They came across the finish line, two of NASCAR’s rising young stars, leaning on one another as sparks flew and sheet metal crunched Saturday night. In the end, it was 16-year-old Todd Gilliland who took the checkered flag in the Toyota NAPA 150 and celebrated in Victory Lane on the quarter-mile, after edging fellow NASCAR Next driver Noah Gragson by inches.
Gilliland crossed the finish line .004 seconds in front of the 17-year-old from Las Vegas.
It was the only lap Gilliland’s No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota led all night. But it was enough to give the third-generation driver from Sherrils Ford, North Carolina, his third West win and fourth K&N Pro win overall in his rookie season.
Multiple cautions pushed the race to a second green-white-checkered finish and to 166 laps.
Gragson led the final restart and was a nose ahead at the line taking the white flag. But Gilliland got a strong run off Turn 4 coming to the checkered, and powered forward despite having his car pinched against the outside wall by Gragson’s No. 7 Speed Vegas/Alert ID/Colliers International Ford as they crossed under the flag stand.
The Toyota NAPA 150 is the second NASCAR K&N Pro Series race to be decided by less than .01 seconds this season. Spencer Davis edged Justin Haley by .005 seconds in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Virginia’s Dominion Speedway in May. Gragson was third in that race.
Chris Eggleston was third in a bittersweet finish. Earlier in the day, the defending series champion earned his first career Coors Light Pole Award. He led a race-high 73 laps. But he was collected in a spin by Gilliland on Lap 92. The two Bill McAnally Racing teammates quickly sliced back through the field, but it was Gilliland who got to the front first and Eggleston had to settle for a podium finish.
Gragson’s teammate Gracin Raz overcame a black flag — for jumping the restart while leading on Lap 91 — to finish fourth, and Julia Landauer rounded out the top five.
Cole Rouse was sixth, followed by Riley Herbst, Will Rodgers, Matt Levin and championship points leader Ryan Partridge.
Partridge saw his chance for the win disappear on the first green-white-checkered attempt when he spun in Turn 4 coming to the white flag. Partridge got hung on the outside when Gilliland made it three-wide under Partridge and Gragson on the initial restart.
That set up the final duel between Gilliland and Gragson.
Partridge holds a three-point lead on Gilliland. Eggleston is 10 points behind Gilliland and Gragson is another four points back after seven of the series’ 14 races.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will next race in the annual combination showdown with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 28.
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