Greg Pursley won the NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Kern County Raceway Park on Saturday to claim the victory in the inaugural NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at the new high-banked, half-mile track that opened earlier this year.
It marked the fifth win of the season for the 2011 series champion and his 18th career series victory.
Pursley moved to the lead just before the midway point and ran a fierce pace in the final laps to hold off a strong challenge from Michael Self to win by .178 seconds. Conserving early was part of his strategy for the race, Pursley said.
“When we got the race going, I hung out for a little bit and saved the tires as much as I could,” he said. “And once we got out front, I tried to save as much as I could.”
But he turned up the wick in the closing laps, as he was challenged for the lead.
“The (car No.) 21 was coming on pretty hard there at the end,” Pursley said. “We had a yellow flag with about 20 to go. I had to put down about 20 qualifying laps and he was right there. He gave me a great race.”
For Pursley, who early in his career was a regular competitor in the late model division at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield before its closure, winning the first series race at the new track had extra meaning. In addition, it was a special win for some of his crew.
“It’s a hometown win for my crew chief Jerry Pitts and a couple of our guys,” said Pursley – who raced out of Newhall, south of Bakersfield, for much of his career. “It’s a real emotional win. I won a lot of races at the old Mesa Marin track and I’m happy to be the inaugural winner at Kern County Raceway.”
Self trailed Pursley to the finish, with Eric Holmes close behind. David Mayhew and Cameron Hayley rounded out the top five.
Championship points leader Derek Thorn, who started on the outside of the front row and led the initial lap of the race, faded in the closing stages of the event and finished sixth. He was followed by Dylan Lupton, Shane Golobic, Matt Tifft and Jason Fensler.
Gray Gaulding captured the spotlight earlier in the day at KCRP as he won the 21 Means 21 Pole Award by Coors Brewing Co., and in doing so set the record for the youngest pole winner in the series at 15 years eight months 16 days. Gaulding – who also holds the record as the youngest pole winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where he ran the full season this year – led 60 laps early, but had his night end early when he punctured a tire and hit the wall on Lap 112.
With the win, Pursley moved back to second in the standings – 16 points behind Thorn with one race remaining to decide the 2013 championship. Thorn has 593 over Pursley’s 577. Pursley’s teammate Hayley is 18 behind Thorn with 575 points . Self is fourth with 563, while Lupton is fifth with 506. Completing the top 10 in points are Carl Harr, Daryl Harr, Taylor Cuzick, Eric Holmes and Giles Thornton.
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 marked the return of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West to Bakersfield, an area rich in West Coast racing history, after Mesa Marin Raceway closed in 2005.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will wrap up its 2013 schedule with the Casino Arizona 50 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 9.
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