Will Rodgers ready to defend Sonoma K&N win in stout field
There will be no shortage of star power when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West makes its annual stop this weekend at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
The more the better as far as defending race winner Will Rodgers is concerned.
Whether its drivers looking for road course experience or getting extra track time since the road course has returned to its original 2.52-mile length with the addition of “The Carousel,” NASCAR’s national series will be well represented in Saturday’s Procore 200.
Among the Cup Series drivers planning to compete are Austin Dillon and rookies Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric. Dillon and Preece will be driving for Jefferson Pitts Racing, which has won five K&N series road course events in the last two years.
“It’s a pretty good field. I don’t know if it’s as competitive a field from top to bottom as last year. The guys we went up against last year and the equipment we went up against might have been a little better,” Rodgers told Motorsport.com.
“This year, I really have my work cut out for me from at least one driver and that’s Noah Gragson. He’s driving the car (at JPR) that I used to drive. I know that No. 7 car is the best thing out there on road courses and we all know Noah’s not too shabby on a road course.”
Rodgers, 24, is no slouch himself when it comes to road courses and Sonoma in particular.
He won this race a year ago and in 2017 finished second to Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick. Rodgers has four road course wins in the K&N series. In addition to his victory at Sonoma, he has two wins at New Jersey (2017 and 2018) and Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 2017.
This season, Rodgers is driving the No. 40 Ford for Levin Racing. The car is sponsored by Risk Management Advisors in addition to the American Liver Foundation.
Saturday’s race is Rodgers’ first in NASCAR competition this season and he doesn’t plan to squander the opportunity.
“It can’t get any better than this in the K&N series for me,” he said. “I haven’t been racing as much as I’ve wanted to this year. We’re working on hopefully bigger and better plans for 2020.
“Having this opportunity from Matt Levin relatively last minute is something I’m very grateful for and something I was really hoping would come to fruition.”
The K&N West race will be conducted much differently than the Cup race on Sunday. The race will consist of 56 laps and will be run in two segments, with a scheduled break at or near the conclusion of Lap 25.
Also, teams have a maximum tire allotment of 12 tires for the weekend – four for practice; four for qualifying and then to begin the race; and four to added during the break.
In addition to his road course experience, Rodgers may be one of the only drivers in the field who has extensive race condition experience in “The Carousel,” which plunges from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 before dropping onto the raceway’s longest straightaway into the Turn 7 hairpin.
Rodgers has competed several times on the full 2.52-mile course while competing in SCCA’s Spec Miata class.
“I love the addition of The Carousel and I think it will change the race drastically in my opinion,” he said. “Maybe not for K&N but definitely for Cup, it will change the strategy.
“I’ve got about 250 laps around the course including The Carousel. I feel very confident going into it. I think a lot of drivers are going to be very surprised with how you now have to race this course now.”
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