DAYTONA BEACH. Fla. – When the curtain closed on the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season, Greg Pursley raised the championship trophy for the second time and then announced his retirement from racing.
His departure leaves a wide-open race for the 2015 championship, which kicks off Saturday with the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif.
And there are plenty of talented young drivers looking to make their mark in Pursley’s absence.
Brandon McReynolds, who finished second in the fall race at Kern last season, is one of the strong candidates primed to lead the championship race. The 23-year-old was fourth in the championship points with 11 top five and 12 top 10s for Bill McAnally Racing. McReynolds is a member of the NASCAR Next program, an industry initiative designed to spotlight the sport’s rising stars.
James Bickford, the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, also returned after a freshman campaign in which he finished fifth in points with one win, eight top five and 10 top 10 finishes. The series will see several other notable young drivers, including a pair of females — Hannah Newhouse, 18, and Nicole Behar, 17.
RACE: NAPA Auto Parts 150
PLACE: Kern County (Calif.) Raceway Park
DATE: Saturday, March 28
TIME: 8:30 p.m. PT
TV SCHEDULE: NBCSN, Friday, April 3, 6:30 p.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: Half-mile asphalt oval
2014 WINNER: Greg Pursley
2014 POLE SITTER: Greg Pursley
EVENT SCHEDULE: Practice: 11:30 a.m. -12:15 p.m.; Rookie Only Practice: 12:45-1:15 p.m.; Final Practice: 1:15-2:00 p.m.; Two-Lap Qualifying: 2:30 p.m.; Driver Autograph Session: 5:30 p.m.; Driver Introductions: 8:00 p.m.
TRACK TWITTER: @KernRaceway
EVENT TWITTER HASHTAG: #NAPA150
The Race: The NAPA Auto Parts 150 opens the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship season. It’s the first of 12 oval track events and 13 races overall on the schedule. This is the series’ fourth visit to the California oval.
The Procedure: The starting field is 26 cars, including provisionals. The first 22 cars will qualify through two time lap trials while the remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (75 miles).
The Track: Kern County Raceway Park sits on 120 acres and opened on May 18, 2013 with a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event. The facility has seating for 5,000 spectators and is expendable to more than 15,000. It is a half-mile oval with progressive banking of 12 and 14 degrees in turns and eight degrees of banking on the front and backstretches.
NAPA Auto Parts 150 NOTES:
Fresh Faces: Newhouse is used to being a trendsetter. She already holds the record for the youngest female driver to win the NASCAR Whelen-All American Series Division I race. The Boise State University student will compete full-time this year in the series. Ryan Partridge, the 2014 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series California champion, will compete for Bob Bruncati and Sunrise Ford this season as Bickford’s teammate. Chris Eggleston, who won at Colorado National Speedway last year, will drive full-time for Bill McAnally Racing as McReynolds’ teammate. Newcomers Gracin Raz and Noah Gragson will compete for new team Jefferson Pitts Racing, owned by veterans Jerry Pitts and Jeff Jefferson. Behar will return to the series for her first full-season. She competed in two events last season, at Idaho’s State Line Speedway and All American Speedway in Roseville, California, where she finished sixth and eighth, respectively.
Sargeant Heads West: With two weeks until the K&N Pro Series East event at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway, rookie Dalton Sargeant is heading west. The HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks driver finished second in the east opener at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway in February. The 17-year-old will race for Jefferson Pitts Racing at Kern.
Veteran to Watch: With all the focus on the young drivers heading into the weekend, the driver to watch may be veteran David Mayhew, 33, of Atascadero, California. Mayhew finished third in points last year, earning four wins, three poles, three top fives and three top 10s. The season veteran, whose plans for this season are not finalized, has an average finish of 5.6 at Kern, including a third-place run in last year’s event. Mayhew will be making his 87th K&N Pro Series West start on Saturday.
It’s NASCAR Week in Kern: With proclamations from the Kern County mayor, the week leading up to the March 28 race will be NASCAR week. Thursday night will feature a hauler show/hot road show and concert presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Chuy’s Restaurant. Fans will get the chance to have a behind scenes look at the haulers and cars as well as meet some K&N Pro Series West drivers.
Home Tracks: Double Header Season Openers
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series will have open its season this weekend at Kern hosting its weekly divisions before the NAPA Auto 150. The Spec Modifieds will open their season with a 50-Lap feature at 6:16 p.m. and the Late Models – the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I – will follow afterwards at 7 p.m. with a 75-Lap event.
-NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. Photo credit: NASCAR/Getty Images