Patrick Staropoli played the patient game in his first visit to Irwindale Speedway. The result was the rookie’s first NASCAR victory.
The 24-year-old from Plantation, Fla., took the lead on a Lap 137 restart and drove to the win in the NAPA Auto Parts 150. It was just the sixth career start for the Harvard University graduate.
“I’m so excited to be standing here right now,” Staropoli said. “I never imaged a year ago I’d be in this position.”
“To even be here tonight and win this thing, just blows my mind still.”
David Mayhew edged Greg Pursley for second, while Staropoli’s Bill McAnally Racing teammate Brandon McReynolds came home fourth. Earlier in the day, McReynolds won his first Coors Light Pole Award as the series made its first trip to Irwindale since 2011. Dylan Lupton rounded out the top five.
The victory is the latest in a whirl-wind year for Staropoli, who is currently enrolled at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Staropoli entered and won the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge in 2013, and has turned that one-race deal into multiple opportunities.
He finished fifth in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series West debut at Spokane last year, and had four top 10s in his first five starts before Saturday. Staropoli finished sixth last week in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at Bristol.
“A year ago, I was in school full time and working on my own cars out of my one-car garage at my house,” Staropoli said, “and since, it’s just been the ride of a lifetime.”
Pursley jumped to the lead on Lap 2 but quickly relinquished the lead back to McReynolds. Pursley was part of a pack of expected contenders – including Mayhew, Lupton, and James Bickford – who dropped back in the field in a tire-conservation effort.
Brett Thompson took the lead from McReynolds on Lap 27 and paced the field for the next 102.
After the halfway mark, the shakeup began. The only problem for those mired back of the running order was everybody had the same strategy and they wound up battling for the same real estate.
“We went up there early to get a bonus point – that’s kind of important in the point system right now,” Pursley said. “We had a plan to drop back and save our tires and everything. Then we got back up to 12th about midway through the race and it wasn’t such a good idea anymore.”
“We thought everything was going good and dandy at about halfway,” Mayhew said, “and I’m like, yea, we’ve got this and things going nice and smooth and passed the first couple guys coming back toward the front. And it got to about 50 to go and it got to 12th and that was it. It just got real tight and everybody leveled out.
“I got on the radio and said, ‘This was the wrong decision, we’re too far back.’ ”
Staropoli was one of the first to make a move and it paid off.
“I knew they were up front using the cars up,” Staropoli said. “We could tell from the beginning they were digging, trying to get track position. I could see people sliding off the corner in front of me. I just knew if we just bided our time and waited, we’d be okay.
“When it got close to the end, I knew it was go time and put the hammer down and started slicing through the field.”
Giles Thornton finished sixth, followed by Thompson, rookie Ryan Partridge, Taylor Cuzick and Carlos Vieira. Partridge was the Lucas Oil Late Model Division champion for Irwindale’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series last year and won the track’s truck division race earlier Saturday night.
After two races of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West season, Pursley moved six points ahead of McReynolds and Lupton, eight in front of Giles Thornton and nine over Thompson.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will race next at Stockton (Calif.) 99 Speedway on Saturday, May 3.