Greg Pursley is looking forward to returning to PIR, where he set a track record in winning the Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying for last year’s Phoenix event.
Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Phoenix International Raceway is a race track that Greg Pursley (No. 26 GPM Performance Parts/Star Nursery Ford) has always enjoyed visiting. After moving from California to Arizona last year to be near his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West team that is based just 150 miles from the track in Parker, PIR practically became a home track to Pursley.
He will put the theory of a home track advantage to the test this week when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West visits the 1-mile, D-shaped track for the Jimmie Johnson Foundation 100 on Thursday, April 8.
The 100-lap event, the second on a 12-race series schedule this year, will be televised to a national audience on SPEED at 6 p.m. ET on April 22.
Pursley is looking forward to returning to PIR, where he set a track record in winning the Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying for last year’s Phoenix event.
“Since I started racing, Phoenix was always my favorite track to go to,” said the 41-year-old driver, who previously called Newhall, Calif., home. “It’s a big track for us. I always enjoyed going there. We’ve had good success there. It’s probably still my most favorite track to go to.”
Pursley admitted, however, to being surprised in breaking the track record last year.
“I had no clue that we were going to do that,” he said. “We just tried to get a good solid car. We wanted to start in the top five, to be there in the race. We had no clue that was going to happen.”
Pursley went on to finish fifth in last year’s event, equaling the fifth-place finish he had at Phoenix when he previously raced in the series in 2002. He attributes a good chassis setup with being the key to getting a good finish there.
“Working on your car during practice and getting a car to drive good is key,” he said. “You need to make sure you have a good car that you can pass with, either on the bottom or the top. This time it will be a little different, because we’re starting a little earlier. I think that will come into play because I don’t think we’re going to finish in the dark. It’s late enough in the year, to where it’s probably going to finish around dusk. So, that will change the handling of the car. We’re going to really work on our car hard to make it handle there early in the race.”
The 100-lap race distance will also alter their approach, according to Pursley.
“We’ll get one pit stop and one chance to adjust,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get it pretty close in practice to where if we need to make a little bit of adjustment on the pit stop, we can be there in the top five.”
Asked if a strong performance at Phoenix is critical in contending for the series championship, since the series visits PIR twice this season, Purlsey stressed the need to do well at every race.
“It’s critical at any track, due to the fact that we only have 12 races,” he said. “Throughout the year, you really cannot have a bad race. You’ve got to have a good race every time, if you want to be there for the championship.”
Pursley – who raced motorcycles early in his racing career – was the 2004 National Champion in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, racing Late Models at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.). He also competed in the former NASCAR Southwest Tour.
Although Pursley ran the full schedule of NASCAR K&N Pro Series West events in 2002, it was seven years until he returned to the series full-time when he joined with Gene Price Motorsports team last year. In their first full season together, Pursley registered one win, eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, while finishing third in the championship standings.
Now in their second season together, coupled with the addition of crew chief Jerry Pitts, Pursley is optimistic about their chances at winning the championship.
“We’re really looking forward to hopefully being there every single race to compete for the win and for the championship this year,” Pursley said. “Jerry Pitts has been around a long time. He knows all the guys on my team very well. He’s worked with all of them before on other teams.
“That’s really our strong point right now,” Pursley continued. “We have a great bunch of guys that have all been together for a long time. They all know each other and everyone gets along great. We have a great leader in Jerry Pitts.”
Pitts is a veteran crew chief who is no stranger to the series. He won the series title with Eric Norris in 2002 and worked with Mark Reed, who was the Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2001 and finished second in the overall standings.
The Race: Jimmie Johnson Foundation 100
The Place: Phoenix International Raceway
The Date: Thursday, April 8
The Time: 5 p.m. PT
TV Schedule: SPEED, April 22, 6 p.m. ET
Track Layout: 1-mile paved oval
Race Purse: $143,809
2009 Winner: Jason Bowles
2009 Polesitter: Greg Pursley
Thursday: Practice 10-11: a.m., 11:30 a.m.– 12:30 p.m., Qualifying 3 p.m.
The race … This is the second race on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West schedule for 2010. It is the first of two visits by the series this season to Phoenix International Raceway. The series will return for its season finale on Nov. 11.
The procedure … The starting field is 40 cars, including provisionals. The first 36 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 100 laps (100 miles).
The track … PIR is a one-mile superspeedway with Turns 1 and 2 banked 11 degrees, Turns 3 and 4 banked nine degrees and two degrees of banking in the dogleg. This will be the 25th stand-alone Phoenix race for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
The records … Qualifying: Greg Pursley, April 16, 2009, 129.571 mph, 27.784 sec.; Race: David Gilliland, Jan. 30, 2005, 108.532 mph, 55 minutes 17 seconds.
Champ returns … Jason Bowles (No. 31 RCR/Golden Gate Meat Chevrolet), who moved to North Carolina after winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West championship last year, is slated to return to the series for the Phoenix event. Bowles, who will be driving a second entry for the Golden Gate Racing Team with Patti Offenbach listed as the car owner, won the PIR event last year.
Also returning … Another driver returning to the series at Phoenix is Nick Lynch (No. 29 Mr. Gas/Rock Star Chevrolet). Lynch, the younger brother of the 2003 series champion Scott Lynch, finished second at Phoenix in 2008 in his most recent series start.
From the east … The entry list for this event includes NASCAR K&N Pro Series East regular Brett Moffitt (No. 11 Game Plan for Life Toyota), a 17-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver from Grimes, Iowa.
Debut for second-generation driver … Second-generation driver Toni McCray is slated to make her series debut. Her father, Rick, was the series rookie of the year in 1978 and competed in nearly 100 races, with two wins.
Last year’s event …
Jason Bowles had one shot at Steve Park to get the win in this event a year ago and he made the most of it. Bowles jumped to the lead going into Turn 1 at the start of a wild green-white-checkered finish that included three-wide racing and charged to victory.
His previous best finish at Phoenix was 11th.
Although Bowles set the pace for much of the first half of the event, different pit strategy left him facing a big challenge to chase down Park. Charging from 12th on a lap 89 restart, Bowles knew he had to be careful not to abuse his car in making his way up front.
Although Bowles appeared to have the car to beat through much of the event, he still had a handling issue. “My car was a little tight all night,” he said. “I was just having a hard time keeping it on the bottom, but I could get a good drive off. I just tried to conserve as much as I could.”
Bowles led four times for 86 laps. He briefly lost the lead to Park following a Lap 139 restart. Bowles managed to get by Park with five laps to go, but a late-race spin gave Park another shot at Bowles. This time, the Ontario, Calif., driver got the jump he needed.
Eric Holmes took advantage of the wild scramble in the final two laps to take second place. Park came home third. Mike David was fourth — while Greg Pursley was fifth. Pursley had won his first career Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day with a record lap of 129.571 mph.
The race featured nine lead changes among four drivers. David Gilliland shot into the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the first three laps before cutting a right front tire and hitting the Turn 1 wall. In addition to the 86 laps Bowles led, Park was out front 39 laps and Holmes led 23 laps.
Harraka Rolls Up Another Victory At Roseville
Paulie Harraka (No. 12 NAPA Gold Filters Toyota) is on a roll in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. With his victory in the season opener at Roseville, Calif., he has won three of the last four championship races, going back to last season.
Harraka, who won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award last season, has jumped into a 20-point lead in the chase for this year’s championship
The 20-year-old New Jersey native commutes to the West Coast from North Carolina, where he is a student at Duke University.
Final Notes From Roseville
Harraka rolls on … Paulie Harraka (No. 12 NAPA Gold Filters Toyota) opened the 2010 season with a victory before a sold out crowd in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., on March 27. He also won the pole award for the event. The Wayne, N.J. native now has three career series wins to go along with his three career series poles.
Strong rookie start … Josh Combs (No. 9 Grape King/Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil Ford) got a great start in his drive for the 2010 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Credited with a second-place finish in his first championship series race, the 20-year-old Sacramento, Calif., driver was also the top finisher among the 10 drivers who registered for the rookie program.
Hard charging champ … Gary Lewis (No. 09 SEFNCO Communications/Montana Raceway Park Chevrolet), a multi-time champion in the former NASCAR Northwest Tour, made an impressive debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with a third-place finish.
First top-five finish … Luis Martinez Jr. (No. 6 King Taco/Sunrise Ford/Lucas Oil Ford) notched his first top-five finish in series competition, coming away with a fifth-place finish in the season opener.
Solid series debut … Taylor Barton (No. 60 Full Tilt Poker.Net Chevrolet) made his debut in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, coming away with an 11th-place finish.
Up Next: Combination Race At Iowa Speedway
Teams from coast to coast head to the nation’s heartland for the next event on the 2010 schedule — the fourth edition of the annual NASCAR K&N Pro Series East-West combination race at Iowa Speedway on May 23. The first three combinations events at the .875-mile track resulted in three different winners. Kyle Busch dominated the competition in last year’s event.