Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads Riley Herbst, driver of the #19 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, during the NASCAR K&N West Series Chevys Fresh Mex 200 on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway. Elliott went on to win the race.

Matt Sullivan, NASCAR

SONOMA – Pandemonium.

One word says it all.

Pandemonium is the best way to describe Saturday’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series Race at the Sonoma Raceway.

There was a six-car pileup BEFORE the Chevy’s Fresh Mex 200 even began.

Now that’s something you don’t see every day.

Since it was my day off and NASCAR is racing this weekend just north of us in Sonoma, I figured why not just head on up, catch the qualifying for Sunday’s 28th annual Toyota Save Mart 350 and catch a bonus race to boot?

That’s where the K&N Series race comes in.

After the big boys and girl finished qualifying, the K&N cars took to the track – although some of them didn’t officially complete the first lap.

The K&N Series is NASCAR’S top development series – young racers working hard to get into the show.

Now back to the race.

As the pace car pulled off the track before the official start and the 31 racers were putting their feet to the floor heading to the start line, David Mayhew – driving the No. 17 MMI Racing car – missed a gear and his car didn’t accelerate. That triggered the six-car pileup.

The cars of Mayhew and Johnny Bornerman had to be hauled away. Total laps – zero.

Stafford Smith made it around the just once before he was BTW – behind the wall. Rich DeLong III completed two laps then joined the others BTW.

Chris Eggleton made and Alex Schutte both made it about halfway into the 65 lap race – Eggleton got through 34 laps before his car quit and Schutte, driving the No. 88 car that had most of its left front end ripped off, got to lap 38, while spinning out twice along the way, before his car finally quit on him.

And that wasn’t the end of the mayhem.

There were a number of crashes, spinouts, and racers simply missing their turns and running off the track. With many of the spinouts and missed corners, the drivers just turned their cars around and headed right back onto the track.

A crash on the second lap brought out the caution flag once again.

Six laps in, the caution flag was flying once again.

In all, 8 cautions were called.

The race which would normally take about an hour-and-a-half needed two hours to complete.

For the record, NASCAR Sprint Cup racer Chase Elliott won the race, after a daring pass of the leader, Noah Gregson, with three laps to go.

Elliott led early, then dropped back to conserve his tires.

The K&N racers can only run on one set of tires.

But Elliott never fell below fourth place, keeping the leader, Gregson, in his sights the whole way.

By the 62nd lap, Elliott had used his Sprint Cup experience to first pass Ryan Partridge, then Gracin Raz to move into position for the win.

After the race, Elliott told me he was trying to be smart with his tires so they’d have more traction when he needed it late in the race.

“The others drivers were running a little harder than I wanted to early and I wanted to put my focus on the end of the race when it really mattered,” said Elliott.

In the 62nd lap, Elliott made his move on Turn 7 then easily pulled away for a 2.336-second victory.

“On the final pass, I didn’t think I’d get a chance to pass him until Turn 11 but he got a little loose on Turn 7 and that me the chance to get by him,” said Elliott.

The race also gave him a bit more seat time heading into Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.

“That was the ultimate goal of entering this race, to get extra laps,” said Elliott. “So I hope it helps. We ran this race differently than we’ll run tomorrow, for instance, we’ll be able to put on fresh tires, but today’s track time will really help.”

As for the second place finisher, Gregson was gracious in defeat.

“It was awesome to come in second behind a driver like Chase Elliott. I’m really proud of the way I raced today. Having a Cup guy behind you is definitely intimidating but he was definitely the car to beat out there today,” said Gregson. ”But I love road racing. I love this course. I was having fun racing out there all day and that was the biggest thing.”

Elliott races for the same NAPA team that sponsors NHRA Funny Car driver and San Luis Obispo racer Ron Capps.

After Capps’ season-opening race win in Pomona, Capps told me that Elliott was driving so well that he was really putting the pressure to perform on him.

When I asked Elliott if he’s really doing that he told me, “You tell Ron that he’s the one putting the pressure on me.”

The pressure didn’t get to Elliott this day.

Capps, by the way, qualified second Saturday at the NHRA's Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.

It is quite the busman’s holiday. I got to watch the NASCAR qualifying and a highly entertaining demolition derby.

The best news is no one was injured – except the cars.


Senior Sports Reporter