James Bickford, a rookie of the year contender on NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series, scored his first career victory Saturday night in front of a capacity crowd at Stateline Speedway.
The 16-year-old cousin of Sprint Cup star Jeff Gordon led the final handful of laps to beat series points leader Greg Pursley and rising star Brandon McReynolds to the checkered flag.
Medical Lake’s Braeden Havens, making only his 13th start on the NASCAR touring division, served notice that he and fellow Inland Northwest driver Nicole Behar were forces to be reckoned with as the local drivers raised eyebrows in qualifying with their efforts.
Behar, an East Valley High School student who was making her series debut in the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150, qualified with the seventh-quickest lap.
Havens, who was in the last car to go out for time trials, stunned the series regulars en route to his first career NASCAR pole. Cutting a lap of 13.80 seconds, Havens established a Stateline Speedway NASCAR track qualifying record.
Leading the field to the green flag, Havens held the point through much of the tightly knit first lap before yielding to David Mayhew as lap two got underway. Mayhew showed the high side of the track to be an effective way around as the groove worked well for Pursley and McReynolds to clear Havens.
A spin by Jack Chisholm on lap 55 brought out the night’s first caution, which bunched the field up for a double-file restart. Dylan Lupton stormed by McReynolds to take over second place with Mayhew just in front.
At the race’s halfway point, Mayhew continued to hold the top spot over Lupton with Pursley, McReynolds and Bickford all single-file behind the leader.
Late in the race, the top four drivers sliced and diced their way through lapped traffic. The night’s second caution from a spinning Anthony Giannone would raise the blood pressure of the front-runners heading to the restart.
Lupton forced his way underneath Mayhew in Turn 3 and assumed the top spot with Pursley making it three-wide in the same corner one lap later. Lupton and Mayhew made contact bringing out the night’s final caution that set up a 15-lap sprint to the finish.
Pursley held onto first place over Bickford with McReynolds, Havens and Behar giving chase as the green flag flew. The surprise mover in the final dozen laps was Behar, who cleared Havens then McReynolds to find herself running in third place with five laps to go.
Bickford stayed glued to Pursley’s rear bumper for the late stages of the race, then set up the veteran for an underneath pass with three laps to go that proved to be the winning move of the night.
McReynolds got around Behar, which also opened the door for Havens and Mayhew to clear the 16-year-old and round out the top-five running order. Behar’s sixth-place finish matched the highest for a female driver in series history.
Scoring a NASCAR victory on a short-track like Stateline Speedway was something that Bickford felt could happen.
“I knew one of our best shots to get one was on a track like Stateline Speedway. To do it in front of a packed grandstands here, for my car owner Bob Bruncati and the whole Sunrise Ford team is great,” he said.
Havens was ecstatic with his fourth-place finish after taking advantage of a late-race exchange between McReynolds and Behar.
“We got loose early in the night so to get this finish is a great run for our Western Rail team,” he said. “I saw (Behar) and McReynolds we’re battling there and knew they’d get together, so when it happened I just went for it and made the pass work to get us a top-five run.”