Saturday’s race will be Bickford’s first on a road course, and he expects a strong contingent of family and friends to be at the track. He will also be carrying a bit of veteran’s knowledge into the event, courtesy of his cousin, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon.
“He took me around the course in a rental car when they were here for a tire test, and told me what he does in a Sprint Cup car in every corner,” Bickford said of Gordon, who has five wins at Sonoma and nine road course victories in his career, most all-time in NASCAR’s premier series.
Bickford said the first three races in his inaugural K&N Pro Series West season were “a little rough,” but his two most recent outings have been encouraging for him and the entire team.
“At Iowa, we had a solid fourth-place finish among the West cars, and at Kern County, we ran near the front all night and finished sixth. We are definitely headed in the right direction,” Bickford said.
Bickford knows getting his first win of the season on the twisty, 1.99-mile road course won’t be easy.
“There is zero room for mistakes, and you have to stay focused every single lap.”
The Race: The Carneros 200 will be the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West’s 34th visit to the track since 1969. It is the sixth of 14 events on the 2014 schedule.
The Track: Sonoma Raceway opened in 1968 as Sears Point International Raceway on 720 acres that was a dairy farm in the early 1900s. Since then the facility has grown to 1,600 acres and hosts 340 days of racing activity each year.
The Records: The qualifying record was established on June 23, 2012 by Greg Pursley at 92.641 mph (77.331 seconds). The 64-lap race record was set on June 19, 2010 by Andrew Ranger at 69.155 mph (1 hour, 50 minutes, 30 seconds).
SONOMA RACE NOTES
Track Time: Four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers will gain valuable track time on the twisty 1.99-mile Northern California road course by competing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event. Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Michael Annett, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson along with second-year driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are entered in the Carneros 200. It will be the series debut for Annett, Stenhouse and Larson, who won the 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship. It will be the second series start for Dillon, who first raced in the series at Phoenix in 2009. Dillon finished second to Matt Kobyluck in the K&N Pro Series East standings in 2008 as an 18-year-old.
Pursley Knows the Way: Veteran Greg Pursley knows the championship formula and he’s mixing all of the right ingredients in the early going this season. After five races, the California native, who now resides in Parker, Arizona where his Gene Price Motorsports Team is based, has a season-worst finish of fourth which came in the season opener at Phoenix International Raceway – a race that he led until getting tangled with lapped traffic. Pursley picked up his first win of the season in the series’ last outing on May 24 at Kern County Raceway Park and leads David Mayhew in the season standings by 18 points while leading a series-best 182 laps.
Keeping the Pressure On: If not for a fuel pump issue at Phoenix, Mayhew could sit atop the championship standings. Since finishing 24th in the season’s first race, the Atascadero, California driver has four top-three finishes including wins at Stockton 99 Speedway and the K&N Pro Series West portion of the combination event at Iowa Speedway.
Next Contingent: NASCAR Next’s Dylan Lupton and Brandon McReynolds, who call the K&N Pro Series West home, will be joined by Cole Custer at Sonoma for the Carneros 200. Custer, a Bill McAnally Racing teammate of McReynolds, won the series’ season opener at Phoenix and has a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East victory at Richmond International Raceway.
Good Experience: At just 17 years of age, Matt Tifft is adding more road course experience to his racing résumé by participating in the Carneros 200. The Hinckley, Ohio teenager raced in three K&N Pro Series road racing events last season – Miller Motorsports Park in the West and Virginia International Raceway and Road Atlanta in the East – with a best finish of fifth at MMP in Tooele, Utah.
First Looks: Beyond the four Sprint Cup Series drivers and Tifft, five drivers – Johnny Borneman III, Brady Flaherty, Jim Inglebright and Tom Klauer – will get their first taste of K&N Pro Series West competition this season at Sonoma. Inglebright has top-10 finishes in three of his last four Sonoma starts.
West Coast Kudos: The West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction and dinner at the Meritage Resort in Napa, California on Thursday. Members of the 2014 class to be honored are Bob Bondurant, founder of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving that has several NASCAR drivers as graduates; Marshall Chesrown, two-time NASCAR championship car owner for Rick Carelli and former owner and operator of Colorado National Speedway in Dacono, Colorado; Ron Eaton, winner of 11 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West races and three NASCAR Northwest Tour titles; Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway since 1991; and Mike Skinner, veteran of 569 NASCAR national series starts and winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ inaugural event and championship in 1995.
Keep the Math Straight: The Carneros 200 will cover 64 laps on the 1.99-mile road course for a total of 204.966 kilometers (127.36 miles).
HOME TRACKS: Partridge Paces California Standings
Through June 8, Irwindale Speedway’s Ryan Partridge leads the California contingent in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I standings. Sixteen-year-old Cole Custer, also is competing at Irwindale out of Ladera Ranch, is second followed by Toni Marie McCray in third. Partridge and Kern County Raceway Park’s Brian Richardson, who is fifth in the state standings, each have four wins on the season.
LAST TIME OUT: Armed Forces 150 at Kern County Raceway Park
After a spirited battle with David Mayhew, Greg Pursley grabbed the win in the Armed Forces 150 at Kern County Raceway Park, his 19th career victory in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series. The win was Pursley’s first in the 2014 campaign and tied him with Bill Schmitt for seventh all-time. He also picked up his 18th pole award at Kern County, good for eighth position on the career poles list.
NEXT TIME OUT: Stateline Speedway
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West makes its inaugural visit to Stateline Speedway, a quarter-mile asphalt oval in Post Falls, Idaho on Saturday, July 12.
NASCAR IMC – Photo by Getty Images