Race Preview: IWK 250 @ Riverside Int'l Speedway
One word can sum up this Saturday’s IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body” - Unpredictability.
Let’s start with qualifying, shall we? That seems to be a big question on everyone’s mind.
With 30 starting spots in the event and more cars expected than grid positions at Riverside International Speedway, it means we could have a handful or more drivers loading up after their 15-lap heat and 25-lap B Feature.
The draw for the Atlantic Tiltload Qualifying is going to mean more than ever before. Get a good draw and start near the front in your heat, you have a great chance to go directly to the big dance. If you get a bad draw or maybe you are stuck in a heat with a ton of fast cars, you will have your work cut out for you in order to make the IWK 250. By our procedures, if we have over 33 cars, we would have five heats, meaning the top four would go directly to the IWK 250 out of heat 15-lap affair. The Atlantic Tiltload “B Feature” would be 25 laps in length and qualify the top two. The final eight would be determined by provisionals given by the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and Riverside International Speedway.
Now, the other question everyone has been asking is who will be at the IWK 250?
The expected entry list has 36 cars on it, but could grow by race day or we could have one or two not able to make it for the race. All told, there are some stout drivers and teams on this list and the drivers that earn their way into the 250 will have something to celebrate even prior to the green flag in the main feature.
When it comes to picking a winner, throwing a dart at a dart board and picking your driver that way may very well be an easier way to come to a decision. Let me ask you, how many of you had Kent Vincent, DJ Casey and Robbie MacEwen as your podium finishers in 2015? All three will be back this year and with Vincent and Casey coming off runs at Speedway 660 that saw both in the top five during the Cummins 100, their top three finishes this year might not be as much as a surprise compared to last year if they land on the podium again.
This is a point race for the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and it could shake up the championship standings if the race finished like it did last year. While Cassius Clark was not in last year’s IWK 250, the other four within the top five in the 2016 standings were. Cole Butcher was the top finisher in that group, with a sixth place run. Defending series champion Donald Chisholm was ninth in the 2015 running of the prestigious race. Dylan Blenkhorn and Craig Slaunwhite tangled late in the race and finished outside the top ten. While it wouldn’t surprise any of us to see any of our top five point drivers win the race, the unpredictability of this event could also see these guys find themselves up against it during the 250.
As a side note, for Clark and Slaunwhite, they enter the IWK 250 as the pair of drivers trying to complete the Maritime Triple Crown of sorts. The region sees three 250 lap races, the IWK 250, the Atlantic Cat and the 250 at Speedway 660. Both drivers own wins in the Atlantic Cat and Speedway 660 250s, in the case of Clark he’s won the last two 250s contested, but the pair are both missing the IWK 250 to fill their crown. No driver has won all three races and these two will look to be the first to complete the feat on Saturday.
Along with Chisholm, his Nova Racing teammates George Koszkulics and Matt Crafton will be tough to top on Saturday. Crafton has been lightning quick in his first two appearances at the race but has failed to be a factor when it comes down to crunch time. Koszkulics has come close on a few occasions and was a winner in the Ron MacGillivray 150 last year. Could we see a Nova Racing top three sweep at the end of 250-laps Saturday? There will be lots of competition but don’t put it past the team.
We got a pair of American visitors in Bubba Gale and Jeff Fultz joining Clark and Crafton in hopes of taking the IWK 250 trophy down south in 2016. Fultz barely missed out on the podium last year in this race while this is Bubba Gale’s first shot at the IWK 250. Fultz will once again drive for King Racing as a teammate to Clark while Gale will drive a car fielded by Vance Hanes
Gary Elliott, a multi-time champion in Ontario and a driver with 1,200 starts in a race car, is making the long trip from Dundas, Ontario to James River, Nova Scotia for the race. One of the eldest drivers in the field at 69 years young will look to qualify for the race and make his first Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour start in his #36 Quaker State Late Model. He will be in tough against some of the best in the region and beyond, but you best believe he’ll be up on the wheel to make the best of his trek back east.
Shannon Squires is on the pre-entry list and lead the charge from the Avalon on Saturday night. Squires of St. John’s had a pretty good run last Sunday at his home track of Eastbound Park after leading a bunch of laps and finishing fourth in the A1 Automotive 75. Squires has limited starts in a Pro Stock but will look to crack the field in the IWK 250 on Saturday. Newfoundland has a lot of great talent with some having Pro Stocks in their garages. Who knows, we may even see a guy like Phil Fowler make the haul from Labrador as a last minute entry.
Speaking of Newfoundland, John Flemming will be racing a car campaigned by Josh Collins Racing on Saturday. Collins is racing in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series this year and will be running at the Honda Indy Toronto on Saturday. With Flemming searching for a car, Collins stepped up to give Flemming a Crooks Racing prepared ride for the IWK 250. It is a fast car, one that last saw the track during the World Series of Asphalt at the New Smyrna Speedway and should be a great piece for Flemming to try and win another IWK 250.
Greg Fahey is coming back for another crack at the IWK 250 after finishing eighth last year. His Chevrolet was quick last year after starting at the rear of the field and the team is coming back for another shot at glory. Along with Fahey from Speedway 660, John Rankin driving for Brad Silliker Motorsports will also make the trip to Riverside International Speedway. Rankin and the BSM team are a strong combination and always step up their program in these big races.
There are a bunch of other contenders we have yet to touch on and I’m running out of space to mention them all. You have Greg Proude, the most recent winner on the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour, Nevin Scott and Harry Ross White who are battling for the top rookie on the series, Jarrett Butcher and Nicholas Naugle who have proven in the Legend ranks that they are certainly the future of our sport, former IWK 250 champion Darren MacKinnon will be strong, as will Islanders Jonathan Hicken, Joel Hickox, Dylan Gosbee and Terry Dougay. Shawn Turple is a two-time series champion and will look to shake the “250 monkey” off his back. Could a guy like Jerome Kehoe or Russell Smith Jr pull the wool over our eyes and win their first Tour race in the biggest show of the year? Can Steve Ross, Shawn Pierce or Byron Bartlett pull it all together? How about a guy like Allison MacKinnon or Steve Halpin?
I leave you with the word I started this article off with - unpredictability. From the qualifying races to the big show itself, the IWK 250 will be a show that will be totally unpredictable in nature but in the end will produce us with a race and a winner that will forever be remembered in history.
Because I know Joe Chisholm will ask me who my pick is Saturday on Race Time Radio, I’ll go with Greg Fahey. He’s a smooth driver with a lot of talent that’s truly underrated, he’s got a great car and team surrounding him. Would it be a surprise if he won? To some, sure, but I’ll bring that unpredictability of this race back into play - anything can happen!
I cannot wait for Saturday, this one will be special.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track.
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