Todd Gilliland clinched his second consecutive championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West on Saturday night at Kern County Raceway Park, while his Bill McAnally Racing teammate Derek Kraus captured his first career series win with a victory in the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame Championship 150 presented by NAPA AUTO PARTS.
The title caps off a dominant season by BMR’s drivers, as they finished first, second, and third in the standings; after winning 11 of 14 races this year.
Gilliland, who drove the No. 16 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry to a second-place finish behind Kraus on Saturday, led BMR’s sweep of the top three positions in points; finishing 29 markers ahead of Chris Eggleston in the No. 99 NAPA Filters Toyota Camry. Kraus, a 16-year-old series rookie, finished third in points in the No. 19 Carlyle Tools Toyota Camry.
This marks a record eighth series championship for BMR and third straight title, matching the three consecutive championships in 1999, 2000, and 2001 that began the team’s championship run 18 years ago. BMR’s other two titles came in 2008 and 2010.
“It was a great year,” said Gilliland, a 17-year-old from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina. “We finished in the top 10 in all but one race, and in that one we had a flat tire. This BMR team is what makes this go. I can’t thank them enough for the fast NAPA Toyotas they gave me all season.
“Young kids like me, we just want to race as much as we can. Being able to come out here to the West Coast is very special for me, with all our family out here. I’m not sure what next year’s going to hold, but these championships definitely help.”
Gilliland is the first driver to win back-to-back championships in the series since 2005. Mike Duncan won two straight titles in 2004 and 2005. Prior to that, BMR driver Brendan Gaughan had consecutive championships in 2000 and 2001.
Gilliland set fast time in qualifying on Saturday to win his seventh pole of the season, the 13th of his career. After leading the first two laps, he appeared content to settle back and let someone else set the pace. Kraus led a couple laps early and then charged out front for good on Lap 106, with Gilliland shadowing him all the way to the checkered flag.
“My car and Derek’s car were really evenly matched,” Gilliland said. “At the end, we pulled away from everyone a lot. That was really cool. That’s the way to end up the season. We wanted the win, but a championship run was what we were here to do.”
Kraus, who clinched the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, was elated to also bring home his first series win.
“We saved the tires and I think that’s what helped us at the end of the race,” Kraus said.
He credited his spotter, Eric Holmes, with urging him to conserve his tires.
“Eric was staying in my ear the whole night, telling me ‘save tires, save tires’ and that’s what we did,” said Kraus, who started the race on the outside of the front row.
“It’s a really good night, with getting my first race win in the number 19 Carlyle Tools Toyota and winning the Rookie of the Year,” Kraus said. “That’s really great for me and my career and gives us a boost toward next season.”
Eggleston, who trailed Gilliland by 11 points heading into the season finale on Saturday, charged to the lead of the race on Lap 24 and set the pace for 36 circuits before fading with a flat tire. A subsequent pit stop left him four laps down, and with a 20th-place finish.
Gilliland, a NASCAR Next driver, wrapped up his season with six wins, 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. In addition to racing in the West division of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series this year, he also ran the full schedule in the East division – where he finished second in the championship standings.
Eggleston – the 2015 series champion from Erie, Colorado – finished with four wins, 11 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Saturday’s race was his first this season in which he failed to finish in the top 10.
Kraus of Stratford, Wisconsin registered one win, nine top-fives, and 10 top-10s this year. He was the top finishing rookie in seven of the 14 races.
NAPA AUTO PARTS, which served as the presenting sponsor of the championship race, was well represented at the event. NAPA guests viewed the race action from a VIP suite. BMR provided NAPA guests with a special VIP pit tour, as well as a special meet-and-greet with the team’s drivers.
Saturday’s race, which was the second visit by the series this year to KCRP and the seventh series event hosted by the track, is scheduled to be televised on NBCSN on Nov. 10 at 12:30 p.m. PT.