Race Preview - Atlantic Cat 250 @ Scotia Speedworld
It has been a busy couple of weeks, so let’s take a quick glimpse in the rear view before looking ahead to one of our biggest shows of the year.
Looking back at the Lucas Oil 100, I thought it was an excellent show put on by the cars and stars of the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour and one of the best shows of the evening at Oyster Bed Speedway. Race winner Dylan Blenkhorn and second place driver Cole Butcher both stated that the track only had one groove and it is hard to race without making a bit of contact. It creates a race that is intriguing for fans to watch, especially when it is two drivers battling down to the end of the race that have never won at the venue before.
The one thing Blenkhorn could do all day from the heat race to the end of the feature was he was able to keep the car pinned to the yellow inside line around the corners, while most drivers were running a half to a full groove off the extreme inside of the track.
Chris Hughes told us during his commentary of the heat races that if Blenkhorn could do that all night that he’d be tough to beat and Chris was spot on.
The race had a lot of comers and goers and that is the habit of Oyster Bed Speedway. Blenkhorn and Dylan Gosbee were mainstays up front after starting on the front row. Butcher and Cassius Clark had to work from fifth and seventh on the grid. Darren MacKinnon, who failed post qualifying technical inspection and Kent Vincent, who had to replace a rear end from the Butcher team after Vincent’s expired in qualifying, started scratch on the field and finished eighth and 11th, respectively. Vincent was poised for a top five run as he was on his way through the field but got caught behind lapped traffic.
Joel Hickox had a great run going at Oyster Bed and was also looking like top five material before fading to 12th. Greg Proude had an ignition issue early in the feature and Jonathan Hicken did not have the night he wanted by finishing 19th.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, DJ Casey struggled throughout practice fighting issues with his car but would rally to seventh on the night. Robbie MacEwen had an up and down night fighting his race car before finishing ninth on the night. It should be noted as well that Terry Dougay probably had the loudest reception from the big crowd during Driver Introductions. Dougay has had a roller coaster season and it turned a bit down with a 15th place finish at his home track, the first and only driver one lap down in the 100-lap race.
We’ll transition into the Atlantic Cat 250 with this. A milestone was hit two weeks ago when Shawn Turple scored his 100th top ten of his career. We said going in that the chance was there for Turple to accomplish the feat and he did just that. Turple, because of a wedding this weekend, will not be at Scotia Speedworld driving his car but Maine racing legend Ben Rowe will be at the wheel of the Dexter Construction Chevrolet as Rowe attempts to set the record again with his fourth Atlantic Cat 250 win in the 17 year history of the event.
Last year, Cassius Clark joined Rowe as the only three time winner of the event. Clark has to be the odds on favorite once again this year. He’s won three of the last six 250s, with only Rowe, Blenkhorn and Craig Slaunwhite winning the race since C$ won his first in 2010. He’s also won the two appearances for the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour at Scotia Speedworld this season. In addition, with the exception of the IWK 250 he has finished in the top five in all Tour races this year.
On paper, this should be Clark’s race, but we don’t race on paper.
Blenkhorn enters as the point leader and the most recent winner on the series. Blenkhorn won this event in 2014 and was fifth when (and we really shouldn’t mention this word) the rain came last year on Lap 160. Statistically, this has been Blenkhorn’s worst track on the schedule with finishes of sixth in both races here this year, but again, that’s still a pretty good record against the drivers on this series.
The two best drivers on paper behind Clark at Scotia Speedworld this year, if you are keeping score, have been Greg Proude and Craig Slaunwhite.
Both drivers have an average finish of 3.5 at Scotia Speedworld this season, each scoring top fives in both events here this year. Proude has the best single race finish of the two when he finished second ahead of Slaunwhite in third at the Lucas Oil 100. The roles were reversed during the Nova Truck Centres Make a Wish 150 when Slaunwhite was fourth ahead of Proude in fifth. Proude scored his first win of the year at Speedway 660 while it’s been since last August when Slaunwhite drove to victory lane at Petty Raceway. Slaunwhite has two 250 wins on his resume (Atlantic Cat 250 and Fredericton 250) while Proude has yet to win a big dance. Slaunwhite has a 32 point advantage on Proude in the standings. Both have six career Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour wins, Slaunwhite has more podiums and Proude has more top fives and top tens.
Long story short on the pair is that they pretty much one up each other on the scoresheet when you look at various stats.
There are 27 cars in the race and 27 different story lines heading into the 17th Annual Atlantic Cat 250 from a race standpoint. There is no way we can get to them all but they range from Jonathan Hicken making his first Scotia Speedworld start of the season to Marty Prevost looking to avenge the first two races of the season at the track after accidents took his fast car out of contention to John Flemming looking for his first Atlantic Cat 250 win since the inaugural race in 2000. Russell Smith Jr will return to the wheel of the #66 car, a car in which he finished a hard charging third in at Scotia Speedworld in June. Donald Chisholm rides the wave of his first IWK 250 win into a track he has yet to triumph yet.
Here’s a cool stats too. Of the 27 drivers in the field on Saturday, eight will be making their first starts in the Atlantic Cat 250. Nicholas Naugle, Byron Bartlett, Joel Hickox, Robbie MacEwen, Matt Rodgers, Harry Ross White, Jarrett Butcher and Nevin Scott will all make their first start in the biggest race in the Halifax region on Saturday. For Naugle and Rodgers, this is their first 250-lap race in a Pro Stock while Rodgers and MacEwen make their first Pro Stock starts at the track on Saturday. White and Scott are the pair that is chasing the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Year Award. Butcher and MacEwen have both impressed in the IWK 250 in previous years, including a podium run in that race for MacEwen in 2015. This is Hickox’s first Atlantic Cat 250 after a parts failure the week prior to at Oyster Bed sidelined the team in 2015. Bartlett will look to gain more experience in his first full year back in a Pro Stock in two decades.
Could this be the night DJ Casey breaks through to victory lane? Dylan Gosbee and his team appeared to have turned the corner at Oyster Bed with their new car, could this be the night he scores his first 250 win? Cole Butcher has been close but has yet to nail down his first 250. The list goes on and on.
I’ll leave you with this. For some Cup Series drivers, they go their whole career with never winning a Daytona 500 or a Brickyard 400. Some wait years to hoist the trophy of a big race. Shawn Tucker and Wayne Smith were closer to the end of their careers before winning a 250. Donald Chisholm won his first this year, Shawn Turple still awaits his first big win. My point? These things are hard to win. Whoever can win the dump truck trophy on Saturday will have earned it.
Until Saturday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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