Race Notebook/Preview: Ron Mac 150 @ Riverside & Atlantic DOdge Dealers 150 @ Petty
The fourth attempt at getting the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150 was nothing short of wild and exciting.
Before we get into looking at the International weekend, which will be the fourth event in four weekends for the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, and the fourth International being hosted by Petty International Raceway, let’s take one look back at last weekend’s event.
Let’s call a spade a spade, JR Fitzpatrick flat out dominated the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a driver come in and dominate a race like Fitzy did last weekend. Jumping back and forth between a Pro Stock and a Sportsman isn’t easy for most guys, but JR made it look easy once getting the feel for both cars. JR was up to fourth when his Sportsman car developed overheating problems which sidelined him on Lap 43, and in the Pro Stock he didn’t miss a beat, while still admitting he was trying to figure out the tire.
Few notes, among others, Fitzpatrick led every lap in the race en route to his first win in his first start with our series. He becomes the 15th different winner at Riverside since 2001 on our Tour and 32nd different winner in Tour history. Fitzpatrick had nothing but nice things to say about the series, the drivers and his whole experience in the seat of a Pro Stock, and hopefully it translates into us seeing him more out east. He is one of the best wheelmen, in my opinion, in this country and it was awesome to see him work in our series last weekend.
The car he drove came out of the Nova Racing stables. When Jason Hathaway couldn’t make the rain date, the team put Fitzpatrick behind the wheel and at one point, it looked like the team was on their way to a podium sweep.
During the mid stages of the races, Fitzpatrick, Donald Chisholm and George Koszkulics ran 1-2-3, to the delight of the crowd and the suites full of sponsors in the tower. Koszkulics, who was on the track for the first time since his determined effort to fifth place at Oyster Bed Speedway, would ultimately get swept up in a wreck with Darren MacKinnon, effectively ending his chances at a top three run in the Ron MacGillivray 150. Chisholm, on the other hand, kept his car clean all race long and ended up third at the end of the night, behind a car that Koszkulics once drove (more on that in a bit).
You have to give it up for Donald Chisholm. Chisholm had a huge weekend, taking the pole and the win in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race on Saturday night. He didn’t miss a beat Sunday, having a good car and bringing it up to the front to finish third. With one more race left at Riverside in a couple weeks and the #89 still searching for his first Pro Stock win of 2014, you have to believe the Keltic Ford will be a favorite to win the Lucas Oil 150 on September 6th.
Behind Fitzpatrick in second and fourth were two drivers that made a huge splash in the point standings.
While Dylan Blenkhorn and Jonathan Hicken both ended up in separate incidents earlier in the day, they both kept with it, never gave up and came home with top five runs.
That is what champions are made of, and while they still have a ways to go with three races remaining, they opened up a glimmer of hope.
We’ll begin with fourth place Hicken. Riverside has been hit or miss for the #5 K.A. Holding Inc Chevrolet, and it appeared to be a hit, in more ways than one, for the Brudenell based team.
The hits came in the way of being swept up in the MacKinnon/Koszkulics fracas on the front straight, only to get the team thrashing on the car to come back up to a fourth place run at the end of the race. Hicken has had top five cars in both appearances to Riverside this season and in order to keep himself in the championship hunt coming down to the Dartmouth Dodge 200, he will need another run like that in September when we go back to Riverside. Standing between that and now is a race at Petty Raceway, which is a track where he has seen lots of success. That success includes earlier this season where he won our first appearance at the River Glade track for 2014. In order to close in 51 points on John Flemming, he needs every piece of success he can get in the next three races.
Blenkhorn has lit it up this season and his talent showed again when he took a battered and bruised race car after an incident in Turn Three and wheeled it for all it was worth to finish second. It goes to show how dedicated the team is and how focused the driver is on delivering good finishes for the #67 Blenkhorn’s Auto Recyclers team. The team is now focused on the championship and knows after this week that Flemming and Tucker, while very good and very quick, are not bulletproof and any slip up from them could play into the favor of the sophomore.
For those keeping score and might be thinking the gap is too big, it is only 42 points between Flemming and Blenkhorn. Okay, yes, at two points per position, Blenkhorn needs to finish 21 positions ahead of Flemming over the next three races, meaning Flemming would have to finish eighth and Blenkhorn would have to win (on average) for Blenkhorn to win the title. But, think of it this way. Flemming finished 19th on Sunday to Blenkhorn’s second. In turn, he gained 34 points on Flemming. Factor in the unpredictability of bonus points in the next few races and Blenkhorn, the way he is running with three wins this year, is far from out of contention.
Add Shawn Tucker into the mix, who was another one swept up in the front stretch disagreement over space between the #18 and #88, and you have a battle down to the end within the top four. All four drivers are good at the three venues that will host our last three rounds, each holding a win at two of the three, except for Tucker who has won a point paying Tour race at all three tracks.
And our four corners match for the championship begins this weekend.
If you are Tucker, Blenkhorn or Hicken, not only are you worried about looking up front, you have to be concerned with your rear-view if you stumble in the next three races. From Tucker back to seventh place Greg Proude is only a 59 point swing. The most any one driver can gain on another, given we have a 26 car field, is 60 points. It means we potentially could have some shifting in the next three races within the top ten.
Cole Butcher continued to turn heads on Sunday by picking up the Atlantic Tiltload Time Trial Award and bringing “Clifford” home in the top five over 150 grueling laps. It moved Butcher to fifth in the standings, a mere three points up on Shawn Turple and only 20 points behind Jonathan Hicken for fourth. Eleven points behind Turple is Proude, whose car ended up significantly shorter after Riverside but was still a sixth place car, one spot up on Turple’s #0.
Still mathematically in the championship chase is Darren Mackinnon, who ended up with a badly bent car after Riverside. Mackinnon is just 20 points out of Proude and is 105 points out of Flemming. While Mackinnon is not mathematically eliminated from the championship picture, 105 points is a long road in three races. He’ll have to hold off the #99 of Craig Slaunwhite down the stretch though, who is just 12 points behind the #18 Shaw’s Towing Chevrolet heading into Petty.
For the sake of this article, “mathematically eliminated” are any drivers 180 points behind Flemming heading into the Atlantic Dodge Dealers 150. Simply put, there is a 50 point difference between first and last in a full field on the Parts for Trucks Tour, plus an extra 10 bonus points on the line if the winner leads a lap and the most laps in the feature, for a total potential point spread of 60 points per race. Multiply that 60 points by three, and it gives you 180 points. Flemming’s point total after Riverside is 1775, which means anyone with less than 1595 points is eliminated from championship contention as long as Flemming’s #97 Happy Harry’s Affordable Building Centre Dodge pulls into the back gate on race day.
By that logic, only the top nine remain in contention for the title, but those tenth on back still have a lot to fight for.
Tip of the cap to 13th place point driver Shawn Pierce on getting a top ten finish last Sunday, his second top ten finish in as many races. He closed the gap to 18 points between he and Terry Dougay and with Dougay showing promise the last time we were at Petty, this should be a pretty good battle to watch between these two on Saturday.
Kent Vincent still has Sarah McKay in the standings, making a gain on the Exide Batteries Rookie to make it a ten point difference between the two for tenth in the standings. Give it to McKay though, she hit the wall in practice and as she said, it broke a list of things on the car. For any driver, Riverside can be an intimidating track, let alone for a rookie in her second ever start at the track. Kudos to the crew for getting the car back out and the driver of the #32 AE McKay Builders/Pub’s Drive Thru Bottle Exchange Chevy for not giving up and coming home in 11th out of 21 cars.
Vincent has the potential to blow this battle open though on Saturday. The first time we went to Petty for an August race in 2011, he was the one etching his name on the International trophy as the winner of the event. That win was the last one for Vincent on our series and is long overdue to capture another victory. This could very well be the weekend if the team can dial in that Vector Aerospace/H&P Glover Dodge. That, and I’m sure everyone wants to see the Bobbleheads Canada version of Vincent, which will be on the market when Kent gets that car into victory lane!
Before we leave Riverside, want to say a “good job” to Robbie MacEwen’s team on his run. Albeit a mechanical failure took him out of the race, MacEwen was ninth when his car started going south. This is the second race where the #40 was in the top ten when it broke and comes in his first start at Riverside. I know the team is looking for a couple of marketing partners to make 2014 happen on the Tour, and hopefully they find them, because seeing MacEwen on the Tour full time would a great addition to our series. Don’t want to make comparisons to a Blenkhorn or a Butcher, but MacEwen has talent that could turn heads and could end up in victory lane with experience on the race tracks we run on – mark my words!
Here’s something to think about when watching the race on Saturday night, the Atlantic Dodge Dealers 150 is the only extended feature race on our season at Petty Raceway. Our first two races were 100-lappers, and the addition of an extra 50 laps could be big. Things break, mistakes are made, wrecks happen and, as we saw last week in 150-laps, points can sway. There’s no halfway break, making strategy come into play.
Will Lady Luck shine on Petty regulars Jason Carnahan, Tim Rodgers or rookie Robbie Fraser? Last time out, Carnahan barely missed the King Freight Dash at Petty and locked down his first career top ten in the series. Keep an eye on the #55 CPM Chevrolet, it could be a big night for the team!
Bottom line, if you have been waiting to get to Petty Raceway to see a race this year, this is the one to get to. With a point battle, along with so many drivers who are good at this race track, it is bound to be a great night of racing. I hope to see you all there!
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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