Irwindale Speedway: The Race in Photos

Photojournalism: R. A. Fariello | Photography by Gina Graham Fariello

The 2nd race of the 2014 NASCAR K&N Pro season took place on 22 March at the Irwindale CA Event Center Speedway.  Thompson Motorsports brought the familiar Blu.Lng/ RTTI #61 Chevrolet to the race.  This car, after extensive alterations during the winter, proved itself to be very quick last month at PIR. Here too, it also proved itself to be equally fast on Irwindale’s ½ mile oval.

The weather at Irwindale was a bit of a surprise for Southern California. In the late morning practice session the weather was cool and mostly overcast. For the afternoon session, it was sunny and 75 with a 95 degree track temperature. And, for the 8:30 PM race start, it was 59 degrees – and falling! As every race fan knows, this makes it very difficult for the Crew Chief, and the Tire Tech, to prognosticate an accurate setup for the race itself.

The times recorded for the first and second scheduled practice sessions placed the #61 car roughly mid-pack. Clearly, there was some concern in the TMS pits concerning this on track performance.  However, Brett insisted that the car was “really good” and that he knew it “would race great.” Thus, it was something of a surprise to the Team that the TMS #61 only qualified in the 11th position.

But Brett continued to insist that there was no concern and, again, stated that the car would be great in race conditions.

The race began on time and, after the initial first lap “ordering of positions”, Brett entered turn #1 in 15th place. But on this lap his turn entry was down on the apron of the track; not on the preferred fast groove which is located about 2/3 of the way out from apex of the turn. However, if a driver has the ability to consistently control the sideways ‘drift’ coming ‘off’ the low line, he/she can normally gain positions with that technique.

The use of the low line, however, is VERY bad in terms of excessive tire wear!

Clearly, after 16 NASCAR K&N Pro starts at Irwindale, Brett knew that risk very well.  But, as he later explained, he had to get “up front” early and that tire wear was a chance he had to take if winning was the goal.

In what could only be described as remarkable driving, Brett used this low-line technique to move from 15th after lap #1, to 1st place by lap 26! He then easily remained in first place until lap #129. Ironically, at about lap #120, Brett remarked that his tires were “shot” and it was a good thing that he was so far out in front of the 2nd place car.

That concern turned out to be visionary.  On lap #124 an accident created a yellow flag period that was then followed by a lap #130 restart. Brett’s large lead, and his ‘cushion’ for worn tires, had now evaporated. On the restart there was the usual bumping and blocking and, after things were sorted out, the #61 car was 7th. With his tires “sacrificed” to the need to get up front during the early laps, the #61 car was locked into that position for the rest of the race.

Brett later said that the badly organized restart did not “really matter” because “my tires were complete junk by then and I could not have held off the other cars”.

Although race circumstances dictated the final result, the entire TMS Team was very happy with the cars performance. Following the results at PIR, and its cars exceptional speed at Irwindale, the entire “Blu.Lng/RTTI” TMS Team knows that their hard work at the Jerome Idaho TMS Race Shop is paying dividends at the track.

The “Blu.Lng.com & Rich Thompson Trucking Inc.” #61 Chevrolet accents the yet empty grandstands at the Irwindale Event Center. On this day, periods of sunlight were outnumbered by cool and mostly overcast conditions.

After unloading the car, the normal steps of ‘assembly for racing’ begins.

Practice sessions find the NASCAR Officials in their “best vantage point” locations.

Practice #1 was conducted in unusually cool and overcast conditions.

Practice #2 saw the #61 car again being mid-pack in time. This was a concern for Crew Chief Will Harris who, incidentally, has been doing a superb job this year. Brett simply stated “its’ OK, the car is good”.

Jane Thompson, a very popular figure with her warm smiles for everyone, is, on this day, the object of smiles directed at her. “Pit Birthdays” may be unusual, but this group wanted to be with her in celebrating her “annual 29th birthday” … again!!

Before the 4:45 PM Qualifying Session, the cars must go through yet another NASCAR Tech Inspection.

After the final Tech inspection the cars are lined up for Qualifying.

Following NASCAR Tech, Qualifying began. The #61 car qualified an unremarkable 11th. But again, Brett said “it is a good car … it is real neutral … it will be good in the race.” Crew Chief Will Harris, however, continued to worry about the car’s rather lackluster performance throughout the day.

Meanwhile, Kip Childress (center), the Series Director for the NASCAR K&N Pro West Series, enjoys a laugh with NASCAR/Fox TV commentator, Larry McReynolds (Left – with crossed hands). Kip has an admirably involved ‘management style’ in which he monitors and experiences all aspects of the NASCAR Events.

Fast Company! Following Qualifying, the cars were impounded in the infield. Afterward, Brett walks back to the Hauler in the company of David Mayhew and Greg Pursley {C & R}. All three are highly seasoned veterans and their experience level was in evidence as Brett and David raced inches apart following the final restart.

The cars are lined up in starting order as race time approaches.

Brett Thompson “suites up” as his Team Members, wife Brooke and, Jane Thompson, offer last minute support.

The Pace Car lights are off and the race is about to start.

The “Low Line”: By lap #2, Brett had moved to the flat apron area of the turns. This on-track methodology, accompanied by its necessary ‘slide’ back up on the track, can be very hard on tires.

Lap #26 and Brett Thompson is about to take the race lead.

Lap #27 scoring .

By lap #122, the #61 enjoyed a commanding lead as can be seen by the 2nd and 3rd place cars not yet at the start/finish line –and the rest of the field not in the picture. This was the “pad” Brett needed to nurse his badly worn tires another 28 laps. Although all of the cars had worn tires, the 24 laps Brett spent on the low-line EARLY in the race was taking an “extra” toll on his lap times. A Yellow Flag & subsequent Restart would NOT be good for TMS.

As feared, and accident occurred on lap #125. This “bunched up ”the field – and almost assured that the #61, with its almost destroyed tires, would not be able to maintain first place. Professional Driving! Note that on the last restart Brett Thompson and David Mayhew race very close to each other – but without an accident!

Now, with about 9 inches between them, Brett and David enter turn #1 side by side.

With the race complete, Brett pulls off the track.

The LF Tire might have wanted to say “OUCH” … but it WAS still the BEST tire on the car!

Brett Thompson finished in 7th place. After 2 races, he is now 5th in series points and a total of 9 points out of first. It is a promising start for the 2014 season.

Now, it is time for the 750 mile drive back to the Thompson Motorsports Race Shop in Jerome ID. But this time the ride back home will be made easier by the excellent performance of their cars at both Phoenix and at Irwindale. And yes, in conformance with the traditional Rich Thompson Trucking Inc. business philosophy, the #61 Hauler has ALL NEW TIRES on it!!

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