WATKINS GLEN -- After finishing second to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick at Sonoma Raceway in June's K&N Pro Series West race, Will Rodgers was told to head to Watkins Glen International for the Finger Lakes Wine Country 100 East Series race in August. The Californian's reward was his first victory in his first attempt east of the Mississippi River.
Rodgers, who started second and faded to third in the first half of the 41-lap event for the third undercard race of the weekend, held off a win-or-bust last lap attempt by Ruben Garcia Jr., to pick up the trophy - with a beaming Harvick joining him in victory lane.
"We had a little bit of luck on our side, for sure, but it was great racing nonetheless," Rodgers said.
The 23-year-old sports car racer hounded pole sitter Ryan Truex for the first seven laps of the race - pressuring the veteran Truck Series driver, but soon faded to third before the series' "halftime" kicked in on lap 22. After the cooldown, Todd Gilliland managed to take second place away, and move into the lead when Truex cut a tire entering the esses - which sent his Toyota crashing into the Armco. With the clear-cut best car out of the race, the race was wide open.
Rodgers perfectly set up and executed a pass on Gilliland exiting the carousel and entering Turn 10 shortly before the final caution of the race. Max Papis, coming out of retirement to wheel a K&N Series car, stopped in the chicane with a blown engine with six laps remaining to set up a green-white-checker finish.
A brief red flag gave Rodgers time to ponder his situation.
"We've been struggling all year with restarts, it's something I'm still trying to learn.This is my 14th or 15th stock car race, it's kind of hard to adapt after coming from lower horsepower cars in sports car racing," he said. "It's something we're trying to pick up and it was on my mind - I knew I needed to do a good restart and needed to barrel it into the corner pretty deep to keep those guys somewhat behind me. We were able to clear them by Turn 2 and didn't look back from there." It's a good thing he wasn't looking.
Garcia made several desperate attempts at the lead over the final three circuits, but never quite reaching Rodgers' back bumper until Turn 11 on the final lap. The Mexican racer made a bonzai move into the final turn, taking Rodgers' rear bumper with him into the powder-blue SAFER barrier in 11.
"I had no idea. I was just focusing straight forward. I was just focusing on the white flag," Rodgers said. Gilliland, thanks to a bit of attrition, finished second, followed by Harrison Burton, who rallied to place third.
Rodgers became the 14th different winner at The Glen in the K&N (formerly Busch North) Series.