Race Notebook: IWK 250 Presented By Steve Lewis Auto Body
What an incredible weekend that was across the board!
Everything about the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body lived up to expectations and then some. Let’s first talk about the race, and what a race it was!
Shawn Tucker made his move on defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski with 24 to go, loosening him up enough for Keselowski to give him the inside lane. Donald Chisholm followed under Keselowski and it looked like Chisholm had what it took to finally shake the monkey off his back to win his first 250 but it was Tucker who held off all challengers for the win. While Chisholm had to come from the back after switching ignition boxes at halfway, Tucker had a top ten run going all night but turned the wick up when it counted in the second half, shadowing Keselowski for most of the second half before pulling the trigger on Lap 226.
There’s no denying the #52 team and driver Tucker have held one of the hottest hands of this six race stretch. The last four races have resulted in two wins and two second place finishes and a net gain of 27 points on leader Flemming. Tucker has started the last two seasons slow but has reeled off a strong middle portion of the season. In the case of 2013, Tucker finished our first three races in 19th, 13th and 21st, which put the former three time champion 19th in the standings. He now sits third, 86 points behind Flemming. We’ll talk more about points in a bit.
A couple stats on Tucker’s win. This is Tucker’s 20th career Tour win, tying him once again with Flemming for the second most wins in the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour era. Wayne Smith, who made his return on Saturday in a throwback #44 car, holds the mark at 25 career Tour features win. Of note, the win was Tucker’s 70th career top five finish, which puts him one behind Smith for the career lead since 2001.
When it comes to numbers at Riverside for Tucker, the win is his fifth on the high banks and puts him second to Smith, who has six wins since 2001 at Riverside. The win ties Smith’s number of 14 top threes and puts Tucker into the lead when it comes to career top fives with 18 in 34 races, which equates to the #52 coming home in the top five at Riverside 53% of the time.
One more nugget to watch - Tucker now has 250-lap wins at the Auto Value 250 (Speedway 660) and IWK 250. If he can win the August 10th Atlantic CAT 250 at Scotia Speedworld (a track at which Tucker has five wins at), he will become the first driver in history to win all three major Maritime 250-lap races. He is the only driver who has the chance to pull the feat at the CAT 250.
When it comes to the IWK 250, Donald Chisholm’s luck at this event can be likened to Dale Earnhardt Sr and the Daytona 500. Chisholm has come close on a few occasions but has yet to win our “Daytona 500.” Chisholm had a huge lead on one of our green flag runs early in the event before the #89 Keltic Ford Fusion developed an electrical problem, which resulted in the team changing the ignition box at halftime. After starting scratch with 125 laps to go, Chisholm got up on the wheel and picked his way all the way to second. You have to feel that the #89 car will eventually win one of these marquee races, it’s just a matter of when.
How about our third place finisher on Saturday night? It was an honor having Brad Keselowski racing with us on Saturday night and he nearly ended up taking the trophy back with him down south! Keselowski led 152 laps and was well on his way to the 250 win before Tucker and Chisholm turned up the heat, combined with Keselowski’s car going away from him in the final 50 laps.
What really impressed me is the feedback Keselowski gave to crew chief Gary Crooks throughout the weekend to make the car better for Brad, especially after being out of a Super Late Model for nine years. I watched the pair work on the car on Thursday night at Riverside and Brad pinpointed exactly what the car was doing, where it was doing it and what it would do if he pushed it harder to get the extra tenth the Sprint Cup champ wanted out of it.
Keselowski was awesome to have here as a driver outside the car as well. He was a class act with the fans, officials and his peers that were driving the other 33 race cars on Saturday night. Hats off to Riverside International Speedway for getting this done. It’s rare that you get a current Sprint Cup Series Champion, at his best mind you, to come out and race against our best. At the end of the day, it goes to show that our boys can play against anyone - and come out on top!
Kent Vincent got up on the wheel Saturday night as well. One of the strongest cars in the second half of the event, the #8 car drove up to the front and was closing in on Keselowski at the end of the race but had to settle for fourth. Vincent and the team have struggled in a few races this season and it’s great to see them run up front. With the Island coming up in two weeks, keep a half eye on that #8 car!
Austin Theriault proved why he is one of the up and coming stars of this sport with a top five finish on Saturday night. Theriault, driving a car prepared by Gary Crooks, spent most of the evening in the top five before staying too long in the pits at halfway put them to the rear of the field. Like Chisholm, Theriault got up on the wheel and drove his car back to the top five before the checkers flew.
George Koszkulics darn near brought the 250 home for Nova Racing on Saturday night as he wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the Sprint Cup champ just past the halfway point. Koszkulics would eventually use up a bit too much of his #88 Nova Construction Ford and faded to sixth at the end, but if it was a 150 or a 200 as opposed to a 250, we may have been writing the headlines about the New Glasgow driver as opposed to Tucker.
Quickly back through the field, point leader John Flemming finished in eighth, second place Turple was 12th. It keeps Turple in second by 81 points but puts Tucker in third, 86 points behind Flemming and five behind Tucker. Cole Butcher was the top rookie on the night and was really impressive in his first extra distance race by qualifying and running in the top ten all night long. It equates to us having two points between our top rookies, with Dylan Blenkhorn out ahead of Butcher. Denver Foran is only 28 points back from the two, making this probably one of the hottest contested freshman battles since Leonard Boutilier and Jerome Kehoe back in 2010.
Terry Dougay suffered mechanical problems on Saturday, leaving the team with a lot of work to do prior to their home track race. Shawn Pierce had motor troubles with his #21 car, leaving the team scrambling to try and find another power plant for the Exit Realty PEI 100. Dylan Gosbee and Mike Stevens got caught up in a crash and Brad Eddy, Colby Smith, Leonard Boutilier, Brad Mann, Jason Carnahan, Wayne Smith and Mike MacKenzie were all out well prior to the 200 lap mark.
It was heartbreak for four teams that did not make the show. Lonnie Sommerville had been fighting engine issues with his car all weekend and it eventually sidelined him from qualifying. Josh Collins and Jerry Hayes were each looking to make their first starts in a Pro Stock but could not lock themselves in through qualifying or did not have a point provisional to fall back on, so they had to load up early along with veteran Robbie MacLean. It’s a tough way to go but with only 30 spots in the field, every team knew what they had to aim for in Dartmouth Dodge Heats and Last Chance race in order to qualify for the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body.
Before we got going for introductions, it was John Chisholm who made the headlines by donating one million dollars to the IWK Foundation. John is one of the kindest people you will ever meet and has done so much for this sport and the IWK, among other organizations he has a hand in. When you see him at the race track, be sure to thank him for all he has done.
So many storylines, not enough space to write about them. Next week, we head to Prince Edward Island for our only stop at Oyster Bed Speedway in the Exit Realty PEI 100.
Enjoy your off week; we’ll catch up next Thursday.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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