WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Will Rodgers had never raced at Watkins Glen International until Friday. Expect him to return.
Rodgers held off Ruben Garcia Jr. on the final turn and won the K&N Pro Series East race at Watkins Glen International. Garcia swung wide entering the final turn in one last attempt to pass and slid into the Armco barrier that lines the track. He finished fourth.
"It was pretty exciting," Rodgers said. "I was trying to not get passed from behind until the last corner, when I could really look ahead. I knew they were close and knew they'd be aggressive. That's what you've got to do."
Not bad for a guy who hadn't planned to travel to Watkins Glen. His schedule abruptly changed in late June when he finished second _ by 0.053 seconds _ to Cup star Kevin Harvick in a K&N Pro Series West race at Sonoma. When Harvick went out the next day and dominated the Cup race, it was time to make a trip to The Glen.
"That race was pretty surreal, being able to run wheel-to-wheel with Kevin," Rodgers said. "Somebody of his caliber is so experienced and for me to run behind him, I think I learned a lot of things I applied here.
"After we had that great run we decided we absolutely need to take advantage of road courses _ that was one of Kevin's suggestions to me and it paid off."
Harvick was paying attention as storm clouds began to move into the area. He exited his motor home to congratulate Rodgers.
"It felt pretty great," Rodgers said. "We did the same podium picture for him at Sonoma after the Cup race, which was pretty awesome. So, for us to have back-to-back photos, it's definitely for the memory book. And it means a lot for somebody of his caliber to recognize me and what we're working on and to accomplish a win _ to congratulate me like that is great."
Todd Gilliland, the 2016 Can-Am Pro Series West champ, finished second in his shot at a fourth win in the East. He has five wins this year in the West as he tries to win both series in the same year, something nobody has ever done.
Points leader Harrison Burton, son of former Cup driver Jeff Burton, was third.
Ryan Truex started from pole and it appeared to be his race to lose. But late in the 42-lap event with Gilliland challenging for the lead, Truex slid off course to the left going into the second turn, bounced off the barrier, and continued uphill on the grass before coming to a stop as Gilliland, a third-generation racer, took over the lead.
Truex finished 19th, 16 laps behind and ahead of only Enrique Baca.