Watkins Glen, NY - It was a day of firsts for Will Rodgers. In his first ever NASCAR K&N Pro Series East start, he became a first-time winner.
The Murrieta, California, native wheeled his No. 7 Solvang Brewing Company Ford to Victory Lane for the first time in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series career, holding off Ruben Garcia Jr. and Todd Gilliland on an overtime restart.
"We fired off right off the truck really well," Rodgers said post-race. "I knew we were going to have a really good piece for the race. It was just a matter of making the right moves at the right time."
With three laps to go, Max Papis blew an engine and left oil down on the track before the bus stop. The race ultimately had to be red flagged for extensive clean-up, so Rodgers had a lot of time to think about the restart that ultimately changed his life.
"We've been struggling all year on restarts," Rodgers, who is competing full-time in the K&N Pro Series West this season, said post-race. "It's still something I'm trying to learn. This is my 14th or 15th stock car race, so I'm still learning. I needed to get a good restart and barrel it into the corner pretty deep to keep those guys behind me. That's what happened, and we were able to clear them coming out of Turn 2."
Rodgers finished second to 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Carneros 200 from Sonoma Raceway last month. Harvick joined Rodgers in the winner's circle after the win, and Rodgers said he took some lessons learned from Harvick that day in California he applied at Watkins Glen.
"That race last month was pretty surreal,: Rodgers said of the battle with Harvick. "Being able to run wheel to wheel with Kevin, I think I learned a lot of things I applied here. After we had that great run (at Sonoma), we decided we absolutely have to go run road courses. And that was one of Kevin's suggestions to me [...] my first time here to win it, it's pretty great."
Todd Gilliland came home in second-place, 1.493 seconds behind Rodgers and Harrison Burton crossed the start/finish line in third-place.
"We had a pretty good run from being ninth in practice," Gilliland said post-race. "We picked up a little from qualifying to qualify in the fifth position. And from there, we kind of rode for the first few laps and then those guys got off line and made a few mistakes and were able to slide by them. Just a little more mistake free than those guys I was racing. "
Burton maintains his championship series points lead over Gilliland by five points, unofficially.
"Battling back was the biggest deal," Burton said post-race. "We just had an ill-handling race car in the first segment there. Fought back from that, got a little better at the break and had to capitalize on the restarts and cautions that came out. [...] solid points day, but we just got to look ahead."
Ronnie Bassett Jr. came home in fourth-place and Ruben Garcia Jr. came home in fifth. Garcia Jr. tried a dive-bomb move in turn 7 on the final lap, but fell just short of Rodgers' bumper. Jay Beasley rounded out the top-five.
Chase Cabre, Dylan Murry, Dillon Bassett and Matt Tifft rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Polesitter Ryan Truex saw his promising day go south in a hurry on lap 28. While leading Gilliland in his No. 01 Gunma Toyopet Toyota, the left front tire appeared to go flat, sending him hard into the guardrail. He ultimately finished in 19th-place, 16 laps down.
The Finger Lakes Wine Country 100 will air on Wednesday, August 9 at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on September 2 at Langley Speedway