After an exciting season opener at Scotia Speedworld, we are right back at it at Petty International Raceway for the Irving Oil Blending & Packaging 100.
We enter this week with John Flemming as our point leader. Why you may ask? He didn’t win the Harry Poole Memorial 100 presented by Lucas Oil, but he did finish second and led the most laps of the race, which the latter gave him five bonus points. With only two points separating each finishing position, it gives Flemming a three point edge on Turple heading into Saturday’s second event.
I know, I know, it’s only the second event, but something I did mention in my Notebook from last Saturday is relevant when you look big picture. An early start to the season, whether positive or negative, has a lasting impact on what you will do throughout the season. Is it a tell tale sign of what is to come? No, but it can help us predict who and who not to watch throughout the year. Guys that need to rebound after a subpar opener that do not do well here might find themselves in a hole that they may not be able to dig out of by September. Yes, I know I am talking about a championship real early - but look at what Shawn Tucker dug himself into last year by starting off the year by finishing 19th and being outside the top 15 in points after three races.
Speaking of Tucker, technically, he is the defending champion of this race. Keep in mind, this race was rained out last year and moved to July, one week prior to the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body. Tucker led late after Flemming led 43 of the laps and faded to fifth at the finish, behind a trio of Islanders including Jonathan Hicken, pole sitter Dylan Gosbee and Darren MacKinnon. The Petty Raceway track has many characteristics that Oyster Bed Speedway does, which Islanders like Hicken and Gosbee have translated into checkered flags at Petty before. Tucker won two of the three races here last year after also taking the River Glade International in August and with the #52 Dobbelsteyn Service & Maintenance Chevrolet coming off a podium at Scotia Speedworld, a good finish here could spell trouble for the field when it comes to the standings.
If you play the statistics, Flemming is the only driver on our series to have top ten finishes in every one of our Tour sanctioned races at that track since we began going there in 2011. While he hasn’t won in any Tour sanctioned events at the track, he does have a win in an Invitational event and the three races here last season were instrumental in crowning the #97 team as champions. You have to believe if they come out of the box quick on Saturday, they will be good come feature time and hey, they won the only Irving Oil Blending & Packaging sponsored event last season when Flemming took the checkers first at Speedway 660!
Our winner from last week in Shawn Turple hopes to continue to trend this weekend at Petty Raceway, a track that was key in his 2012 championship run when he won the International. When you look at John Flemming, Flemming won the finale in 2012 (in Turple’s championship year), then won the opener that following season en route to a championship title. In 2013, Turple won the finale at Scotia Speedworld (in Flemming’s championship year) and opened up the next season with a win in the season opener. If you are into trends, you would believe that Turple may have something going here. Turple likes Petty, but only finished a season best seventh here last season in the three stops to the high banks of River Glade, New Brunswick. Can Turple’s new car shake the Petty monkey he had in 2013?
When it comes to looking at possible winners, you have to look at those three PEI drivers that I mentioned earlier. All three finished each of the three races last season in the top six at Petty and while only Gosbee scored a win, Hicken and MacKinnon both ended up on the podium twice. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if all three ended up on the podium and Prince Edward Island swept the top three spots on Saturday by the way they ran in 2013! If you look at last week, Hicken and MacKinnon finished eighth and ninth, respectively, at Scotia Speedworld while Gosbee was an innocent victim after Terry Dougay got loose and ended up coming into the path of Gosbee on the backstraight, ending both nights 36 laps shy of the finish in the Harry Poole Memorial 100. Either way, it will be hard to beat these three on Saturday.
Both our sophomores did extremely well at Scotia Speedworld last weekend and while one finished better than the other, the other showed big speed throughout the afternoon. “Clifford” bested “Big Bird” in the running order Saturday by a score of 5th to 19th, but Blenkhorn had the leg up on Butcher earlier in the afternoon by posting top time in the Atlantic Tiltload Time Trials. The last time we were at Petty Raceway, Blenkhorn was third in the final running order in the Parts for Trucks 150 and Butcher ran laps in the top five before having to settle for sixth. Both have shown the maturity and speed to be able to reel off a win, but with those names I just mentioned, veterans of the sport that are lights out at Petty, the pair will have to bring their “A”, and probably “B” and “C” games to the table on Saturday.
Our only full time rookie on the series will be put to the test for her first race in a Super Late Model on a high banked track. Sarah McKay has a few starts in a Late Model Sportsman at Petty Raceway and while she has tested her Pro Stock at Petty, Saturday will be her first time in traffic on the high banked track in her new digs. Sarah enjoys the high banked tracks and, although they are different but like I mentioned share some of the same characteristics, with seven of our 12 events on our schedule at high banked ovals, if she adapts quickly Saturday, she should be one we will need to keep our eye on late in the season.
Another familiar face to the Tour will be back behind the wheel on Saturday. With Matt Harris having prior commitments, the Matt Harris and Son Limited Ford Fusion will be driven by the man who has a hand in preparing the race car in Lonnie Sommerville. The former Atlantic Cat 250 winner is making his first Tour start since last year’s classic at Scotia Speedworld and should be a factor for the victory in the #87 car. If I were you, I wouldn’t count him out!
There are about a half dozen others that could win the race on Saturday if they hit it right out of the box during practice. Craig Slaunwhite never got to run last year’s International and had Travis Benjamin at the wheel of his #99 car. After he came off a fourth place run last weekend, he has to be one to watch. Donald Chisholm sat on the pole for last week’s Harry Poole Memorial 100 presented by Lucas Oil and showed speed in the event. Chisholm is a former winner at Riverside and has an impressive resume in the handful of races he has competed at on the Petty high banks. Kent Vincent is also a former winner at this race track and with the team looking to gain some traction after a 15th place finish at Scotia Speedworld, the #8 Vector Aerospace Dodge may not be a bad pick for this race.
Keep your eye on a few Moncton based teams looking to make a splash Saturday during the Irving Oil Blending and Packaging 100. Jason Carnahan makes his season debut aboard his #55 car while Tim Rodgers is expected to return for the first time in over five years to the series. The Rodgers camp has been picking away at building a race car over the last year and change and word is that the car has finally been completed.
Brady Creamer has recently picked up a former Wayne Smith prepared race car and will be ready to rock and roll on Saturday. Creamer is a former Pro Stock competitor at Speedway 660 and has also spent time in Legend cars. Most recently, the Creamer Racing stables spent a stint in Sportsman competition, taking part in many big races in the region and running at Petty Raceway for a championship, which the Miramichi native finished third in.
One debut I am really looking forward to is the #85 of Ken MacKenzie. MacKenzie made the move to Pro Stock a few seasons ago at Speedway 660 and is now focused on running his car at Petty Raceway, which will include our three Tour races at the track. MacKenzie is really looking forward to running with our series, which he refers to as one of the items on his bucket list to be able to run with the likes of Flemming, Tucker, Turple and the gang. On Mackenzie’s resume includes a pair of River Glade International wins and Speedway 660 Sportsman champion, among his many career highlights. His son, Kenny Jr., is a heck of a wheelman and you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about in the undercard Street Stock feature on Saturday night. I’m excited for the team, and cannot wait to call Mackenzie’s first Parts for Trucks Tour start on Saturday.
There you have it. Who do you have picked to win Saturday? Out of our two dozen or so cars, any one of them could easily take the victory Saturday night, the question is who will be the one making the victory lap? I hope you are with us Saturday in River Glade, because the Irving Oil Blending & Packaging 100 is going to be a show for the ages!
So, what are you waiting for? Hop in the car, stop at Irving Oil, grab some gas, some snacks and maybe a quart of Irving Oil MAX1 oil for your car, call the Atlantic Motel in Berry Mills, book a room and make a weekend of it in the Moncton area!
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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