If you missed Saturday nightís show at Petty Raceway, you missed a dandy of a race.
Like I said on Race Time Radio Monday night with the Joes, the Irving Oil Blending & Packaging 100 played out quite differently than our opening event the week prior at Scotia Speedworld. The cautions fell differently, giving us a different pace to the race. The weather was different and while it cooled off once the sun set Saturday, the weather wasnít the frigid cold we had during the Harry Poole Memorial 100 presented by Lucas Oil.
Something similar? We had the best field of competition, back to front, that I have seen in a long while.
We had 23 cars, which may have been down from Scotia Speedworld, but for the size of the race track, the 23 we had filled the place quite nicely. Those 23 cars were well prepared too, shown by the first lapped car under green came at Lap 51 and all but one car was on the track when the checkers flew.
The cars were fast and close in competition and the attrition rate was all but nil throughout the field, which sets up well for the upcoming Ron MacGillivray 150 at Riverside on Saturday, June 14th.
Letís not get too far ahead of ourselves though.
Letís step back to a conversation I had with Dale Holmes on Sunday at Oyster Bed after the Irving Oil Blending & Packaging 100. Something he said stuck with me among other things we spoke about, and that was about the competition on the series. Holmes, a former winner with our series, said ďif you asked guys when they pulled in the pit gate at any track five or so years ago, you would have five or six guys that really felt like they had a legitimate shot at winning the race. Now when you have guys pull in the gate on race day, you have at least 15 cars each week that believe they can win, and they back it up on track.Ē
Dale hit the nail on the head.
While the cream begins to rise to the top traditionally around the Lap 50 mark of our 100 lappers, throughout the day, you will have about three quarters of the field show some strength and put up times in practice that will give them hopes as a contender for the event. For example, in our first practice last Saturday, we had 15 drivers within two tenths of each other. Times would continue to get faster over the afternoon but the competition all picked up throughout the field, not just those top drivers.
Then Dylan Blenkhorn made everyone look quite silly in Atlantic Tiltload Time Trials.
We thought Greg Proudeís 13.560 second lap would be tough to beat. It eclipsed the time set by John Flemming and Shawn Turple, and the three were quick in practice.
Then, for the second consecutive week, Blenkhorn laid down quick time, travelling around Petty with a 13.480 second lap, falling just short of our Time Trial record set by the late Mike Stevens in 2011 when he opened the track with a 13.437 second trip around the high banks.
Blenkhorn, his fellow sophomore Cole Butcher and Hicken were the story in the early stage of the race but by the time we hit a quarter of the race distance, Flemming made his presence known. Those four, and Proude for bits and pieces of the 100-lap race, were the class of the field. Back to what I said a bit ago, when you have 15 cars that have the ability to win, a handful traditionally rise to the top as the race goes on, and while these five made a claim, it was Hicken who took his all the way to the bank and traded it in for a checkered flag.
With the win Hicken becomes the second driver to win multiple point races in our eight visits to Petty Raceway. With an eighth place finish to kick off the season, combined with scoring maximum points this past weekend and keeping everyone but Blenkhorn from leading a lap, he moves to second in the point standings, ten points behind Flemming. Both he and the #97 car are good at Riverside and while Hicken is still looking for a win at the James River, Nova Scotia track, he owns victories at our other two high banked tracks at Petty and Oyster Bed Speedway. Mark my words - if the #5 Castle Building Center Chevrolet team can finish near the top at Riverside in two weeks, come out with a decent finish at Scotia Speedworld (a track where he has also won at before) and get back to Petty at the end of the month still within ten points of, or have the point lead, he will be dangerous threat down the stretch coming to the championship.
Flemming also showed that after two races that heíll be tough to beat in the title hunt. Two races, two second place finishes and one Linde Most Laps Led Award sees him up by ten points over Hicken. He goes into a race in two weeks where he finished, you guessed it, second to Donald Chisholm in 2013. Flemming had told me prior to gate opening last week that they had discovered a water pump issue in practice earlier in the week and had fixed it. If we would have had a caution, Flemming may have made things interesting with Hicken as the #97 car was a rocketship in the late stages of that 67-lap green run. Flemming was relaxed heading into the 100-lap race and kept cool as he worked his way up to second at the end of the race. You know that team likes to win, and like Jimmie Johnson taking a while to heat up this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, you best believe Flemming is working up to a big win before long.
Cole Butcher had the fans on the edge of their seats all night long as well.
After a stellar Atlantic Tiltload Time Trial run, which placed him third of 23 cars, he drew the pole for the King Freight Dash and finished second. For many of the early and middle laps of the Irving Oil Blending & Packaging 100, Butcher kept on Hickenís bumper, even getting into him a couple times as the #53 appeared to be a tick better on the early run on the exit of the corners. At the end, he faded a bit as Flemming passed the #53 car and Blenkhorn worked on him in the closing laps but to no avail.
If you ask many interested onlookers of this series, many will tell you both Blenkhorn and Butcher will win a race on this series sooner rather than later. Some say both will win before 2014 is out. Question is now, who comes first? With Butcherís first series podium and Blenkhornís stellar qualifying ability this season, both are making solid cases. If youíre keeping track at home, Butcher sits fourth in the series standings after two races, 25 points up on Blenkhorn and just 18 markers out of the leader.
While the caution free final 67-laps of the event played into the hands of guys like Hicken and Flemming, it didnít help some of our drivers. Teams that were involved in early cautions, like Jason Carnahan, Dylan Gosbee, Terry Dougay, Donald Chisholm and Sarah McKay, did not have much aid from cautions to try and pick up spots on restarts while the field was bunched up. Another that appeared to be coming to the front but ran out of time was Shawn Tucker. We saw it at Scotia Speedworld a few races last year when the second half of the race rolled around, it was like Tucker flipped a switch and the car and driver came to life and to the front of the field. Tucker worked to the front and was solid in the late stages, but the long green run prevented him from really putting himself up front when it counted and had to settle for sixth.
Couple quick notes on some drivers before we sign off for the week. Tip of the cap to Colby Smith for a solid 12th place run in the King Racing car. While he was originally scheduled for five races in the car, this past weekend wasnít a part of the effort and the car sits 11th in points after two races. The team has to compete 80% of the races (10 of the 12) with the original driver at the helm, so maybe weíll see the #31 and Smith more than we expected in 2014 - would definitely be a nice addition to our series.
Iím sure our local talent from Petty Raceway wanted a bit more than they got on Saturday night. Outside Carnahanís 15th place run (he has a few laps under his belt with us in recent years), Brady Creamer led the local talent with 18th, Kenny Mackenzie was 21st and Tim Rodgers was the only driver who did not finish the race and came home 23rd.
I know for a fact Mackenzie was happy after the race, I stopped by his camper after the race and spent some time with the crew. His son Kenny Jr. won the Street Stock race on Saturday and proved in front of the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour crowd that he could wheel a race car and his Dad was just happy to be competing with the series. The smiles had not left the faces of Sr., Jr., Drew Lewis, Sherry or any of the crew when I spoke with them late Saturday night and Iím sure they still havenít left. Iím looking forward to seeing Ken race with us again on June 28th during the Lucas Oil 100.
Speaking of the campground at Petty Raceway, if youíve never stayed over at the track at River Glade, New Brunswick, you definitely owe yourself to do so. Last year, I stayed with Mini Stock driver and her Shotgun Racing crew and did this time around as well, but got to catch up with some great people who stopped by our setup at the pit entrance to the track. Joey Moser and company was set up next door to us. Moser is a long time fan of our sport and in addition to venturing out to as many Weekly Racing Series shows at Scotia Speedworld, he follows us everywhere on the Tour. Moser told me Saturday night he only missed one race on our 12 race schedule last season and planned on making all 12 this season. We spent a while around the fire Saturday night doing some bench racing, and look forward to doing the same next time weíre at Petty on the 28th.
Iím sure the race teams, drivers and everyone involved in putting on a Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour show behind the scenes, whether at a track or Tour level, will echo the same sentiment that I will here. If youíre reading this and youíre a fan that follows us to every race or darn near every race, you deserve some sort of award. Itís a grind at times, but if it wasnít for you supporting our series, cheering on our teams or buying products from our sponsors, we wouldnít be here. You are a dedicated group of race fans, and some of the best race fans anywhere in North America and itís one of the reasons Iím honored to be a part of this series every week. Thank you all so much - and hope to see you at the track in the coming weeks, because after this off-weekend, we have four races coming at you back-to-back!
Thatís all for now - next week, weíll talk Riverside Speedway and Round Three of the Tour, the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150!
Until then, keep the hammer down and weíll see you at the track.
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