Tires were smoking and gears were grinding Saturday.
And, at the end of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West in the Brainerd 125, Michael Self was standing on the winners’ stand with his first career victory after a pass of leader Dylan Kwasniewski with two laps left in the 50-lap event.
Kwasniewski, just 16 years old, had run comfortably in front of the field, but he ran into issues with his gear box and it was his undoing at the end. Kwasniewski was still able to build on his points lead with the second-place finish in front of Greg Pursley who was third.
Self said it was the strategy of his team to conserve equipment throughout the race and it paid off.
“You have to conserve these cars because they are so big and heavy and wear out tires,” Self said. “It is a really abrasive track and our plan was do not even try to pass guys the first half of the race. Just ride and that is exactly what we did, and with 20 laps to go we had a great race car underneath of us.
“I know that No. 3 (Kwasniewski) and No. 26 (Pursley) were using up their stuff. I had been watching it the entire race and that’s what it took at the end. Dylan is an incredible driver and I could tell he was really driving hard at the end, and it got the best of him and we were able to pull away.”
Kwasniewski was pleased with his car, and he came up just two laps shy of getting his third win in six events. The NASCAR K&N West Series has 15 races this season and Pursley and Kwasniewski had won three of the first five heading into Brainerd.
“It was awesome and we had a perfect car,” Kwasniewski said. “We were pulling away for sure, but we ran into bad luck on the last 10 laps. I was holding on to the wheel with one hand trying to keep it in second gear and then it just lost it the last two laps and I didn’t have second gear at all.
“(Michael) Self did a great job of passing me and congratulations to him. Greg did a great job too, and he raced me tough. It was a good race and unfortunately for me that had to happen.”
Drivers and fans were fortunate that a small window in the weather allowed the race to go on. Originally scheduled to start at 4:45 p.m., the race was pushed up to 4 p.m. Qualifying at 1:45 p.m. was cancelled due to the weather. The race wrapped up at about 6:30 p.m. with rain coming 10 minutes later.
“It was a little bit crazy as far as the conditions went,” Self said. “At 10 o’clock (Saturday) morning, I never would have expected that we would be racing today. I was a little bit bummed when they released the schedule with us not getting to qualify because of the rain.
“(Friday) I knew that we had such a fast car and that we had a car to win. And then to know that we would be starting ninth because of the qualifying being rained out. ... But my spotter, crew chief and myself came up with a plan and it is exactly what we did. We just conserved our stuff and waited, and we knew that we would be in a good spot at the end.”
Pursley started the race with the lead, but Kwasniewski took the top spot on lap three. Anthony Giannone brought out the caution flag on lap nine when his car went left the track and went into a gravel pit.
Kwasniewski said Turn One was a challenge.
“Turn one is so tight so I was worried about us going through there, but Greg and I were getting through there pretty good. It was a good race with clean restarts, so it was good,” Kwasniewski said.
Two laps later the green flag was back out and Pursley regained the lead from Kwasniewski.
Kwasniewski then got the lead back on lap 17 but only held it for a short time as he and Pursley came in for fuel on lap 20. Kwasniewski took the lead back on lap 30. Then on lap 43, Self was able to move into second place behind Kwasniewski, setting the stage for his last pass on lap 48 to get the victory.
Self was pleased with the track, and the challenges that it gave drivers.
“I couldn’t be more proud to win the inaugural series and this is a great facility,” he said. “I come from a road racing background and this is a great track. It was a ton of fun too, and I recommend to anyone to try it if they get the opportunity.
“It’s a great race track and you get a little bit of everything. It is narrow and difficult and it makes it fun. It is tough to pass. It’s a fun place to be at and it teaches guys to manage their equipment. I hope it was good racing for the fans and that’s what we were looking for.”
NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES WEST
Brainerd 125 Unofficial Results
At Brainerd International Raceway
Lap length: 2.5 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (9) Michael Self, Park City, UT, Chevrolet, 50 laps, 80.819 mph.
2. (1) Dylan Kwasniewski, Las Vegas, NV, Ford, 50.
3. (2) Greg Pursley, Newhall, CA, Ford, 50.
4. (4) Derek Thorn, Lakeport, CA, Ford, 50.
5. (3) David Mayhew, Atascadero, CA, Chevrolet, 50.
6. (5) Eric Holmes, Escalon, CA, Toyota, 50.
7. (8) Jonathon Gomez, Twin Falls, ID, Chevrolet, 50.
8. (6) Austin Dyne, Malibu, CA, Ford, 50.
9. (14) Dylan Hutchison, Fair Oaks, CA, Chevrolet, 49.
10. (10) Carl Harr, Edmonton, Alberta, Chevrolet, 49.
11. (12) Daryl Harr, Edmonton, Alberta, Chevrolet, 49.
12. (7) Cameron Hayley, Calgary, Alberta, Toyota, 49.
13. (11) Brett Thompson, Jerome, ID, Chevrolet, 48.
14. (13) Ryan Philpott, Tracy, CA, Ford, 48.
15. (16) John Wood, Eagle, ID, Dodge, 47.
16. (17) Jack Sellers, Sacramento, CA, Chevrolet, 47.
17. (18) Chris Evans, Portland, OR Toyota, 44.
18. (15) Ronnie Jay, Victoria, British Columbia, Ford, 31, transmission.
19. (19) Anthony Giannone, Colorado Springs, CO, Chevrolet, 6, accident.
Time of Race: 1 hour 32 minutes 48 seconds
Margin of Victory: 4.859 seconds
Fastest Qualifier: Field set per rulebook (rain)
Caution Flags: 1 for 4 laps.
Lead Changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: G. Pursley 1-2; D. Kwasniewski 3-11; G. Pursley 12-16; D. Kwasniewski 17-20; E. Holmes 21; D. Mayhew 22; G. Pursley 23-29; D. Kwasniewski 30-48; M. Self 49-50.
Standings: 1. D. Kwasniewski, 263; 2. G. Pursley, 246; 3. D. Mayhew, 241; 4. D. Thorn, 235; 5. E. Holmes, 234; 6. M. Self, 203; 7. J. Gomez, 196; 8. C. Hayley, 195; 9. D. Harr, 189; 10. A. Dyne, 188.