Lucas Oil 150 @ Riverside International Speedway
John Flemming proved on Saturday night that he has the heart of a champion - and he may very well be awarded with the biggest prize on our series this coming weekend.
After transmission issues where the car wouldn’t go into gear, Flemming went from his third place starting position Saturday at Riverside and restarted in 21st. Sans a Lap Six caution flag, we went 108 laps in succession, giving the leaders a chance to really stretch it out and not for the benefit of a Flemming, or a Darren Mackinnon or a Greg Proude, who were forced to pit on the pace laps.
Flemming and Proude did march their way to the top ten. Unfortunately for Proude, he broke a rear axle and did not finish the race. Flemming on the other hand was within the top five when the second caution of the race came out.
Okay, let’s talk about this caution before we go any farther. I’ve heard a bunch of crews, drivers and fans come to me and give their opinion. There are two sides to every story, as is the case to this one.
If you weren’t there, let me set it up as well as I can. Cole Butcher was well on his way to his first career victory on our series. Heck, if it wasn’t for that caution, he probably would have wound up in victory lane. Yes, I know, you can’t play off races on “coulda, woulda, shoulda,” but with Donald Chisholm fading off his back bumper with brake problems and Shawn Turple, George Koszkulics, Jonathan Hicken and Flemming unable to make any inroads under green, that was Butcher’s race.
Regardless, he came up on the ninth place driver to put him a lap down, Dylan Blenkhorn. Blenkhorn, who occupied the second groove of the track, forced Butcher to go low to put him a lap down. Yes, the blue flag was used on the #67 flag and yes, race control was all over the spotter of the #67 that the leader was trying to lap him.
Here’s my take on it, and taking some fans opinions into account too. Did Blenkhorn have to move over? No, he was fighting to stay on the lead lap. Would it have been the right thing to do in the spirit of the sport, which goes back to the unwritten “Gentleman’s Agreement” between racers? Absolutely. The other dozen or so drivers behind Blenkhorn did such when Butcher was upon them.
But he didn’t. Blenkhorn was fighting to keep on the lead lap. If Butcher continued to move up and lapped the next car in line, Blenkhorn would have lost the free pass and the best he could have finished was ninth. With the #67 battling for fourth in the standings, I’m sure the “p” word was in the back of his mind. (the “p” word being points)
Back to “coulda, woulda, shoulda.”
What happened? Blenkhorn raced his heart out trying not to fall a lap down, Butcher tried his hardest to keep off him. Coming to complete Lap 109, Butcher cut the wheel a bit too much and the #53 spun down the front straight. He didn’t hit anything, but the damage was already done. With 42 laps to go, the proverbial glass slipper had broke, and Butcher fell from the lead to tenth on the restart.
Butcher is a determined youngster. He will win races on our series. He will win a lot of races on our series. His consistency and being up front will likely win him a championship or two before his career his done, because he has plenty of time ahead of him. Heck, if he would have finished on the podium, he would have been in the talk we’ll have later in the week for second in the standings. It turned out that Saturday wasn’t his time, but it will come and when the gates open, the wins and accolades will flood in.
The next question I had was about Flemming stalling on that caution flag as we were preparing to go to green. Ruling was from race control that since he refired the car on his own and it was under caution without needing a push, Flemming received his spot back for the restart. If it was under green, he would have lost spots, obviously. If he needed a push and was forced back to pit road, he would have lost spots.
After that, it was Hicken and Turple having the lead before Flemming took the lead from the #0 for the final time in the race on Lap 115.
Flemming’s team could have given up when the car wouldn’t go into gear. Instead, they handled the pressure without any issues, and got the #97 back up to the front where it was at the beginning of the day during Atlantic Tiltload Time Trials.
With Turple and Hicken rounding out the podium, it shook up the point standings, behind Flemming that is. While we will get into it later this week, it is a sixteenth place run Flemming needs on Saturday to lock up the title in the Dartmouth Dodge 200.
The race didn’t start out well for Sarah McKay. A respectable Time Trial run followed by a second place run in the heat race resulted in the best starting position of the season for the #32 car at Riverside Speedway.
It all went up in smoke on Lap Six though, as a power steering line blew a part on the backstraight.
Again, the team went to work and repaired the car so McKay could get valuable seat time and finish the race. Their hard work will pay off in the way of the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award, which McKay will officially get next weekend in Halifax.
With those being the only two cautions, there may not be much more to talk about. We did have some guys break. Robbie MacEwen was again well within the top ten before mechanical issues surfaced on the #40. Robbie told me if he could find funding, he’d run our series full time in 2015 and run for the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award, but needs some extra sponsors. Think about it, a kid with three starts and without mechanical issues, he’d have three top tens easily this season. Someone get on with this team, we need a guy like this on the Tour!
There was some great side by side battling throughout the race. Turple and Koszkulics was an entertaining show in the first half of the race. Hicken was coming to life in the second half of the long green flag run after starting from the pole. We certainly had our comers and goers throughout the exciting event on the high banks.
A big congrats to Dale Richardson on his NAPA Sportsman Series win on Saturday night. Not only did Dale win, he dominated the race. Congrats Dale and your whole #55 team!
Hard to believe the season at Riverside is over and we are down to only one race remaining on the series. Big thanks to Paul McLean and the entire staff at Riverside for their wonderful hospitality all season, and we cannot wait to get back there in 2015.
Later in the week, we preview the final race of the season, the Dartmouth Dodge 200 - which will feature at least one new face to the Tour. Want to know who? Check out TimsCorner.ca.
We’ll see you back here Thursday.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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