A lot has gone right for Derek Thorn this season, and, while not nervous, the Bakersfield racer does head into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race Saturday night at Kern County Raceway Park with a bit of trepidation.
Thorn enters the penultimate race of the season with an 18-point lead over Cameron Haley with Haley's teammate, Greg Pursley, just 25 back. Still in contention for the series championship, but needing a lot of help, is Michael Self, 33 back.
With three wins this season and 12 top-five finishes in 13 outings (the other was a ninth), Thorn is confident in his team and his abilities.
"We've got two points races left and it's a big deal for us to win this championship," Thorn, 27, said. "We have a decent points lead but one mistake or one bad decision by a competitor could take us out of it. I know I shouldn't do it, but I worry about the things out of our control."
That said, Thorn will approach this race like he has every race this season: to finish as high as he can without taking undue risks.
"It's not a cautious approach, but open-minded," he said. "You don't want to make any mistakes, but you also want a good finish. Plus you need to get as many bonus points as you can."
Just one point separates each finishing position, but drivers earn a point for leading a lap, a point for leading the most laps and three points for a win.
"You always want to be up front," Thorn said. "We don't show up to finish second or third, although those can be good points races. But leading the points, you have to weigh if gaining one point (one position) is worth the risk. If I was running third and not going for points I might make a riskier decision to try to get second."
This is the first West race in Bakersfield since Mike David drove to victory at the old Mesa Marin Raceway in 2005 where Bakersfield's Mike Duncan finished second and clinched the championship.
Duncan's crew chief was Bill Sedgwick, who is now Thorn's crew chief. Sedgwick won two West championships as a driver and has been a crew chief for three others.
"To have a guy with that much experience always helps out," Thorn said. "We're a lot alike on the competitive side."
There are 28 pre-entries for the race, several with local ties.
Bakersfield drivers David Mayhew and Dallas Montes will be driving. Steve Portenga, whose shop is nestled in the hills not far from the track, is crew chief for Self. Byron Campbell of Bakersfield owns a car being driven by Jason Fensler and Bakersfield's Bob Newberry has Brian Ickler in one of his cars.
Mayhew finished fifth in West points last season but has competed in just three races this year as he stayed close to home, winning the Late Model track championship at Kern County Raceway. Mayhew finished fourth in the West race at Sonoma, where Thorn won.
Montes drove the first three races this season for Bob Newberry but has not competed since. He will be driving a car co-owned by Tim Smith, who won the Pro Late Model title this year at Kern County Raceway.
"I can't wait for this race," said Montes. "Kern County Raceway Park is perfect for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West. It is fast and wide."
Also racing on Saturday will be Spec Mods and Late Models.
K&N West qualifying is set for 4:45 p.m., with an autograph session featuring all drivers at 5:30.
The 35-lap Spec Mod feature starts at 5:30, followed by a 50-lap Late Model feature.
The NAPA Auto Parts 150 will start at 7:30. The night ends with a fireworks show.