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A Year Of Firsts

The 2017 season, albeit still only three races old, has seen a number of firsts.

We’ve seen five drivers make their Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour debut with Stevie Lively and Matt Moore at Scotia Speedworld, “The Thrill Maker” Craig Ward and Shannon Squires at Petty International Raceway and Kyle Reid at Riverside International Speedway. Torbay, Newfoundland’s Brandon McFarlane will fly into Scotia Speedworld with his Wing’N It Restaurants Pro Stock to make his debut on Saturday and who knows who might roll their car out at Speedway 660? It has been a while since we’ve seen this many new faces on our series!

We also saw some new drivers in the top ten at the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150 to boot!
Nicholas Naugle’s seventh place finish on Sunday not only earned him the Exide Batteries Rookie of the Race Award but it was also Naugle’s first top ten with the series in his eighth start. We keep referring to these 150-lap extended races as “Darren MacKinnon type races,” in where you don’t talk about a driver like Darren all night until the final 25 or 50 laps where he is pushing to the front. Naugle did just that on Sunday. After riding around the top ten for most of the race, he turned it on in the final 32 laps to finish seventh and if the final green run was 20 laps longer, he may have been in the top five.

How about the run Josh Collins had on Sunday afternoon? Collins not only outlasted the field in his Atlantic Tiltload Heat Race for his first checkered flag on the series, he never fell to worse than sixth in the feature. In fact, he ran the first half of the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet 150 in the top three before some of the point leaders began to make their way to the front. Collins is slated to run with us Saturday night during the Nova Truck Centres Make a Wish 150 before returning in July for the IWK 250 presented by Steve Lewis Auto Body.

Here are some statistics for you about the run Josh made. With his top five finish, Collins becomes the highest finishing Newfoundlander on the series in a feature since series inception in 2001, he’s one of only 44 drivers to record at least one top five finish at Riverside in 45 races since 2001 and is the 74th driver in series history to race to a top five finish. Among those lists include the likes of NASCAR stars Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith, David Reutimann and Matt Crafton - pretty nice company to keep!

We can’t look at the Ron MacGillivray Chevrolet Buick GMC 150 without mentioning the 104 lap green flag run in the race! With the humidex well over 30 degrees, the temperatures inside these Pro Stock Late Model cars were scorching and it took a lot out of most of drivers. The toll it took was visible as both Shawn Turple and Cole Butcher climbed out of their cars and immediately moved to the ground with a cold drink shaded by their race car. Naugle’s team threw a bucket of cold water over their driver after the race and veterans like Greg Proude and Dylan Gosbee were seeking a cold drink when they climbed out.

Speaking of Gosbee, it was heartbreaking to see his Ford blow a power steering line on the second restart of the race on Lap 114. The #91 team, even with this minor setback, has had a stellar start to 2017 and he’ll return to a track on Saturday evening that he drove his butt off at last month to get a fourth place finish. He’ll enter one point behind Butcher heading into Saturday at Scotia Speedworld.

Donald Chisholm had an electrical issue sideline the #89 after the first yellow flag on Lap 10 on Sunday, busting a lot of pre-race picks for the race, including mine. Jason Hathaway had ignition issues with his #3 Fast Eddie Speedwear Chevrolet during the green flag run and Craig Slaunwhite’s car was crunched after brake issues arose with the #99 car. Now, 104 laps straight green laps are bound to produce some sort of brake fade, but Slaunwhite mentioned quickly after the race that the brake problems he saw with the car are the same type he saw at the start of 2016.

We saw the friendly rivalry rekindle between Cole Butcher and Shawn Turple on Sunday. The two swapped a bit of vinyl and the pass for the spot saw Turple ever so slightly finesse the back bumper of Butcher into Turn One to get the line on the inside. With their home track next up on the docket, we’ll see if these two will continue to duke it out near the front of the field.

When you look to Scotia Speedworld, it will be hard to bet against the top three in the standings. Shawn Turple bested Cole Butcher and Dylan Blenkhorn in May and the trio own 13 wins at the track between the three of them. As mentioned before I think Dylan Gosbee might be a safe bet if you are looking outside the top three in points with the way he has ran and Greg Proude has been quietly going about his business and sits fifth in the standings heading into Saturday night.

Remember the run Jarrett Butcher put up here in May? The younger Butcher brother had a sniff of third at the end of the race but had to settle for sliding across the line, literally, in fifth place. Am I impressed with the way Butcher has started the season? Yes. Am I surprised with how he has run? Absolutely not. The kid has proven he can win championships in Bandolero and Legend cars and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him contend for a win before this season is completed.

As a sidenote, this Nova Truck Centres Make A Wish 150 saw Blenkhorn go to victory lane for the first time on the series in 2014 and marked Cole Butcher’s first win in 2015. A driver like young Butcher, Naugle, DJ Casey, Harry Ross White or Robbie MacEwen would fit this bill nicely after 150-laps on Saturday evening.

This race belonged to King Racing and Cassius Clark in 2016 and if that combination rolls in the back gate on Saturday, I would not be surprised to see it in victory lane once more. The rumblings at Riverside also had Chris Reid making a return to the series on Saturday at Scotia Speedworld in the #42 car his brother Kyle drove at Riverside last Sunday.

I like to look at that “most successful driver to never win at a venue” statistic a lot and Butcher came close last week to taking his name off the list at Riverside Speedway. At Scotia Speedworld, the top three active drivers in that list include Donald Chisholm, Kent Vincent and Darren MacKinnon. Sure, Chisholm and Vincent have had more starts than MacKinnon in Halifax, but all three have impressive stat lines without that strike in the win column. Chisholm has seven podiums, 18 top five and 39 top ten runs without a win at Scotia Speedworld. To put it into perspective, John Flemming leads all statistic categories (wins, podiums, top five and top ten) but only has three more top tens than Chisholm, who is second all time at Scotia Speedworld in that category. Chisholm has had a rough go this year so far but a great run here to pad his Speedworld stats could change the course of this season around.

The Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour’s Ironman has four podium, 11 top five and 30 top ten finishes at Scotia Speedworld, while MacKinnon has three podium, nine top ten and 17 top ten finishes at the track without a win. Both will look to become only the third Islander to win at Scotia Speedworld in the Tour era behind Jonathan Hicken and Proude.

To close this week, we’ll give you some monumental career statistics. With his win last Sunday, Blenkhorn becomes only the sixth driver in series history to record ten or more wins on the Tour and ties Chisholm for the fifth most at 10. Turple’s three straight top five finishes to kick off the year closes him to within three of Wayne Smith’s mark of 71 career top fives. Smith has the third most in the Tour era, behind Flemming (79) and Shawn Tucker (84). Tucker also leads in all time top ten finishes (123) and while no driver will surpass him this year, Flemming (114), Vincent (109), Turple (106) and Chisholm (101) are all active with over 100 and those four could see some movement before 2017 closes.

If you are coming to Scotia Speedworld this weekend, you might want to come down a night early. The 23rd Annual Shriners Classic for Sportsman is on deck for the CARSTAR Weekly Racing Series and carries quite possibly the most prestige of any Sportsman race in Atlantic Canada. Sure, there might be bigger races and higher paying races but this race is run in support of all the programs the Dartmouth and District Shrine Club are involved in and has a stacked past champions list, including current Parts for Trucks Tour drivers Harry Ross White and Craig Slaunwhite. You might even see a couple Pro Stock drivers in the race to get laps on the track with the current testing policy in place. I hope you can join me and co-host Megan Parrott of the Pulse Heavy Duty Truck class on Friday night for the running of this prestigious 50-lap show.

Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!