Cup stars, Jeff Gordon's cousin in K&N Sonoma race

June 18, 2014, Staff report,

16-year-old James Bickford gets road course tips from "Cousin Jeff"

If a driver ever needed advice on how to succeed at Sonoma Raceway, he or she could do a lot worse than getting tips from Jeff Gordon. The five-time Sonoma winner and four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is surely a busy man, however, as he'll be focused on this weekend's Toyota/SaveMart 350 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, TNT), so how does one go about procuring said advice?

Well, it helps if Gordon is your cousin.

James Bickford, a 16-year-old high school student from nearby Napa, hopes he can continue to rise in the standings of NASCAR's K&N Pro Series West under Gordon's tutelage for Saturday's Carneros 200.

"That is one really tough track. There are only two places you can pass without the possibility of getting into a lot of trouble, but I've had some good instruction," Bickford said in a team release.

Bickford and Gordon recently toured the course with the 16-year-old in a passenger car, pointing out where to brake, accelerate, shift and pass. Gordon's has five victories at Sonoma in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are more than any other driver.

Winner of the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Late Model championship at All-American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., Bickford finished sixth in the Armed Forces 150 K&N event at Kern County Raceway in Bakersfield last Saturday night to grab the lead in the Rookie-of-the-Year standings and move up to seventh in the overall series standings.

"James has a great future," said Performance PR Plus team owner Bruncati who is legendary for finding young talent. "He is the best young driver I've seen in years."

It's a good thing Bickford is getting the extra advice -- he'll need it. The Carneros 200 field is chock full of talent, including NASCAR Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and Michael Annett, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and NASCAR Next drivers Dylan Lupton and Brandon McReynolds.