Eric Holmes keeps finding ways to win at Douglas County Speedway. He ruled the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race for a third consecutive year with a victory in the Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 on Saturday night.
The win, the second of the season for Holmes and the 11th of his career, continued the domination of his NAPA-sponsored team at the Roseburg track – where they have won seven of the past nine events.
Unlike a year ago, when the two-time series champion started from the pole and led every lap, this time Holmes was shuffled back to third at the start of the race and had to battle his way back. He slipped by Jonathon Gomez for second soon after an early restart and then took advantage of another restart to take the lead on lap 53 from David Mayhew, who had won the pole and led from the drop of the green.
“The start of the race I tried real hard to rough him (Mayhew) up and try to get by him because I knew I needed to be on the bottom, so I wouldn’t fade back to third or fourth position,” Holmes said of starting on the outside of the front row in his No. 20 NAPA Toyota. “The bottom’s important here. On that restart on top, I just gave it all I had there on the high side and squeezed him down as tight as I could, just took his position away a little bit. Definitely it was a little rough, but that’s what short track racing’s all about.”
Once out front, Holmes was able to maintain the lead – despite some fierce challenges from Mayhew.
“We had a good car up front,” Mayhew said. “We put a little bit of distance on him up front early. It started to get a little bit tight there toward the center of the run. On one of the restarts, Eric got a good run on the outside and we battled for a couple laps. He just ended up getting by. He really just had a little-bit better car than us tonight.”
Mayhew, who led Holmes in the championship standings coming into the event, continued to hound him for the remainder of the race.
“Every once in awhile through lapped traffic, we’d get back to his bumper and we’d nudge him a little bit to try to get him loose, but it was good short track racing,” Mayhew said. “He had a better car, came out better tonight.
Holmes went on to win by a margin of .749 seconds over Mayhew. Blake Koch recovered from a multi-car incident to take a career-best third-place finish. Moses Smith slipped by his teammate, Paulie Harraka, late in the event as they finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
Veteran driver Greg Pursley was sixth, followed by series rookies Todd Souza, Troy Ermish and Justin Funkhouser – with Ermish and Funkhouser taking career-best marks. Gomez rebounded from an incident to finish 10th.
With his victory, Holmes edged closer to Mayhew in the championship standings. Mayhew leads 685 to 643. Pursley is third with 582, followed by Gomez at 563 and Josh Combs at 545. Completing the top 10 are Smith at 538, Koch at 537, Harraka at 530, Souza at 519 and Luis Martinez Jr., at 511.
“The points lead is important to us,” Mayhew said of maintaining the top spot. “ It’s real early in the season. These short tracks, we know Eric’s going to be tough. We feel like we have a little bit better program on the road course stuff. All the others are kind of a toss-up. We really just need to put our heads down and if we can’t win the thing, finishing second’s the next best thing. As long as we can keep doing that and reel off some wins on a couple road course races and see what happens.”
The Toyota/NAPA Auto Parts Bonus Challenge 150 will air on SPEED on Thursday, June 17 at 6 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West returns to action on Saturday, June 19 in the Thunder Valley Casino Resort 200 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.