Race Preview: Irving Blending & Packaging 150 @ Petty Raceway
Donald Chisholm has further established the fact that he is one of the best to ever slide in the window of a Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour car.
Chisholm won his sixth race at Riverside International Speedway last Saturday night. The mark ties Wayne Smith and Shawn Tucker for the most wins at the famed high banked short track. The victory was his ninth career on the series. Only four others - Smith, Tucker, John Flemming and Shawn Turple - have won more races on this series since its inception in 2001. He is also fifth overall in career podiums, top fives and is sixth in top tens with 95.
Oh, and by the way, that sixth win at his home track, the ninth overall in his Pro Stock Tour career was the biggest - the IWK 250.
Chisholm has done it all before in the big race. He’s led the most laps - 218 in 2014 before Flemming won the race on a restart with three laps to go. He set fast time, started on the pole. He had done everything at the IWK 250 as a driver leading up to Saturday night but win the show.
He finally did that Saturday, leading a whopping 231 laps en route to the checkered flag.
It wasn’t easy though as Craig Slaunwhite chased him down at the end, coming up just short of completing the unofficial Maritime Triple Crown by winning his third 250 event.
Slaunwhite has been quick all season and could have had a win or two this season if it wasn’t for some bad luck and brake issues biting the #99 team. With Gary Crooks on the box, the team fought all night long, eventually coming home with a hard charging runner up position on a 20+ lap run to the checkers at the end.
It looked like for a while that Matt Crafton was going to be able to win the IWK 250 in his third appearance. He had to come from behind all day long. After his draw in the heat, he finished one spot out of a transfer before a car in front of him in the lineup failed tech, moving him into the 20th starting spot in the 250. He methodically moved to the front, eventually moving into the lead for a while when battling Chisholm in the second half of the race. It is Crafton’s first top five in his three attempts at the race and is sure to be a factor into the win if he returns for a fourth run at the top spot next year.
Dylan Blenkhorn may have been one of the quietest drivers in the top five for most of the night. Blenkhorn stared ninth and wasted little time to get to the top five, getting to that mark before the 30th lap of the race. Blenkhorn bounced between the fifth and third place spots for over 220 laps and would finish fourth. Keep that in mind for a few moments, because that finish will be important when we discuss points.
Darren MacKinnon meanwhile picked away his spots in the second half of the race. MacKinnon was 11th at the halfway point and like he seemingly does every week, he put his head down and worked away to a top five finish at the end of the night. Shawn Turple was sixth at the end of the night, the Butcher brothers both had top ten finishes, Kent Vincent put up his 105th career top ten on the board and Greg Fahey once again proved he is one of the most versatile and underrated drivers in this region with his second straight IWK 250 top ten in as many years.
Some drivers did not have the night they wanted to. Cassius Clark and Robbie MacEwen both had hotrods on Saturday night but were out before the 200 lap mark in the IWK 250. Clark, who entered as the point leader, had the engine expire in his car, while MacEwen had a tire go flat and had a hard drivers side impact with the wall. Both had fast cars, Clark ran many laps in second before exiting the race on Lap 160. MacEwen had to go through the B Feature after failing post race tech in his heat race and snagged the final starting spot in that Last Chance Qualifier.
You can put Sarah McKay in the “drivers that did not have the night they wanted to” file as well. McKay was involved in a multi-car wreck on the back straight that was sparked when Bubba Gale got into the #98 of Jerome Kehoe. An impact on the right front of the #32 car caused extensive damage to the corner of the car but would also jerk the wheel, resulting in a broken right wrist for McKay. What might be more impressive is that the team pieced the car together to go out on track and McKay drove the car to the first yellow with a broken wrist. The team handed the car over to Dustin Tucker but the son of the 2013 IWK 250 champion only lasted a handful of laps with the broken race car. The injury has forced McKay to sit out our next round at Petty International Raceway and we wish her a speedy recovery.
At the end of the day, making the IWK 250 is a dream come true for some of those making their first attempt at the race. For Nicholas Naugle, Allison MacKinnon and Shannon Squires, champions in their disciplines of stock car racing, failed to make the show. For Gary Elliott and John Rankin, their dreams came true on Saturday. Sure, they did not have the run they wanted and they had an early exit to the big dance, but to be a part of Canada’s biggest race is a pretty big accomplishment. If you ask Rankin, he’ll tell you making the show is one of the biggest accomplishments in his racing career.
As we transition to Petty International Raceway, I’ll mention that this is the halfway point in the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour season. The IWK 250 at Riverside Speedway was the sixth race of the year and there are now six races to go at four different venues. We’ll visit Petty Raceway twice, including once this weekend, a trip to Oyster Bed Speedway on the long weekend in two weeks time, two stops at Scotia Speedworld and a September return for a 150 at Riverside Speedway.
Now, it’s easy to say what was done in the first half can be undone in the second half of the season. If a driver is in the hole after six races, he should be able to dig out of it in the second half. One thing is for sure, with the competition being so close on this series, if you are going to make a championship run, you cannot afford an off-night in these next six races.
With his fourth place finish, combined with a blown motor in Cassius Clark’s ride, it is Blenkhorn leading the points over Clark by 17. Behind Clark ten points sits Chisholm and one point out of Chisholm is Slaunwhite. Clark and Blenkhorn both have two wins this season, Chisholm has one and Greg Proude, who is seventh in the standings, was the winner at Speedway 660.
Now, there are no teams technically mathematically eliminated at this point, but I’d like to realistically look at the top nine as those within the championship chase in the second half of the season. Ninth place right now is Kent Vincent and he is 90 points out of Blenkhorn for the point lead. To refresh your mind on the point system, each position on track is worth two points more than the next (winner in the feature receives 200 points, second gets 198, third gets 196 and so on and so forth). If you lead a lap, you get five points and if you lead the most laps there is an extra five points hanging in the balance. In a 20 car field, there is a maximum of 48 points that can be made from first if he leads the most laps to 20th if they do not lead a lap. The point leader might have a last place run or a bad night once, but to win this championship you will not be able to afford one of those in this second half.
Momentum is a big thing in this sport and with the Irving Blending & Packaging 150 being in the middle of a three straight race stretch, I like Chisholm and Slaunwhite to continue their runs they began at the IWK 250. Slaunwhite won the International last year at Petty and led the most laps when we were there in the spring until a brake failure took him from the lead to having to come through the traffic with 13 to go. A strong night will put them closer to Blenkhorn in the championship standings.
But wait, hold on, remember who won the Petty 100 in June? Yeah, that’s right, Blenkhorn.
Blenkhorn has been solid all season but has excelled on high banked race tracks. In fact, in three high banked races this season for our series, the fourth place run at the IWK 250 is the only run that was not a feature win for the #67 team. Don’t be surprised to see Blenkhorn win his fourth race at Petty and ninth career Tour race on Saturday night and extend his point lead.
Of that top nine in points, Blenkhorn, Slaunwhite, MacKinnon, Turple and Vincent have all won at Petty International Raceway in the past in Tour competition. Clark, Chisholm, Butcher and Proude have yet to win at the track but all have podium finishes at the track with Butcher and Proude leading that quartet with four top three finishes at the track.
We’ll see a strong New Brunswick contingent gunning for their first wins at Petty, including Devin Snell, Steve Halpin, Byron Bartlett, Michael Kyle and Matt Rodgers. The group have each ran a race or races with us this year and they will each have various agendas working through 150 laps at Petty International Raceway.
Tip of the cap to the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year chase as well. Nevin Scott received the top rookie award in the IWK 250 and now only has 18 points between he and Harry Ross White heading into Petty. Scott was great at Petty the last time we were there and got caught on the wrong side of being a lap down late in the show. The vice could tighten even more in this freshman battle after 150-laps on Saturday.
Remember too - this is a 150 lap race. In previous seasons, this race has been a 100-lap show but with an extra 50 laps and no halfway break, the strategy will play into the game plan on Saturday.
As if last week wasn’t exciting enough, this race is going to bring the action for sure on Saturday at Petty International Raceway.
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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