DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Thursday’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West finale, the Casino Arizona 100 at Phoenix International Raceway, is just another race in a long season. At least that’s what Greg Pursley is telling everyone.
The 2011 series champion heads to the one-mile oval in Avondale, Arizona, with a 21-point lead atop the championship standings. He’ll be competing on a track where he has three wins, eight top fives and nine top 10s in 12 career starts. Still, Pursley maintains that he won’t treat this race any differently.
“We’re just going to do the same thing that we always do when preparing for a race,” said the driver of the No. 26 Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford. “We’re going there with our same set-up as if it were any other race.”
Pursley can clinch his second championship by finishing 17th place or better in Thursday’s event. He’s only finished outside of the top 20 twice in 12 starts at PIR — 24th in 2008
“We’re 21 points in the lead right now but that’s not a big lead,” said Pursley. “A flat tire or something could really take you out in that respect. If the opportunity presents itself then we’re absolutely going to go for the win, but overall we’re looking to get in a safe position and ride the 100 laps out.” and 24th in the 2011 season finale — but has an average finish of 7.6, including a fourth-place effort in the season opener.
The Casino Arizona 100 will be the 99th series start for the Newhall, California, native. He made his series debut in 1999. He has been running full-time in the series since 2009 and in those 82 starts, Pursley has 20 wins, 20 poles, 56 top fives and 69 top 10s. He also ran 16 races between 1999 to 2008, and won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion in 2004 while running a Late Model at California’s Irwindale Speedway.
As a racing veteran closes in on the championship trophy, several rookies will be looking to learn and grow on a track that has become a launching pad for the sport’s stars in recent years. NASCAR Next driver Gray Gaulding earned his first NASCAR win in this event last November while fellow NASCAR Next driver Cole Custer, who established the national series record as youngest winner with his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win this year, won the K&N Pro West race at Phoenix in February.
Ten rookies are currently entered in Thursday’s season finale, including NASCAR K&N Pro Series East regulars Austin Hill and Jay Beasley.
“Going into this race, trying to win a championship with a lot of rookies there, we’re going to have to be a little more careful,” said Pursley. “We’re going to have to pick our passing places, find a spot that we can run in where we’re not too pressured from behind. I think we just have find a good spot to run in, ride out the first 80 laps, and then, if we’re in a position to race for the win then we’ll just have to be very careful about it.”
The Phoenix race is the 14th and final event in 2014 for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, as the West’s oldest stock car circuit wraps up its 61st season.
RACE: Casino Arizona 100
PLACE: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz.
DATE: Thursday, Nov. 6
TIME: 5:30 p.m. MT
TELECAST: FOX Sports 1, Nov. 16, 10 a.m. ET
TRACK LAYOUT: 1-mile paved oval
2013 WINNER: Gray Gaulding
2013 POLESITTER: Cole Custer
EVENT SCHEDULE: Thursday: Final Practice 10 a.m. – 12 p.m., Qualifying 2:05 p.m., Driver Introductions 5 p.m.
TRACK TWITTER: @Phoenixraceway
EVENT HASHTAG: #CasinoArizona100
The Race: This event marks the final event of the 14-race schedule for the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. It is the second of two series visits to PIR this year. The series kicked off its season at PIR in February.
The Procedure: The starting field is 30 cars, including provisionals. The first 26 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 50 laps.
The Track: PIR is a one-mile superspeedway with 10 to 11 degrees banking between Turns 1 and 2; 10 to 11 degrees banking at the apex of the dog-leg; and 8 to 9 degrees banking in Turn 4. This will be the 32nd stand-alone Phoenix race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
Records: Qualifying: Greg Pursley, March 2, 2013, 133.949 mph, 26.876 sec.; 100-Lap Race: David Gilliland, Jan. 30, 2005, 108.532 mph, 55 minutes 17 seconds.
History: This marks the 21st time for Phoenix International Raceway to host the season finale for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. The series wrapped up its season at PIR for eight straight years from 1977 to 1984. Seven of the combination events with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series marked the final event, culminating in 1995. More recently, the series concluded its season at Phoenix in 2004 and then again from 2010 through 2013.
K&N East Invasion
The entry list for the Phoenix race includes four full-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East drivers: Jesse Little, Gaulding, Hill and Beasley.
Little, 17, of Sherrills Ford, N.C., won his first series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 11 and was the 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. He finished sixth in the 2014 K&N Pro Series East standings. He will be making his fourth appearance in the K&N West, where his father, Chad, garnered the rookie title in 1986 and won the championship in 1987.
Gaulding, 16, earned his first career victory in this event one year ago. The Colonial Heights, Va., native became the youngest race winner in K&N West history at 15 years, 8 months and 30 days, eclipsing the mark of 16 years and 2 months established by Dylan Kwasniewski in Aug. 2011.
Cole Custer, who earned the victory in the season opener at PIR, is also scheduled to run in Thursday’s finale. The Ladera Ranch, California, native split his time between the K&N West, K&N East and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2014, earning victories in each series and becoming the youngest winner in Camping World Truck Series history.
Where Stars Are Made
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series event at Phoenix has become a launching pad for the sport’s stars in recent years. Joey Logano (2007) and Ryan Blaney (2011) scored their first NASCAR wins there, as did Gaulding last November. Custer, who established the national series record as youngest winner with his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win this year, won the K&N Pro West race at Phoenix in February. In addition, Ty Dillon finished third in the West race in 2010; crossing the line behind Blaney in 2011 was Alex Bowman, now in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and current NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott in third. Dylan Kwasniewski, a rookie this year in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, finished second in the K&N Pro West race in Nov. 2012 to clinch his first NASCAR championship.
PHOENIX RACE NOTES
Special Event: NASCAR Next Drivers: Kenzie Ruston, Ben Rhodes, Brandon McReynolds, Erik Jones, Jesse Little, Gray Gaulding, Dylan Lupton and Austin Hill – will visit Mountain Sky Junior High School on Wednesday, Nov. 5 from 1 to 2 p.m. MT. The classroom visit is part of a wider education effort by The NASCAR Foundation to help children learn to win, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Kennington Returns: The entry list for Phoenix includes D.J. Kennington, a two-time champion in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1. Kennington of St. Thomas, Ontario has one top-five and four top-10 finishes in six K&N Pro Series West starts, including a best finish of fifth-place in this year’s season opener.
Newhouse Is Back: Post Falls, Idaho, native Hannah Newhouse returns to the K&N West in the Casino Arizona 100. The 17-year-old driver set the series mark for highest finish by a female competitor, a sixth-place effort, in her lone series start on Sept. 29, 2012 at Motiva Motor Speedway in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The freshman at Boise State, where she’s attending on a motorsports scholarship, recently attended the 2014 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine.
LAST TIME OUT: Roseville
Christian PaHud, the 21-year-old from Daytona, Ohio, earned a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West start by virtue of winning the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge and turned that opportunity into his first NASCAR victory in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 at All American Speedway. PaHud, driving the No. 99 PEAK Toyota for Bill McAnally Racing, won the Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day. In a race that featured six lead changes, he held off a late charge by Sunoco Rookie of the Year James Bickford to claim the victory.
NEXT TIME OUT: Night of Champions Awards
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West champion will be crowned as part of the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards ceremony onSaturday, Dec. 13 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
-NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications Press Release. Photo Credit: Getty Images