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Issue 218

Crossing The Halfway Point

Were you not entertained last week during the IWK 250?

Hearing from a number of folks that were at Riverside Speedway and those that listened on Race Time Radio, this year’s edition of the IWK 250 was one of the best they’ve seen or heard in a while.

There are so many storylines exiting the IWK 250, but the top of the list has to be the ongoing rivalry between two of the best young shoes in the business - Cole Butcher and Dylan Blenkhorn. After playing games on the first attempt at the last restart, the two raced hard for the win with Blenkhorn ultimately scoring his first IWK 250 win, second 250-lap race win, third victory at Riverside in 13 months and 11th career Maritime Pro Stock Tour victory.

Both took shots at each other in victory lane about the racing into Turns One and Two on the final restart. Butcher was a bit blunter and up front than Blenkhorn, who was a bit more subtle as he described the final restart. If you would like to review what was said, head on over to Race Time Radio and hear the post race quotes for yourself.

If you’re keeping score, the two have had three runs in during the first six races of the year. They had a disagreement over space during the Parts for Trucks 150 at Petty International Raceway, they swapped paint two weeks later in a heat race at Scotia Speedworld during the Nova Truck Centres Make A Wish 150 and then this argument over space at Riverside.

Take nothing away from them though, Butcher and Blenkhorn are both talented drivers, one only needs to look at both of their stats lines from not only Pro Stocks but during their Legend and Bandolero days as well. We’ll see if this goes any further at Petty International Raceway - a track where both drivers have won before on our circuit.

The battle for third on the final restart was a scramble to say the least. A handful of drivers fought for the final position on the podium and it was Craig Slaunwhite who caught the fumble and was able to take it to the line for the field goal. Behind him in the lineup was Shawn Turple and Dylan Gosbee to complete the top five at the stripe.

Here’s another tidbit - five of the top six in the Parts for Trucks Pro Stock Tour standings were in the top five after 250-laps at Riverside. I’d have to look back in the history books, but that might be the first time that’s happened at this event. It goes to show the competition we have week in and week out have done their homework and are quick when it counts. Don’t discount Greg Proude’s run either. Proude recorded another top ten to keep him in the championship fray with six races to go.

Give a tip of the cap to Dave O’Blenis and Josh Collins on their respective top ten runs in the first “250” of 2017. O’Blenis won his heat, started near the front, took the lead from Jason Hathaway and led a couple dozen laps before finishing seventh in that late race scramble. Collins was on his way to a text book run in the 250, much like a Darren MacKinnon-esque performance. We never spoke much about him early, but he recovered from a spin after contact with Mark Martin to find himself as one of the fastest cars on track near the end. After a no-fault incident sent him to the back on the final restart, he was able to gain a few spots to finish eighth.

Where did Kent Vincent come from? The veteran driver put his head down and quietly went about his business on Saturday night after starting deep in the field. At the end of the night, the #8 Direct Tire Dodge was sixth, continuing to prove he is one of the best when it comes to the IWK 250.

Kyle Reid has impressed in two races thus far in 2017, both at Riverside. I would love to see what Reid could do at a race track like Petty Raceway or Oyster Bed Speedway, one that has high banks like Riverside that you have to finesse a car around over 150-laps. In only his second Pro Stock start, to finish 11th at the IWK 250 is nothing to sneeze about.

Our long haul drivers didn’t fair as well. Jason Hathaway showed speed early but a spin in Turn Three put him behind the eight ball and he finished 12th, leading the out of towers. Gary Elliott had the light fire under his butt, no pun intended, early in the race and came back to finish 19th. The King Racing team had mechanical issues and both 13s finish 21st (Jeff Fultz) and 22nd (Cassius Clark). Mark Martin had damage from a crash 57 laps in and finished 28th while Bubba Gale did not crack the field through the qualifying events.

Thanks again to Chocolate Myers and Mark Martin for coming to visit Riverside International Speedway. Chatting with Chocolate before qualifying, he had nothing but the best to not only say about the venue and the area but the Tour as well. Both were absolutely class acts and I hope both will make a return visit soon.

Not to mention, and I’ll say it again, tell me short track racing is dead and I’ll show you a couple of Mike McCarthy shots of our sold out crowd at Riverside from Saturday. Sure, it is a big event but because of the work Donald Chisholm, Paul McLean and their entire staff put in, they made it work. The atmosphere from the first Wednesday practice through the checkered flag and the celebrations into the early hours of Sunday morning was electric and like no other stock car event I’ve been to. The bar is set high for big events and those shoes are big to fill, but I know Tara Foster and her marketing staff at Scotia Speedworld are hard at it for the next big event, the Atlantic Cat 250 on August 6th.

Before we get there though, let’s talk about Petty International Raceway and the Irving Blending & Packaging 150.

When talking about the top ten at the IWK 250, I left one name out on purpose because I think Jonathan Hicken is a great pivot point in between the two races. Hicken has three wins in Tour competition at Petty International Raceway, which is tied for first in series history at that track with Blenkhorn. In fact, ten different drivers have won at Petty International Raceway in Pro Stock Tour action and eight are expected to be in the field Saturday. Along with Hicken and Blenkhorn, Turple, Slaunwhite, MacKinnon, Butcher, Gosbee and Vincent have won events there. If you’re keeping score, the top five from Riverside Speedway and the IWK 250 have each won at Petty International Raceway.

If you want to go off the board for a first time winner at the track, I’d sink a little bet on a guy like Proude, Jarrett Butcher or DJ Casey. Statistically, Proude looks the best on paper with 11 top tens, eight top fives and four podium finishes, but Casey and young Butcher have shown promise over the last couple of years on the high banked River Glade track. With the way he’s run at Riverside in their first two races, if Collins and his team can hit on the right setup, there might lie another pick that you could  see make a case for his first career MPST win on Saturday night.

Remember back to June though, when we had an absolutely wild Parts for Trucks 150, anything and everything could happen.

We’ve spoken a lot about the championship and I think it’s a good place to leave off with us being halfway in the season. Heading into Saturday, six drivers sit within 100 points of the leader. Easier said than done, but if you can pick off eight feature positions on your competition per race, you make up 96 points. Now, with the field we have, that might seem impossible but with bonus points and heat race points, it is far from out of the realm. When we leave Oyster Bed Bridge on August 6th, our other “wild card” race where we only go there once a year, I think we will have a clearer picture of where we sit.

I wouldn’t push the panic button yet if I was behind sixth place and hoping for a championship, but I might rub up on it. These next two races heading into the Atlantic Cat 250 will tell a championship tale.

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