James Bickford, the reigning NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Rookie of the Year backed up his first career victory one year ago at Stateline Speedway with a clutch performance Saturday night en route to the NAPA Auto Parts/Toyota 150 victory.
The 17-year old cousin of Sprint Cup star Jeff Gordon held off Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz on a green-white-checkered finish to nab his second career series win.
Bickford, the pole-sitter, set a lightning pace in the early going.
With the field running the night’s 25th lap, the first of seven caution periods brought the cars back together on the restart. Current series points leader, Chris Eggelston, applied pressure to Bickford over the next 20 laps and took the lead on lap 42. Bickford was up to the challenge as he retook the point on lap 47.
After leading just four laps to earn the victory last summer, Bickford and his Sunrise Ford crew put forth a dominant effort in this year’s race as the California-based team used a solid set-up under their Ford Fusion that had a good mixture of qualifying speed to earn the pole while also showing strength on long green-flag runs.
Bickford had to deal with Jefferson Pitts Racing teammates Noah Gragson and Gracin Raz, who worked together to apply pressure to Bickford as the race entered the final 50 laps. But he had enough horsepower exiting the corners to keep his fellow Ford drivers on their toes.
By lap 125, Raz had closed to Bickford’s rear bumper, and over the course of the next four laps made the most of his opportunity to take the lead just after a caution period which again put Bickford in chase mode. The battle for the lead was brief as Bickford went back to the top of the running order on lap 130.
When it appeared that Raz and Gragson would be left to battle among themselves for the runner-up spot, the night’s final caution flew for a spin in turn No. 4 from Alex Schutte. Going into the green-white-checkered flag run, Raz and Gragson put pressure on Bickford to make a mistake, but he didn’t in taking the victory.
Spokane drivers fared well in their efforts to defend the home turf, with last year’s pole winner, Braeden Havens, scoring the third-fastest lap in qualifying and running among the top five through the race’s first 30 laps. A transmission failure on a restart at lap 36 ended his hopes for a strong finish.
Nicole Behar recovered from contact with David Mayhew on lap 125 to advance from the back of the pack to seventh place.
The region’s top-finishing driver, Blake Williams, who was making his first career start in the series behind the wheel of the third Jefferson Pitts Racing entry, wheeled his McClintock and Turk Ford to fifth place despite spinning on lap 94.
In the evening’s preliminary race, Spokane’s Andy Brown, who leads the Late Model division championship standings at Spokane County Raceway, made his trip to the Post Falls quarter-mile payoff with a win in the Dr Pepper Ten Late Model division in his Zip’s Chevrolet.
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