GILLILAND, 15, WINS NASCAR K & N WEST IRWINDALE 150 – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 19 – Irwindale Speedway hosted three late model stock car series Saturday and 235 laps of half-mile all late-model competition in front of 5,290 fans. It was the largest K & N West crowd at IS since a July 4, 2011 weekend event that also had a fireworks show. The featured touring NASCAR K & N West Series opened its 2016 13-event season with a 150-lap Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts 150 that concluded the evening. The race was taped by NBC Sports Network for telecast on Friday, March 25 from 6:00-7:00 pm PDT.
Todd Gilliland, the youngest driver in the field at 15 years and 10 months, set fastest qualifying time in a 24-car field and won the 150-lap feature. It was his third consecutive K & N victory, including the 2015 K & N West season finale at the Phoenix mile last November and the K & N East 2016 season opener in February at the half-mile New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. He became the 16th different K & N pole winner and 14th different K & N Series feature winner at IS. Gilliland's 17.997 quick time approached his grandfather's still standing K & N one-lap track record of 17.781 from the first race in 1999.
The Sherrils Ford, N. C resident and high school student drove the No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry owned by event promoter Bill McAnally, of Roseville. The former NASCAR driver, multi-car owner/race promoter had four Toyotas in the field and all finished in the top eight. It was K & N West event 24 at IS since the series raced three times here during the initial season (1999). McAnally-owned cars have now won 12 of the 24 races, including the last three--2013 with Patrick Staropoli and last year with now 27-year old Chris Eggleston, from Colorado.
Gilliland is the son of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Gilliland, the 2003 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown winner and winner of three NASCAR Southwest Tour events at IS. He is the grandson of Butch Gilliland, the NASCAR K & N West touring series 1997 driving champion. The third generation driver started on the pole and led the first five and final 28 laps. The race had four leaders and five lead changes, including the winning pass on lap 123.
Gracin Raz, an 18-year old from Oregon, started second and led laps 6-42 and 45-90 in one of three Jefferson-Pitts Ford Fusions. Eggleston, the seventh starter and K & N West Irwindale 150 winner last April, led laps 43-44. Ryan Partridge, a four-time Irwindale track champion in super truck and late model divisions, started third and led laps 91-122 in a Bob Bruncati-owned Fusion from his three-car Sunrise Ford of Fontana team.
Gilliland took command when his dad said it was time to go and he won by 1.962 seconds over Partridge, 27.from Rancho Cucamonga. Gilliland ran the fastest lap of the race at 18.616 (96.696 mph). Twenty of 24 starters finished with 16 drivers on the lead lap. The event took one hour, nine minutes and had seven caution periods for 39 laps. Four cautions were caused by spins/wall contact and three yellows resulted from debris on the half-mile track.
RACE ACTION: The 150-lap race started 24 cars straight-up by qualifying times that started at 5:00 pm. Drivers ran two and three wide on the straights and corners and exchanged positions for 45 green flag laps before the first caution for debris. Initial lapping started on lap 12. Eggleston took third from Partridge on lap 18 and nabbed second from Gilliland a lap later with inside passes entering the third turn. At lap 20 the first four cars of Raz, Eggleston, Gilliland and Partridge ran virtually nose-to-tail in the outside groove. Gilliland slipped to his lowest position (fourth) a lap before the lap 46 caution. He was second at a lap 62 restart and third on lap 68.
The halfway mark (lap 75) top ten were: Raz, Partridge, Gilliland, Eggleston, Noah Gragson, and K & N rookie Julia Landauer, a 24-year old Stanford graduate and 2013 “Survivor” TV show contestant from New York. She drove McAnally's No. 54 Toyota that Christopher Bell drove in his K & N debut at IS a year ago. Johnny Borneman III, K & N rookie/Las Vegas resident Riley Herbst, 17, in McAnally's No. 19 NOS Energy Toyota, K & N rookie/SRL Southwest Series veteran Blaine Rocha and K & N rookie Cole Rouse, in Bruncati's No. 6 Sunrise Ford Fusion, comprised the other top ten runners at crossed flags.
On lap 78. K & N 18-year old rookie Juan Esteban Garcia, from Bogota, Columbia, spun Joe Nava's No. 77 in turn two. Todd Souza spun his No. 13 broadside into Garcia's car. Jack Sellers slowed but hit the back of Souza's car, which was sidelined with rear end damage. Garcia, a July 20, 2013 Irwindale super late model 40-lap feature winner in a photo finish over IS multi-track champion Rip Michels, soon dropped out with a rear end problem.
Second place Raz (No.. 27 Jefferson-Pitts Ford) was pressing Partridge to regain the lead after Partridge passed him in the second corner after a lap 91 green flag. On lap 95 Raz right front and side scrapped along the wall in turn four. He quickly slowed to eighth position by the starting line and dropped to ninth a lap later. He was back to eighth by lap 121, but went to the pits during the lap 130 caution and slipped out of the top ten. He finished 14th.
At lap 100 the running order on the top ten scoring pylon showed Partridge, Gilliland, Eggleston, Gragson, Rocha, Herbst, Landauer, the tenth starter in her K & N and IS debut, Borneman, Raz and Matt Levin. On a lap 121 two by two restart, leader Partridge took the preferred outside row and left Gilliland the inside row. Partridge used the outside lane to hold off inside-running Gilliland by half a length for two laps before Gilliland made his winning move on lap 123.
The top ten at lap 125 showed Gilliland, Partridge, Gragson, Eggleston, Landauer, Rouse, Borneman, Herbst, K & N rookie and 2015 IS late model champion Trevor Huddleston, and Raz. Eggleston took third from Gragson on lap 135. With ten laps remaining the most intense battle was for P. 7 with Rouse holding off female drivers Landauer and Hannah Newhouse, from Idaho. On lap 143 Newhouse, 19, passed both drivers with a strong inside moved and shot from ninth to seventh. Landauer took P. 8 from Rouse, 18, on lap 148.
Gilliland pulled away gradually to his 40-yard winning margin despite caution laps from laps 130-133 because of debris in the third turn. The top ten at the finish were: Gilliland, Partridge, Eggleston, Gragson, Borneman, and five K & N rookies--Herbst, Newhouse, Landauer, Rouse and Huddleston. Six of the 11 K & N rookies finished impressively in the top ten. Newhouse has a handful of K & N starts but has never run a full season.
The finish showed all four McAnally Toyotas in the top ten in positions 1-3-6 and 8. Three Bruncati Fords finished in P. 2-9 and 10. Three Jefferson-Pitts Fords finished 4-7 and 14. Owner/driver John Wood, from Idaho, fielded five cars and had two rookies, including 28-year old Jesse Iwuji, from Texas. The Nigeria-born, US Naval Academy graduate and Navy football team defensive back is on active duty with the US Navy. He raced one of two Joe Nava late models at Irwindale last season.
Gilliland demonstrated his dominance at Irwindale early. He set the fastest time during both 45-minute practice sessions Saturday afternoon. Some drivers logged as many as 43 laps during mid-70 degrees afternoon heat. Gilliland ran 35 laps in the 12:30 to 1:15 session and his 18.309 on lap 13 topped second quickest Partridge's 18.463 on lap 10 of his 29 laps. Gilliland's 18.240 on lap 15 of his 16 laps beat second fastest 18.246 on lap 3 of 4 laps by Raz in the 1:45 to 2:30 pm session.
During the 5:00 to 5:29 pm single-car, two laps qualifying session, Gilliland was second to qualify. He turned a 17.997 (100.017 mph), edging the second quickest lap of 18.019 (99.895 mph) by Raz and 18.101 by Partridge. The K & N one-lap track record of 17.871 (100.722 mph) was set by Todd's grandfather Butch during the first ever K & N race at IS in June, 1999. It has stood the test of time and 23 subsequent K & N West events at Irwindale. The original asphalt remains in place and has held up well. The oval was not raced on during 2012 and K & N did not race at IS in 2013 under new track management. Most seasons K & N fastest qualifiers were in the 18.20s or 18.30s. Gilliland came closest to topping his granddad.
On July 19, 2014 the three generations of Gillilands raced together in the same NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series 16-car, 75-lap Irwindale super late model main event. The occasion was “Family Night at the Races”. Dad David, then 37, had a week off from his NASCAR Sprint Cup driving duties with Front Row Motor-sports. Grandfather Butch, 57, flew in from overseeing his construction firm in Thailand to race a borrowed car. Todd became eligible to race on the half-mile after turning 14 two months earlier. Todd and his dad drove borrowed Chevies from Speed Wong Racing. David dropped out early in the No. 88. Todd, in No. 98, passed granddad Butch and finished ahead of him in a 17-car race won by fastest qualifier Jason Patison.
LATE MODEL 50: A field of 17 NASCAR Whelen late models qualified at 4:00 pm and competed in a 50-lap race at 6:30. Trevor Huddleston, the 19-year old 2015 IS track champion, set fastest qualifying time of 18.564 (96.962 mph) and started sixth in his dad's No. 50 HPR Chevy. Kyle McGrady, 23, outgunned 2001 IS super late model track champion Sean Woodside and led the first four laps in his No. 11 K & N Chevy. Nick Joanides, a three-time track champion in SLM (2008-09) and late models (2009), started third and ran second from lap 1 in Joe Nava's No. 77 Chevy. Joanides, 45, made an inside pass for the lead near the starting line on lap 5 and opened a 20-yard lead over McGrady by the half way point.
Huddleston took third from Woodside on lap 25 and closed quickly on second place McGrady. On lap 49 Huddleston cut to the inside exiting turn two and took P. 2 . He finished 0.518 in back of Joanides. It was Joanides first victory since the final race of late model race last September when he drove Nava's No. 88 team car. His last prior feature victory came in 2011 while driving for Loyd McGhee in SLM and late model divisions. Joanides became the driving mentor for McGhee's son Christian who has moved from Bandoleros, legend cars, S2 spec late models, NASCAR late models and now to touring SRL late models. Joanides' 43rd feature victory at IS tied him for fourth place in total feature triumphs with six-time legend cars champion Bob Landreth.
McGrady, in one of his best podium-producing runs, finished third, only 0.467 in back of runner-up and five-time 2015 feature winner Huddleston. Woodside, Christian McGhee, 17, Mike Johnson, Dustin Vandermooren, Billy Helgeson, and 17-year old Dylan Garner completed the top nine and all finished 50 laps. Garner, a S2 spec late model graduate and three-time 2015 IS feature winner in his family-owned No. 97, drove as a NASCAR late model rookie in Tim Huddleston's No. 56 HPR Chevy.
Ryan Vargas, 15, made his late model debut and set the tenth fastest qualifying time in his No. 23 after practicing during the 5 to 9 pm K & N Friday practice aboard the ex-No. 88 Chevy. His family bought the car for the 2014 IS Bandolero champion on the third-mile and 2015 Irwindale Race Truck rookie on the half-mile. He was lapped while in P. 7 on lap 36 and was about to finish seventh, the first driver off the lead lap. Then he dropped back to tenth on the final lap. Thirteen of 17 starters finished the 20-minute race, including a lap 1 restart after an opening tangle left Helgeson's car stalled. Huddleston ran the fastest race lap of 18.915 (95.163 mph).
SPEC LATE MODELS 35: The former SRL S2 Series debuted at IS in 2009 as Racecar Factory-built S2 spec late models with a rear wing. They ran under the touring SRL banner in 2014-15. They returned this season as RCF spec late models and without a rear wing on the back. All ten cars present qualified in single-car two lap time trials from 4:22 to 4:32 pm. Dylan Garner (No. 97) set quick time of 20.051 (89.771 mph). The Yorba Linda resident started third in a three-car inversion. The race had three leaders and four lead changes during the 35-lap feature.
Pole starter Todd Conrad led the first nine laps in his own No. 41. Garner passed racing grandfather Kenny Smith, 69, for second on the third lap. Garner led lap 10 via an inside pass in the fourth turn. Conrad made an outside pass in the same turn to regain the lead a lap later and remained in front through lap 28. A lap 19 fourth turn crash involved the P. 2-3 cars of Garner and Johnny Butler, with Butler's No. 59 ramming the wall hard at the RF corner. Suspension damage ended his run and caused the second of three caution flags.
Officials sent Garner to the back of the nine-car field for avoidable contact. He complied and began racing forward at the lap 19 green flag. Following a one-car spin on lap 29, Smith took the lead and paced two laps. Then Conrad regained the point and led the final five laps. He edged Smith by 0.219. James Bruncati, a former super late model driver for his dad Bob, retired from oval racing to raise his young family. He said he received a Thursday phone call from Tim Huddleston to drive his No. 50 spec late model and ended his eight year absence from IS. Bruncati set fourth fastest qualifying time and finished third.
Garner raced by to P. 4 and trailed P. 3 by 0.488. Craig Yeaton, SWT truck veteran Ed Cutler, Clarke Farrar, rookie Robert Arevalo and Joe Meehan finished fifth through ninth. Garner ran the fastest race lap of 20.234 (88.959 mph). Jubilant winner Conrad, a former NASCAR late model veteran, told spectators it was his first victory. “I've been racing 31 years after starting in hobby stock cars at Saugus Speedway. All I have in my racing career is three main event wins in Figure 8 cars.” He thanked his family and his brother Neil for all their patience and assistance to help him reach victory lane in an oval main event.