On opposite coasts, two more of NASCAR’s regional series take the green flag this week.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West kicks off Thursday with the Bakersfield 175 presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California, and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour gets underway Saturday night with the Performance Plus 150 presented by Safety-Kleen at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It’s been 19 years since Kevin Harvick has been to Victory Lane in a NASCAR race in his hometown, and he’s looking to go back.
The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion returns home to compete in the K&N Pro Series West opener, as a lead-in to the national series doubleheader weekend down the road at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Harvick, who will pilot one of the four Jefferson Pitts Racing entries, ran at the old Mesa Marin Speedway in the West Series as well as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the former NASCAR Southwest Series. While he had a best finish of third in six West starts and runner-up in five Truck starts, he won the final two of his 12 Southeast Series races at the now bulldozed half-mile.
The fast half-mile, state-of-the-art Kern facility now resides in Bakersfield, and Harvick will head a field of talented young drivers looking to make their own name.
Jefferson Pitts Racing will have a trio of rising stars as Harvick’s teammates, led by 24-year-old Will Rodgers, who impressed in a runner-up finish to Harvick in the West race at Sonoma last year. Austin Herzog, 15, will make his series debut, while Reid Lanpher, 19, is making the trek from Maine to get additional seat time prior to running in the K&N Pro East race at Bristol in April.
While two-time defending series champion Todd Gilliland, who has two wins at Kern, is not entered the event, his former team, Bill McAnally Racing, features a stable of drivers that also includes 2017 series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year Derek Kraus, NASCAR Next driver Hailie Deegan and Cole Rouse. Meanwhile, Bruncati Racing will look to end BMR’s run of three straight titles with former champion Derek Thorn and 2016 series’ runner-up Ryan Partridge. They’ll be joined by 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship runner-up Trevor Huddleston, Kern’s 2017 Late Model Division champion.