Best Of 2014: K&N Pro West
Pursley Goes Out With Second Title; Young Talent Shows Promise
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – There is no better way to finish off a career than lifting the championship trophy over your head one last time.
For 46-year-old Greg Pursley, 2014 provided a storybook ending to a highly-decorated career.
The Newhall, California, driver had his hands full all season with some of the top young talent in the sport. And in the end, it was a near flawless season that delivered car owner Gene Price his third championship in four years and closed out a remarkable run.
It was fitting that in Pursley’s final race in November at Phoenix International Raceway, that Nick Drake – at the time just over a month shy of his 19th birthday – would end up in Victory Lane for his first NASCAR win.
Drake joined James Bickford, Christian PaHud, Chris Eggleston and Patrick Staropoli as first-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series winners in 2014. And the line of young talented drivers that immediately followed Drake across the finish line at Phoenix – Gray Gaulding, Cole Custer, Jesse Little and Dylan Lupton all made the top five and are all under 21 – is a testament to the fact Pursley is leaving the sport in good hands.
Greg Pursley: Pursley had an unbeatable season. In addition to his two victories, he nearly snared two more. He finished in the top five in 11 of the 14 races and collected three Coors Light Pole Awards. Pursley led a series-high 454 laps and completed 1,800 of the 1,804 laps of competition for crew chief Jerry Pitts and Price’s No. 26 Gene Price Motorsports/Star Nursery/Real Water Ford. Pursley won the first race at Bakersfield’s Kern County Raceway Park and only a late-race penalty for jumping the restart prevented a sweep of the California track. He added a win as the highest finishing West driver at Iowa Speedway in August. Pursley logged 16 races in parts of four seasons between 1999 and 2008, including a full year in 2002 when he finished ninth in points. He’s raced full-time since 2009 and in that time he racked up 20 wins, 56 top fives, 70 top 10s in 83 races with two championships.
Dylan Lupton (Honorable Mention): A win, nine top fives – including six podium finishes – and a top 10 in all 14 starts would typically produce a championship season. Unfortunately, Lupton’s incredible sophomore season in the No. 9 Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil/Eibach Ford for Bob Bruncati was not enough to supplant Pursley atop the K&N Pro West standings. For the 21-year-old NASCAR Next driver from Wilton, California, though, it was plenty impressive. Not only did Lupton complete all but one lap, he was in contention for a win in nearly every race and proved a worthy season-long challenger to Pursley.
Comback Driver of the Year
David Mayhew: The 32-year-old from Atascadero, California, hadn’t run a full season since 2010 when he finished second in the championship standings. Last year featured his fewest appearances (five) while he also claimed the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I track championship at the newly-opened Kern. Returning full-time, Mayhew notched a series-leading four wins to go with nine top fives and three Coors Light Pole Awards to finish third in the championship standings.
No. 99 Bill McAnally Racing: Had they run the entire season, Bill McAnally’s second car may have challenged for the owner’s championship. Instead, the No. 99 Toyota had to settle for collecting race trophies. Staropoli, winner of last year’s PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge, put the car in Victory Lane at California’s Irwindale Speedway in its first appearance in March. Eggleston, with NAPA Filters/H20 on the hood, won in the car at his home track of Colorado National Speedway in July. And 2014 PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge winner PaHud won in his first career start at All American Speedway in Roseville, California, in October. With NAPA Auto Parts back on the car, Drake closed the year with a fourth win. In just eight races, the No. 99 had seven top fives and eight top 10s in addition to tying the No. 17 for series wins with four.
Sunrise Ford Racing (Honorable Mention): Bruncati continues to field a two-car effort to provide exposure and opportunities to young drivers. This year, Lupton and Bickford combined for two wins, 17 top fives and 24 top 10s in 28 starts. Bickford, in addition to scoring his first career win, brought home the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award and finished fifth in the championship standings. It marked the fourth time since 2007 a Bruncati driver took home the top rookie honors, with Lupton winning the award in 2013.
In just eight races, Bill McAnally’s No. 99 scored four wins by four different drivers: Patrick Staropoli, Chris Eggleston, Christian PaHud and Nick Drake. Getty Images for NASCAR
Top Breakthrough Performance
James Bickford: The 16-year-old from Napa, California, made the big jump from running the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at All American Speedway and got off to a rough start. He finished 25th, 15th and 10th in his first three starts. Bickford, however, showed rapid progress: In his next 10 races, he had eight top five finishes and nine top 10s. His only hiccup was a transmission failure in his first road-course race at Sonoma, and he finished third in his next road-course race in Utah.
Thomas Martin (Honorable Mention): The 36-year-old Auburn, California, driver finished sixth in the championship standings in his first full season in the NASCAR K&N Pro West. Prior to 2014, Martin had logged 16 starts across five seasons. Running for car owners Jack Sellers and Charlie Silva, Martin posted a pair of top five finishes and seven top 10s in the No. 5 Med Active Relief for Dry Mouth/Racers Drive Chevrolet. Martin completed 98.9% (1,782) of the laps run and had just one DNF.
Toyota/NAPA 150, All American Speedway, Oct. 11: Inside or outside? The preferred restart lane changed as the race went on, leaving PaHud, McReynolds, Bickford and Pursley to play a high-stakes guessing game. In the end, it was PaHud who chose right in his first NASCAR K&N Pro race and ended up in Victory Lane. He led twice for a race-high 29 laps and took the lead for good from McReynolds on a Lap 126 restart. Bickford got by McReynolds late but ran out of laps to chase down the winner.
NAPA Auto Parts 150, Irwindale Speedway, March 22: The series returned to the graduated-banking of the Los Angeles area half-mile and put on quite a show. The race had five lead changes amond five drivers. Some of the expected challengers dropped back in the field early to conserve tires – Brett Thompson led a race-high 102 laps – which led to some exciting racing throughout the field over the final 75 laps as the fast cars tried to make their way back to the front. Staropoli, making just his sixth career start, took the lead from McReynolds on Lap 137 and scored his first NASCAR win.
Variable banking and various tire strategies made March’s race at Irwindale Speedway one of the most exciting of the season. Getty Images for NASCAR