For the last year, what happened in the K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma Raceway “ate away” at Will Rodgers.
The 23-year-old driver finished second to Cup champion Kevin Harvick on the road course located roughly six hours north of his former home in Solvang, California, a result that led to Harvick’s public praise of Rodgers.
“Sonoma has always been the one that I wanted (to win), for a few reasons,” Rodgers told NBC Sports. “It was my first NASCAR start ever (in 2016). The other part is we finished second to Kevin Harvick last year. As that may be considered a win itself, I still didn’t walk away with the hardware. Knowing where I made mistakes and why I didn’t win that race. I needed the chance to go back and do it.”
Thanks to Jefferson Pitts Racing and sponsor KELLY Benefit Strategies, he was able to that last Saturday, winning the Carneros 200 (airing at 6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN) from the pole and defeating five Cup drivers: Aric Almirola, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.
Rodgers said it “for sure” was the biggest win of his career.
“I say my success was not because I beat five Cup drivers,” Rodgers said. “It’s because I matured as a driver and I decided this is exactly what I’m going to do and I went and accomplished it. It wasn’t necessarily banking that I beat those guys, it was that I accomplished it myself. I’d say that’s something that will hopefully help me not let it go to my head because it’s just a way for me to say to myself, ‘I need to keep working harder.’ I need to finally now figure out how I can have that mindset going into a circle track and go win a race.”
Rodgers has now won the last four K&N road course races, including the K&N East race the previous week at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Though he’s competed in five of the six K&N West races this season, the NASCAR Next member is not slated for another K&N start until the Aug. 3 K&N East race at Watkins Glen, where he won last season.
“Road course racing, I’m so comfortable with,” Rodgers said. “I don’t really have to worry too much. I know when I’m in the element everything is going to fall into place and I’ll be comfortable.”
Before arriving at the K&N and ARCA levels (where he competes part-time for Ken Schrader Racing), Rodgers developed his racing skills in the Pirelli World Challenge, the Sports Car Club of America, the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series, motocross and go karts.
He detailed how all of those racing disciplines has helped him in his transition to stock racing, which “combines all of those things while driving a boat.”
Go karts – “You learn how to be consistent and you learn how to read race tracks. You start to learn your competitive edge.”
Motocross – “You learn how to be extremely aggressive yet read terrain very well.”
Sports cars – “You learn how to really maximize your equipment and you really maximize the racing surface. The way that I put it, try to wring the neck of any car that you’re driving at any track you race on.”