Race Preview: Ron MacGillivray Chev Buick GMC 150 @ Riverside International Speedway
Hopefully everyone enjoyed their two off-weekends, because we’re about to get down to business on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour!
After two weeks off since the first race of the season, the May 21st running of the Lucas Oil 100, we have four consecutive weekends of racing at four different venues. While this stretch might not win you a championship on the series, it can certainly help define a season and put a driver’s name in the title picture rather than leaving him or her chasing in the final seven races of 2016.
Last season, these four races were won by George Koszkulics (Riverside), Cole Butcher (Scotia Speedworld), Darren MacKinnon (Petty Raceway) and Butcher (Speedway 660). Butcher and MacKinnon, along with eventual champion Donald Chisholm and Dylan Blenkhorn, ended up settling the championship amongst themselves at the end of the year. While a bad finish here might not knock a driver completely out of the championship hunt, it will leave them scrambling. With the competition on this series, you cannot afford a “mulligan” or bad results if you want to hoist the big trophy at the end of the year.
Okay, I know, race two, let’s stop talking about big picture and look at what is ahead of us on Saturday.
Historically, this race has been Nova Racing’s stage to shine. The last two Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet 150’s have seen Nova Racing cars finish first and second. Last year, Koszkulics bested Chisholm to the stripe, while JR Fitzpatrick spanked the field, including second place driver Chisholm in the 2014 running of the event. In fact, Nova Racing has won four of the last five Ron MacGillvray Chevrolet sponsored events on the series, with the late Mike Stevens being the only driver not associated with the Antigonish team to win the event since 2011. Both Chisholm and Koszkulics will be in attendance on Saturday and will be a threat to continue the trend of Nova Racing cars in victory lane in this event.
Craig Slaunwhite and Greg Proude both ran well at Scotia Speedworld and without a couple of “off-nights,” we would have been talking about them in the championship picture last year. Each of them own a win at Riverside and while they have both run well here in the past, it’s been a while since either have won here. For Slaunwhite, it was summer of 2008 and Proude was holding the checkered flag in James River in 2010 in this event.
Shawn Turple is a two-time winner at Riverside International Speedway. He will look for a rebound week after coming home in the 14th place spot at Scotia Speedworld. Over the break, Turple and his wife Cassie welcomed a new addition to their family, Rose. You best believe Shawn will be looking to get into victory lane Saturday night in the first race after the birth of his daughter!
In addition to Proude, our Island contingent tends to run well here. The most successful driver from the red dirt at Riverside is Kent Vincent, who has turned over three victories at the track, including two wins in the IWK 250. MacKinnon also has an IWK 250 win, coming in dramatic fashion in 2011. While that may be where the wins stop, there will be a couple others to watch on the weekend.
While I’ve spoken in this space about Chris Hughes being one of the most successful drivers in our series without a win in the past, it is Jonathan Hicken who has that honor at Riverside. Hicken has seven top fives and 16 top ten finishes at this track, the most of any driver at Riverside without a checkered flag. He also has three podium finishes at the track, which is a mark that is shared for the most without a win with Gordie Ryan. Hicken will return at Riverside with a new race car after selling his car he campaigned in recent years to Lyttleton, NB’s Ashton Tucker, a young driver I’m sure we will see in the coming years on the series.
With only seven previous Riverside winners in the 23 or so on the list of pre-entered drivers, we could end up seeing a first time track winner when the 150-laps are done on Saturday night. In addition to Hicken, Cole Butcher and Dylan Blenkhorn have previous success in their young careers. Butcher led 108 laps in the Lucas Oil 150 a couple seasons ago before spinning out of the lead. Blenkhorn had a podium run in this race two years ago when JR Fitzpatrick won the Ron MacGillivray 150.
I keep talking about Daryl Mahar and wondering when his breakout win will come - he owns three top fives and eight top tens at Riverside and a win could be just around the corner. DJ Casey was second in the IWK 250 last year and the reigning Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year and the King Freight Future Winner Award recipient from the Lucas Oil 100 might just be ready to sip some feature winner’s Champaign on Saturday if all falls together for the Flemming Motorsports camp.
The Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year battle will be good here as well. Nevin Scott comes from Oyster Bed Speedway and as we mentioned before, drivers that graduate from the Island bullring typically run well at Riverside. Harry Ross White is a former NAPA Sportsman Series feature winner here and will look to channel some of that former success here Saturday.
Allison MacKinnon will be with us as well on Saturday. He is excited to get up on the wheel at one of the most iconic venues on our circuit. Byron Bartlett was a crew member on DJ Casey’s IWK 250 run last year and you best believe Bartlett is chomping at the bit to get a shot at Riverside in his own car.
I’ll leave you with this, Cassius Clark is probably holding one of the hottest hands of any driver in the last few weeks in Atlantic Canada. Clark is coming off a pretty commanding performance at an open race in Geary, which was similar to the one he and the King Racing team put on the board at the Lucas Oil 100.
Clark was in the running for the Lucas Oil 150 last September at Riverside before the rains came. That car he ran last year is coming back on Saturday and will be a contender for a second straight win on this series. Only four times has it been done that a driver has won the opening two races to our season - Wayne Smith in 2001 and 2003, John Flemming in 2004 and Dylan Blenkhorn one year ago. Smith’s 2001 performance included the third race of the series as well, something that Clark could challenge IF he wins on Saturday, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves, wouldn’t it?
Race Time Radio is in town this weekend, which means Sunday we will be at the Wooden Door Bistro for their Sunday SiriusXM show from 8pm to 10pm. The Wooden Door Bistro is located within the Quality Inn Airport Hotel, which is located beside Scotia Speedworld as you head towards Halifax at Exit Six on Highway 102. DJ Casey and his spotter Mark Williams joined us a couple weeks ago at our first show along with Kayle Ford, who works on the #99 entry for Craig Slaunwhite. The Bistro has lots of delicious finds on their menu and is a stop you must put on your schedule, whether it is Sunday or next weekend coming to or from Scotia Speedworld and the Nova Truck Centres Make A Wish 150. May 22nd was a good time when RTR went live from the Wooden Door Bistro the first time and I’m sure Sunday will be much of the same!
Until Saturday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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