As I’ve said multiple times, the goal of everyone at the Golden Gate Racing team this year is the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship. So after winning three straight races, and gaining the points lead by rebounding from an 18 points deficit after the second race, we felt it was time to start points racing, and being a little more conservative.
The biggest points race we have all year is Sonoma. Generally with 30+ cars showing up, and the majority of them racing only the one event, the race can get tricky — and nerve-wracking for any driver competing for the championship.
We came in to the race weekend with more momentum than ever and a lot of practice time at the track on iRacing, where I could even simulate my gear ratios . . . and the car that I began my three-fer spree with plus the comfort of being back on a road course. The car was good in first practice on Friday, but after several tweaks and some open track time we quickly jumped to fastest on the practice charts for the majority of second practice, with a very comfortable race car.
The next morning came quickly and the team awoke in race day form, ready to go for that fourth straight win and carry on with our momentum at a race that has troubled me in years past. The sun drew high and the temperature peaked to warmer than it’s been at any race throughout the beginning of the year. Qualifying put us fifth on the grid which was a solid, conservative starting position that would give me time to assess the few cars that were close to us in speed.
The race got underway and the pace began to move quickly. As the front few cars started off I quickly moved up to third and began to track the two Gene Price cars that ran first and second. I had a nice view as they bounced-off each other, locked-up their tires, and seemingly wore each other out. Over the next 20 laps the field evened out and the Golden Gate Racing Team began to prepare for our pit stop. Lap 18 saw us come in under green for a quick splash of fuel and then get right back on track and take the lead several laps later.
Over the next 25 laps I was able to establish a pretty commanding lead of nearly 10 seconds, and at what I thought was a comfortable pace I was conserving my tires. With about 20 to go though, I realized the entire passenger side of my car was coated in oil. With oil puddling on the floor board and dripping from behind the firewall, we clearly had some sort of leak. My lead started to fade as the rear tires lost more and more grip, and I lost all forward bite off the slower corners.
The end of the race drew several cautions, spattering the last 10 laps. With the lack of grip, I fell to second, and began trying to defend that spot as I felt my fourth straight win slip away. The final caution resulted in a green-white-checker finish where I held on to second until the final corner, which seems to be so typical at Sonoma. Turn 10 is often the corner where all your work throughout the race is lost. The move I had performed all race was used against me and held me to a third place finish, but after some heavy contact I feel like coming away on the defensive was for the better.
The end result was far from what I wanted. After leading the most laps, and having a car that was very capable of taking the win, it’s tough to lose in that fashion. All in all it was a decent points day, though, and even though we fell to second in the standings we’re only three points out of the lead, and have more of our strong tracks ahead. Time to start another win streak!