Race Preview: IWK 250 Presented By Steve Lewis Auto Body @ Riverside International Speedway
Here it is folks, one of our biggest races of the season, the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body.
Upwards of 30 cars will look to leave Riverside International Speedway with not only a big pay day but the prestige of winning on the biggest stage in our region.
We always say we have well over a dozen drivers that have a legitimate chance at winning each of our races each week, and this one will be no different. But, if you had to pick a favorite, who would you go with?
Well, before we dive into statistics, let’s look at what some of our fans think. I put up a post on the Tim’s Corner Motorsports Facebook page, asking fans to pick the podium for Saturday’s race (with the correct answer receiving two grandstand tickets to the Atlantic Cat 250, giveaway open until Friday night). Of the responses as I write this on Tuesday evening, 13 different drivers have been selected, with eight different drivers being selected as winners. Leading the way are the last two champions of the race, Shawn Tucker and John Flemming.
Neither of these two have won a race this year, but both are leading the points with Flemming having a five point edge over Tucker after five races. Both appeared on the podium last week and both have strong records at Riverside. Keep in mind, Tucker has won the last two races here, including last year’s IWK 250. They own nine of the 35 feature wins at Riverside since 2001 (Tucker six, Flemming three), and Tucker has either a share of, or leads, statistical categories for feature wins, podiums, top-fives and top- tens at Riverside. Statistically, you have to believe Tucker is the best on paper going into this race.
But paper is just that.
Back to the fan predicted podiums for a moment, and we find two drivers who have never won a 250 next in the favorite pool of our fans - Dylan Blenkhorn and Donald Chisholm.
Statistically, Chisholm is really good at Riverside. Chisholm is third all-time in wins (four), podium finishes (12) and top-fives (16) in series history at the track. Chisholm finished second last year to Tucker in this race with a motor that was going sour, and won the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150 here last year.
It’s hard to deny that Blenkhorn is holding one of the hottest hands on this series this season. With two wins, and a night that didn’t go his way last week and still ending up fourth says something about the caliber of driver at the wheel and the teamwork in the pit area. The question remains if he can go the distance with all the pressure and money that is on the line in events like this and the Atlantic Cat 250.
The only other driver to appear on a double digit number of those fan predicted podiums was our celebrity driver, Matt Crafton. The reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, who took the point lead in the truck series last week, appeared on many fan ballots, but not one predicted he would win. As we saw with Brad Keselowski last year and Joey Logano the year before, you can come in and lead a ton of laps but it’s closing the deal and winning the thing that has stumped the last two celebrity drivers. Logano said it best when he was here and finished third to Flemming and Jonathan Hicken, that their tire conservation game in the waning laps, knowing how to save their tires for the last 25 laps, was what beat him in 2012. Crafton will have to be mindful of that, and the stiff competition he is facing, when we throw the green silk Saturday night.
The four other names fans threw out as potential winners included last week’s winner in Geary, Shawn Turple, former IWK 250 winners Kent Vincent and Darren Mackinnon and Jonathan Hicken. Of that group, any of them have a chance at winning. I look at Turple and Hicken as maybe being the stronger of the two when it comes to recent successes leading into this event. Turple has two wins on the series in 2014, including the win last weekend at Speedway 660, while Hicken won on the high banks at Petty Raceway in May. Both have had success in the IWK 250 before, including second place runs in the event, but neither have won.
Here’s an interesting statistic, in the last six IWK 250 events, three second place finishers have gone on to, or had previously won the IWK 250. I’ll explain, in 2009, Kent Vincent finished second in the IWK 250, only to win the race in 2010. In 2010, Vincent led Wayne Smith to the line, who had won the race the year prior. When Darren MacKinnon won the IWK 250 in 2011, John Flemming finished second and would go on in 2012 to win the race.
Three second place finishers of this event since 2008 that have yet to win the race, Turple (2008), Hicken (2012) and Chisholm (2013) will be in the field Saturday. If you are into quirky stats like that, that may be one to follow along with this weekend.
Okay, so off that board of nine the fans mentioned, who do I have as potential drivers to watch? Honestly, there are over a half dozen more, but if I had to pick three, I’d go with Greg Proude, George Koszkulics and Jerome Kehoe and I’ll tell you why. Kehoe has finished tenth in the last two races he ran at Riverside Speedway and showed a ton of speed in the open practice back in June. Koszkulics has been close to winning this thing in the past and has a trio of Tour wins at Riverside Speedway to his credit. Greg Proude, another former feature winner at Riverside, had a rough week last week but was running fourth before the last lap wreck happened. Prior to that, the #29 had two podium runs on this series and with the way he’s been running, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take his first 250-lap win Saturday night.
Wayne Smith is on the pre-entry list and is a wildcard entering this one. I say that because while he won this race in 2009, he’s been out of the seat for a bit and hasn’t shown much in the way of results since semi-retiring after his last championship. Could he be a contender for the win at the end of this one? Not saying that he can’t, but when you have the talent that is in these race cars every week, then you throw a veteran in that only runs one-off races, those guys that are at it every week are usually a bit tougher to beat.
Brad Eddy is returning to a familiar seat this weekend. Eddy’s team sold his former car to Vance Hanes, and Eddy will get to drive the car this weekend in the 250. This is the first time local fans have seen him since last year’s 250 at Speedway 660 and is his first race since the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown in April. Eddy is one of the finest young talents in the region, it’s a shame he has been sitting on the sidelines. The guy really deserves to be in a race car each week, and I’m hoping he can make the best of this opportunity this weekend.
Craig Slaunwhite has the chance to make history this weekend if he can win the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body. Slaunwhite is the only driver entered this weekend that has won the Atlantic Cat 250 and the 250 at Speedway 660, and since no other driver has won all three major events, he can become the first to do so if he wins on Saturday. Slaunwhite is a feature winner at Riverside and has run strong there in the past and could pull the feat this weekend!
It’s going to be so tough to call a winner folks, or even the top five of the 28 that are registered as of Tuesday. Leonard Boutilier, Robbie MacLean and Brad Mann are scheduled to make their first Tour starts of the season, part timers like Daryl Mahar, Roger Miller, Josh Collins, Vance Hanes, Steve Ross and Colby Smith in the King Racing car, will all look to pull the win out of their cap on the biggest stage in Super Late Model racing in Atlantic Canada.
How about full-time teams, like Terry Dougay, Shawn Pierce, Cole Butcher and Sarah McKay, who we have yet to speak of in this article. It just goes to show the talent draped throughout this field. This is going to be a barnburner folks, and one you shouldn’t miss for any reason.
If you are in the area Thursday, you might want to stop by the open practice for the IWK 250 weekend. This will give you a good idea of who is fast off the trailer and who has begun to make those right adjustments to get to the front.
Afterwards, stop up to Boston Pizza Antigonish and grab a bite to eat and mingle with some of the crews, drivers and fans at the Tailgate Party beginning at 9pm on Thursday. It’s a great way to kickstart the weekend!
I’m really looking forward to this! I can’t wait to get up to Riverside, enjoy some great racing and, as always, enjoy some wonderful food. I’m sure Wilma will have her footlong hotdogs out and am looking forward to the annual VanZutphen Pig Roast. My mouth is watering already!
It’s a full weekend experience and I hope you can join us Saturday when it comes to a climax for the IWK 250.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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