Jefferson Pitts Racing teammates Gracin Raz and Noah Gragson have been best of friends since they began to run together in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West last season. They've raced each other clean on the track and often have been the first to congratulate each other after victories.
But their friendship hit a bit of a road hump at Kern County Raceway Park (CA) Sunday afternoon, as the two hungry racers - dueling for the runner-up spot late in the race – tangled in turn three. Raz, the halfway leader of the race was done after slamming the wall while Gragson's chances were eliminated from the damage.
"I think our teammate got a little aggressive there. We were getting down there to the finish and we just all needed position. I can't blame him, but at the same time we still had quite a few laps to get it done. I feel nothing but love for the 7 [Gragson] car, but we'll keep our heads up and be okay."
Gragson took full responsibility for the incident.
"Hard to believe we came out fifth," Gragson said as his car went through tech. "I was running with Gracin when I got a run on him out of turn two. I just tucked up underneath him but then I pulled to make a move underneath him in turn three and I got loose underneath him. It was just my fault. I was just driving over my head. I feel really bad for those 27 guys and Gracin Raz. They work so hard and I'm genuinely bummed for them."
The two were seen talking things over shortly after the race.
Mechanical Attrition Bites Top Teams
Pre-race favorite Todd Gilliland had something in the right front suspension cut a tire down on the eighth lap of the race, crashing the Kyle Busch Motorsports machine hard into the turn two wall. It set a tone that would play out time and time throughout the day.
Pole sitter Derek Thorn was backing up his new track record in qualifying with a dominating performance before being sent by officials to pit road just after lap 70 to check for fluid other competitors were reporting. Sure enough a hole was found in the rear end gear and his day was done.
Thorn, one of the most optimistic drivers in short track racing was frustrated and dejected after climbing out of the car, spending about 10 minutes to collect his thoughts before talking to reporters.
"We found an oil leak right on the pinion seal of the rear end," Thorn said. "It's hard to believe; it's a brand new rear end. We got it just last week and put it in. We paid close attention to it all week but for some odd reason today it decided to start leaking. It wasn't much – a silver-dollar sized drip of fluid coming out – but it was enough for the guys behind us to start complaining. It was just enough to get their attention and enough to get us thrown out."
David Mayhew, who inherited the lead, fell out of the race at lap 155 when a driveshaft malfunction throttled the engine. His teammate, local favorite Johnny White, had just parked due to a rear end failure. Carlos Vieira, Donnie Wilson, Garret Archer, and Christian McGhee all were contending in the top 10 at various points during the race before abruptly pulling into the pits with mechanical woes.
Speed51.com Coors Light Bonus Adds Extra Smile To Pollard's Face
Backed up with cash from Coors Light, Speed51.com was able to present Bubba Pollard an additional $10,000 after Sunday's main event. Bonus money boosted Pollard's total winnings to $40,000.
Pollard was one of five drivers eligible for the bonus, along with Donnie Wilson, Preston Peltier, Cole Anderson, and Dalton Sargeant. He did not necessarily have to win the race to earn the bonus, but simply finish the highest of all the eligible drivers.
Still, Pollard was happy to maximize his winning from the weekend and alluded to the fact he may take a little detour down towards Las Vegas on the way home to celebrate.
"We're going to take this money and go racing. We're a family-owned team; we're a bunch of hard workers", Pollard told Speed51's Bob Dillner in an one-on-one interview you can see exclusively on the 51 Network. "But [with this bonus] I think we're going to have a little fun here. We can spare a thousand to go have a little fun."
From Nearly On The Trailer, Doss Nearly Goes To Victory Lane
Jeremy Doss is known as one of the best young talents on the West Coast, but throughout the weekend his name was merely an afterthought as he struggled in practice and fared no better in qualifying with a mid-pack starting spot of 21st.
The team was so dispirited at one point that Doss, the 2012 Pacific Challenge Series champion, seriously contemplated putting the car on the trailer.
"Friday night, 15 laps in we tried so many adjustments and honestly were thinking about going home," an elated Doss said moments after climbing out of the car. "Right before qualifying yesterday we found out that a lower ball joint seized up, we got that changed and that really helped us. I’m really stoked. I was going to be happy with a top 10 race car and to come home third behind Bubba and Parker it’s just awesome."
Rocha Finishes Impressive Weekend on Down Note
McGhee and runner-up Parker Stephens' teammate, Blaine Rocha, was also very impressive throughout the weekend although it ended in a rough way with an early crash. Rocha started second in the main event after sitting near the top of the scoreboard through every practice session and proved he belonged there.
Little Touches Added To Grow Event
After drawing plenty of attention for its inaugural running, SRL promoters Larry Collins and Brian Olsen weren't afraid to take some extra risks in order to make the second Winter Showdown running an even greater success.
First, they raised the winner's purse an extra $5,000 to try to attract some extra heavy hitters. It paid off with Donnie Wilson, Garrett Evans, and Kyle Busch Motorsports (with West Coaster Todd Gilliland) all making their first trip to Kern County and ensuring the return of the likes of Pollard and Preston Peltier. All in all, the race saw 48 entries.
They partnered with local Bakersfield restaurant TEMBLAR Brewing to host a well-attended Kickoff Party Thursday night and an excellent Media Luncheon Friday afternoon that brought in quite a few new track sponsors.
The hardware handed out quickly added some distinct personality and weight to the event with an impressive trophy given to Thorn for his fast time and Pollard earning a trophy crowned with a giant Abominable Snowman.
And on Sunday the event brought in the local high school's marching band and cheer squad to compliment and add fanfare to driver introductions.
Ultimately, Olsen, Collins, and the entire SRL staff will have to review how successful the weekend is and what adjustments, if any, should be made. But in two years they have built a tremendous atmosphere that has already thrust this race into the national spotlight. It's been a huge gamble, but it looks like it's paying off.
-By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com's The Third Turn - Twitter: @thethirdturn
-Photo credit: Speed51.com