By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
MONROE, Wash. — After multiple weather delays, two red flags, tempers flaring, and fuel problems from pole sitter Derek Kraus, NASCAR K&N Pro Series West points leader Derek Thorn capitalized through all obstacles, and was the only driver smiling, scoring his second win of the season in Saturday’s NAPA Auto Parts 175 at Evergreen Speedway, beating Cole Rouse by 1.629 seconds.
For 115 laps, it was all Kraus as he had a comfortable lead over Thorn, Coe Rouse, Ryan Partridge, and Kody Vanderwal until he ran out of fuel. This forced him to bring his No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota into the pits, losing three laps in the process.
Thorn said he knew his No. 6 Sunrise Ford was second best to Kraus’ as he had the dominant car and would pull away up to five seconds in front of him.
“We were second best to the No. 16 most of the night. He had one of them cars that he would put about a straightaway on us in maybe 10 laps, and he had a definite car that was dominant,” said Thorn. “But as it often happens, the dominant car runs into bad luck and tonight just wasn’t his night, and we were there to capitalize on it.”
Thorn added that Evergreen has been a place that he’s been owed a victory due to his shortcomings throughout his career, so a win in the Evergreen State meant a lot to the 32-year-old from Lakeport, California.
“I’ve been snake bit here for the past six or seven years in the last dozen starts,” said Thorn. “It was nice to finally be on the right side and good luck this weekend.”
The 175-lap race was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. local time, but after multiple showers throughout the afternoon, especially after qualifying, it pushed the starting time back an hour. As soon as the green flag finally dropped, Kraus ran a clinic on the rest of the field, and was on top of the leader board during the first break on Lap 63.
After the break, Armani Williams’ KNPSW debut was short lived as he couldn’t continue after 64 laps and was credited with a 15th-place finish.
Kraus continued to dominate the race, but on the 86th lap, threatening skies loomed the 5/8-mile oval, and the caution came out. Ten laps later, the race was red flagged, as lightning was within a few miles from the track.
As the fans and competitors waited to see if the race would continue, everyone were relaxed and several conversations. Fortunately for the fans who stuck out the weather, drivers were told to return to their cars in less than hour, and the action resumed with 75 to go, with the race being Kraus’ until he ran out of fuel 15 laps later. He would finish in 9th.
Thorn took the lead as a result, and held on to it with ease until Lap 121 when a four-car crash in Turn 1 involved Takuma Koga, Trevor Huddleston, Will Rodgers, and Todd Souza brought out another red flag.
All the calm conversations were completely thrown out the window, as tempers flared throughout the pitting area. Especially, a few crew members from Souza’s team verbally chewed out Koga for the incident. Meanwhile, Huddleston was the sole driver to continue the race as he only sustained the most damage on his left rear quarter panel.
The drama was far from over as there was still 50 laps to go when Thorn led the field on the final restart. While he pulled away, Rouse briefly cut his lead down from nearly three seconds down to two, but lapped traffic such as Matt Levin, would hinder any shot of capturing the points leader. Rouse would settled for the runner-up spot as Thorn took the checkered flag just shy of 10:30 p.m. local time.
Rouse, who ran his backup car after a right front tire failure resulted in a Turn 1 crash during qualifying, scored his season-best finish and his fourth top-five of the season.
“It was definitely a tough day. We wrecked our primary car during qualifying. We had a right front flat,” Rouse on his day,”We got the backup car out, and the guys did a really great job. I didn’t expect to be fast at all, but we probably had the fastest car on the track at the end. We were catching Thorn there just a little bit.
“It’s a good day for a backup car. Hats off to the (No. 99 NAPA Filters) guys. We’re getting better each and every week. We’ve had a few rough weeks where we had to go to the back three times in a row now. So it’s been tough, but coming from the back to finish second is not too bad of a day.”
In the closing laps, Hailie Deegan and Tyler Tanner battled for fifth, but late contact gave Tanner the fifth spot, whereas Deegan dropped to seventh. The two drivers, who battled throughout the final restart, would have a confrontation in the pits. However, down at start/finish line, it was celebration time for the 2013 series champion as he’ll go Gateway with a comfortable points lead over Partridge, who finished in third.
Despite having the advantage, Thorn is aware that the upcoming races are going to be pivotal if he’s going to capture his second title.
“It’s one of these points races that you just got to take it one race at a time. Anything can happen,” said Thorn. “There’s going to be couple of races where we’ll have 20 to 30 cars, and a bad night at a race like that, you can lose the points lead in a matter of one night.
“It’s one of those things we try to put our best foot forward every race so far this year, and try not to make any mistakes. The Sunrise Ford guys, Bob Bruncati, and the awesome opportunity they’ve given me. The guys in the shop, we’ve been mechanically sound all year. Haven’t made any mistakes. Good luck has been on our side, and hopefully we can just kind of keep that golden horseshoe for awhile.”
The Monaco Gateway Classic at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Illinois, will be a K&N combination race and will take place on August 27.
To catch Saturday’s action from Monroe, NBCSN will air the race on Wednesday August 15 at 6:00 p.m. EST.