By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — Last year’s road racer surprise in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West has now become the fastest man in ‘Wine Country’ as Will Rodgers put up a flying run of 1:19.081 (90.591 mph), and will lead the field to the green flag in Saturday’s Carneros 200 at Sonoma Raceway.
Rodgers’s No. 7 Kelly & Assoc. Insurance Group Ford outperformed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie William Byron by 0.467 seconds (.532 mph), creating the “Will and Will Show” on Row 1.
Rodgers told Motorsports Tribune that going into the race, he’s feeling confident after winning the pole.
“It’s definitely confidence and inspiring,” said Rodgers. “To be able to sit on the pole about a half-a-second faster than anybody else. Two JPR (Jefferson Pitts Racing) cars on the front row, that’s a good deal. Good for him, Will and Will out front. It’s pretty funny.”
With the race having two breaks (Lap 21 and 41), Rodgers said strategy is key of winning the race as the 27-car field only has one set of tires.
“Confidence is there, it just comes down to strategy,” said Rodgers. “We only have one set of tires, and only so much fuel to make it to the end. It’s going to be a lot of decision making on the team’s part and my part, and exactly where we need to be to put ourselves in the best position at the end of the race.”
After finishing runner-up to Kevin Harvick last year, Rodgers mentioned that “go time” will be after the second break.
“I’ll probably just ride around for a little while. Just like last year, we kind of just have to pace yourself until it’s go time,” said Rodgers. “When I was racing against Kevin last year, and he decided go time was a little early, and we ended up checking out on everybody and we probably just went a tad early for the tires.
“It’s still worked out in the end for us, but it’s going to be the same kind of game. Just figuring out when the go time is, and it’ll probably at the drop of the green flag for the third segment.”
16-year-old Hailie Deegan put out an amazing run, being the quickest in her group with a speed of 89.827 mph, faster than the other four Cup Series regulars.
Row three will be shared by Cup regulars Aric Almirola (89.735 mph) and Daniel Suarez (89.709 mph). Byron’s Cup teammate Alex Bowman qualified seventh (89.691 mph), and Erik Jones was the slowest among the five Cup guys with his fastest speed being only 88.379 mph, which was 13th quickest.
K&N Pro Series West points leader Derek Thorn will look to extend his two-point lead over Ryan Partridge, but he’ll have to make his moves towards the front as Partridge was fourth fastest.
The 64-lap contest will start at 4:30 p.m. EST and will air on NBCSN Thursday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m. EST.