By Vincent Delforge, special to KickinTheTires.net
Tanner Reif largely dominated the NAPA Auto Parts 150 presented by West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame on the half mile at Irwindale Speedway, Calif. this Saturday, March 26.
Author of his first career pole, the young 16-year-old driver from Las Vegas, NV led the race from start to finish and even more since it was extended by three laps by an Overtime! For owner Bob Bruncati it is the end of a wait that will have lasted 15 races since the last victory of one of his cars. Indeed, we have to go back to August 8, 2020, in Douglas County to find a Bruncati driver on Victory Lane, in this case Blaine Perkins.
A single session of an hour and a half to fine-tune the setup for the race but also to obtain pole position. Tanner Reif will be the fastest with a time of 18.436 sec (97.635 mph) having done 37 laps. He who five hours later would offer his team’s 37th victory to Bob Bruncati.
He was ahead of Cole Moore by 105 thousandths. Moore who wasn’t going to ride much with just 11 laps. No test on a long run. An error as we will see later.
Joey Iest and Trevor Huddleston sharing the second row. Todd Souza is fifth ahead of virtual championship leader after Phoenix, Jake Drew.
Paul Pedroncelli did not do a single lap. But the surprise was that Sarah Burgess was on the timesheet. She did four laps in order to validate her license by the officials. It’s therefore the first time in the history of the West Series that a mother-daughter duo has participated in the same session. She drove the backup car of Sebastian Arias of the Nascimento Racing team. To make the No. 04, it is a simple piece of tape placed in front of the No. 4 which is affixed to the bodywork.
Note the last-minute absences of Tim Spurgeon, due to lack of logistics, Andrew Tuttle, car not ready in time and Kyle Keller, whose repair of the car, damaged in Phoenix, could not be completed in time. The KKR team does not have a backup car. They will all be in Bakersfield next month.
Finally, Sarah Burgess will not take the start of the race. It was planned that she would do a start and park to validate her license and then resume her role as crew chief for her daughter Bridget. But as she told us, she will be at the start of the next Irwindale race on July 2nd.
Once the pace car has freed the 15 drivers, something obvious will quickly jump out at us. Tanner Reif had the best car. Even if Cole Moore challenged in the first laps. Paul Pedroncelli returns to the garages after two laps for his traditional S&P.
On the 13th lap, following a contact P.J. Pedroncelli’s bodywork surrounding his front left tire, which was all bent, partially covering his number 33.
After 20 laps, Chris Lowden, Stafford Smith and Bridget Burgess are already relegated one lap behind the leader.
After the first 30 laps, Reif controlled by slowly but surely widening the gap on his pursuers, Moore was 1.8 seconds behind the leader. The driver of Ford No. 9 taking a lap to Nick Joanides already has now only nine opponents in his wake.
Moore finds it increasingly difficult to contain a trio of Ford drivers behind him. On the 31st lap Iest took second position. Then it will be Trevor Huddleston the next lap and finally Jake Drew. In three laps Moore slipped from second to fifth position. And he finds himself alone because the sixth Todd Souza is almost six seconds further!
On lap 36, Drew continued his methodical comeback and took third position from his former teammate Huddleston. At the same time Reif relegates Sebastian Arias and Takuma Koga to one lap.
In front, Joey Iest gradually reduced the gap to 1.3 seconds on the 45th lap. Three laps later P.J. Pedroncelli, then eighth, lost a lap to the leader. Half of the drivers are more than a lap behind the leader!
Suddenly Iest lost speed and on lap 60 he hits the wall hard on the exit of Turn 2. His right front tire punctured. This was the first caution of the evening. A chance for Austin Herzog, decidedly not in the rhythm from the beginning who saw the leader Reif arriving on his rear bumper. P.J. gets the free pass.
Iest goes through the pitlane to fix, losing three laps in the process.
At the restart on the 67th lap Reif will not be ahead of his teammate Drew for very long, the latter being overtaken by Huddleston. Two laps later, Todd Souza lost positions, victim of a flat tire, the left front, but he was able to reach the pitlane without touching anything. He returned to the track, four laps down, just before the second cautio marking the halfway mark.
The free pass was Koga who is seventh. All the drivers are in the pit lane for the regulation five minutes stop. The classification for the restart was as follows: Reif, Huddleston, Drew, Moore, Herzog, P.J. Pedroncelli and Koga for the drivers in the leader’s lap. Then come Arias (-1), Joanides (-1), Burgess (-2), Iest (-2), Souza (-3), Chris Lowden (-3). Stafford Smith (-6) then 14th will not return to the track. The springs are too stiff, causing vibrations making the car extremely brutal in its reactions. He prefers to save the car for the next race in Bakersfield.
Restart on lap 80 with Reif in front. Iest took 10th position from Burgess who had had a solid run in the top 10 so far. Moore jumps Drew for third on lap 86.
Ahead is the “Huddleston moment”. The HPR driver knows the Irwindale track better than anyone and puts pressure on the leader. The gap between the two will oscillate between two and three tenths for nearly 10 laps. Then around the 95th lap, Huddleston began to lose contact little by little. Six tenths on the 100th lap, then 1 second on the 110th, 1.3 seconds on the 120th, 1.5 seconds ten laps later and finally the 2 second mark is reach on the 140th lap.
P.J. Pedroncelli, sixth, loses a lap on the leader. And during all this time there have been some changes. Drew took third position from Moore on lap 102 and about fifteen laps later Iest, who continued his comeback, took ninth position from Joanides.
Five laps from the end Reif was 2.4 seconds ahead of Huddleston who is more concerned with defending his second position than with the possibility of catching the leader. Drew is in his rear bumper. The 2021 championship runner-up is so focused on his battle with Huddleston that he hit the rear of Lowden at the end of the backstretch. That sent the No. 11 Chevy driver into a spin and the outside wall on Turn 3.
With all this the race will end in an overtime. P.J. Pedroncelli again benefits from the free pass, and he will put it to good use. The pressure is terrible on the shoulders of the rookie Tanner Reif, but he will perfectly control the restart.
On the other hand, Huddleston spins his tires a little when accelerating. Behind Moore rams him and sends the Ford No. 50 sideways. Huddleston hooks and tears the right front of Drew who had not asked anyone! If the Ford drivers destroy their luck.
It allowed the Bill McAnally Racing duo, who were in great difficulty just before the third and final yellow flag, to save their race by taking second and third positions respectively for Moore and Herzog. If Drew manages to save a good fourth position. Huddleston could do nothing against P.J. Pedroncelli who took fifth position from him on the last lap.
The rest of the top-10 is made up of Koga, Arias, who earned the first top-10 in his career, Souza and Iest who limit the damage to the championship.
Reif earns his first victory for his second career start. He is the 198th different winner since the creation of the West Series in 1954. He is also the 13th driver to win at least one race for Bruncati Racing.
He’s a wild young man who gets out of his car jumping around like a kangaroo. He climbs the fence like Tony Stewart in the past. Out of breath he answers Jesse Punch’s first questions on Victory Lane:
“This has been the best day of my goddamn life, I’m sorry,” Reif explained. “I want to thank the team, my family, my sponsors, everyone that helps us get out here, I’m out of breath, I’m so sorry. Man, I think it’s the first of many, I think we’re here to stay, I really think so. The team did such a good job, I train every day and I dedicate my life to this, and I really put more work than I ever have into anything, I’m really proud of everyone that helped us get here.”
In the championship it is Jake Drew who retains the leadership with 79-points. Two more points than Reif, four over Moore, eight over Herzog and 12 over veteran Todd Souza who closes the top-five.
Next race April 23 at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, Calif.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Sal Sigala Jr. via Vincent Delforge.