Derek Thorn has been the top dog on the West Coast for the last few years, but he still feels he has plenty to prove when the East Coast heavyweights come to his backyard.

Thorn, who narrowly lost the inaugural Winter Showdown Open at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) last year to Georgia’s Bubba Pollard, made a convincing argument that he will be even better this year as he set a new track record and led all 30 laps in the Fast 12 Qualifier to earn the top starting spot in Sunday’s main event.

“It’s great to keep it at home,” Thorn said after being handed a nice trophy and a $2,000 bonus check. “We live fifteen minutes from here. Our team is from here. And to do it on 51 FIFTY Energy night as fresh teammates with Carlos [Vieira, SRL racer and 51 FIFTY owner]. It’s just great to set fast time for all our friends and supporters who could come out tonight.”

Saturday’s goings were very similar to last year’s effort for Thorn, who won the pole by time trial and by heat. But come raceday, Thorn faded to third after dominating the first half of the race. Pollard, meanwhile, snuck by after the halfway break and cruised to victory. Thorn is very optimistic that victory will not elude him again.

“The difference simply is all the hard work the guys have put into the car. To lose it like that was unfortunate. The other guys were just better and we went home and spent the next 364 days focusing on this race.”

Pollard, who seemed to be on cruise control throughout practice, nearly crashed in qualifying before recovering to time in fifth. Still, once the Fast 12 Qualifier began, Pollard slid from 5th to 10th over the span of 30 laps. While there was not serious concern in the Pollard pits afterwards, the team immediately began to look the rear end housing over, looking for any explanation for their handling woes. Pollard could leave here with a $40,000 check if he can win on Sunday, combining the Showdown paycheck and the Coors Light Bonus, so the team is not treating the Qualifier Heat trouble lightly.

Blaine Rocha continued a strong Showdown by qualifying second and finishing there in the Fast 12 while NTS teammate Parker Stephens also impressed by holding off Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland in the battle for third.

Dalton Sargeant, last year’s Showdown runner-up, won his qualifier heat as did 2013 Kern County champion David Mayhew. They will start on the seventh row and positions 2-9 from those races will line up behind them. There will be a last chance race for all remaining to start Sunday’s festivities at 12:30 PM PT. The 250-lap, $30,000 to win feature will roll off an hour later. will have live Trackside Now coverage beginning mid-morning from Kern County and our live single-camera, pay-per-view stream will begin for the Last Chance event.

SUNDAY LINEUP (pending Last Chance & Provisionals)
1 43 Derek Thorn
2 21R Blaine Rocha
3 28 Parker Stephens
4 51G Todd Gilliland
5 97 Cole Anderson
6 16 Jacob Gomes
7 5A Garret Archer
8 23H Dan Holtz
9 21H Eric Holmes
10 26B Bubba Pollard
11 66 Steve Wallace
12 51V Carlos Vieira
13 55 Dalton Sargeant
14 17 David Mayhew
15 48 Preston Peltier
16 27R Gracin Raz
17 7W Johnny White
18 22S Buddy Shepherd
19 2W Donnie Wilson
20 7G Noah Gragson
21 75 Jeremy Doss
22 22E Chris Eggleston
23 89H Bobby Holmes
24 26M Christian McGhee
25 5 Eric Schmidt
26 65 Tyler Tanner
27 27M John Moore
28 4 Brian Richardson
29 20R Cole Rouse
30 99W Linny White
31 Last Chance #1
32 Last Chance #2
33 Last Chance #3
34 Provisional #1
35 Provisional #2
36 Provisional #3

— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Correspondent // @thethirdturn

Thorn Plays “Hometown Defense” To Claim Winter Showdown Pole