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BUMP STOPS: Pro Series, Parity And Pocono

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Photo: Travis Barrett/GWC

It's Wednesday again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

WHEN YOU'VE BEEN in the racing industry for nearly 20 years, you see a lot of races – I mean, a LOT of races – on short tracks from Maine to Florida, from North Carolina to California.

No, I haven't been to every race track in the country. Not even every NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track in the United States, but I've seen short track races in weekly divisions for everything from Modifieds to Mini Stocks.

But last Saturday night's Pro Series 100 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway for the track's Super Late Model division goes down as one of the best weekly division races I can ever remember seeing. There were multiple lead changes over the final 30 laps, cat-and-mouse games on late-race restarts, and the assorted beating and banging that makes Saturday night racing so popular.

David Oliver's win in the Pro Series 100 was a well-earned one at that.

 

The box score will show that Oliver started on the pole and ran with the leaders throughout the night en route to his second straight victory in the event. But, of course, it's never quite that simple.

Here are some of the things that made the race so wildly entertaining, entertaining enough that one fan in the post-race Victory Lane celebration yelled to nobody in particular, “That was the best $10 ticket I ever bought!”:

  • Four drivers: Oliver, Dan McKeage, Brad Babb and Bobby Timmons raced the first 20 laps like they were engaged in a 25-lap sprint to the checkered flag;

  • Typically, in extra-distance races for weekly divisions, once a car gets a turn at the point and loses it, it's done for the night and begins a slow fade out of contention. That was not so for either Oliver, the 2002 track champion, or Babb;

  • Fans were actively engaged in this one from the outset, cheering Oliver every time he muscled to the front and booing lustily every time Babb tried to drop back on restarts to give the appearance that Oliver had jumped it. The loudest cheer of the night came when Babb tried to lay back a third time, only to have flagman Eddie Walsh throw the green flag, anyway;

  • The race granted “blanket points” to anyone who started. Simply put, anybody who attempted to qualify for the 26-car field was given 50 points in the standings. Once the race actually started, drivers were racing to win and not to preserve a good points finish;

  • Babb moved Oliver out of the racing groove on at least one occasion, then took the early initiative while running second to choose the inside lane on a restart. Oliver, not to be outdone, had his right front in Babb's door when he went back to the lead at one point;

  • Alan Tardiff snuck up to finish second behind Oliver, gladly letting everybody else mix it up for the lead and capitalizing when he had more tire left than the rest of them.

If these NASCAR Whelen All-American Series drivers can do this in a weekly event, how long can it be before we see a Super Late Model race added to the “Short Track Saturday” lineup at New Hampshire Motor Speedway?

ONLY A COUPLE of years ago, there wasn't much that could be said for parity in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.

Guys named Truex and Wallace, with ties to Sprint Cup Series organizations like Michael Waltrip Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, were running at the front and leaving the scraps for everybody else to poke at.

This year, though, it's a whole different series.

In six races this season, there have been six different race winners – representing six different teams and all sorts of organizations. X Team Racing won at Bristol Motor Speedway with former Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott won at Iowa, rookie Kyle Larson of Rev Racing – a former USAC standout – won last weekend, and the independent third-generation driver Corey LaJoie won at Bowman Gray.

One could make the argument – and I will here – that there's not this much parity in any other NASCAR touring division, national or regional. The best part about it is that it's not just the drivers, but also the organizations that are spreading the wealth, from Cup-affiliated teams to independent ones, from startups like Hattori Racing Enterprises (Brett Moffitt) to development teams like Rev Racing.

It's only mid-June, but already so many of the K&N Pro Series teams are firing on all cylinders. It's going to be a heck of a summer run for that series.

SPEAKING OF THE K&N Pro Series, Cale Conley became the 48th driver in series history piloting car No. 47 to win a pole award when he did it last weekend at Gresham Motorsports Park.

Of course, the other 47 poles for car No. 47 came via Kelly Moore, the all-time record holder in pole awards in the series.

Tip of the cap to Rick DeBour of Pro Series Scene for posting that nugget on Twitter this week.

HAD THE OPPORTUNITY to join Oxford Plains Speedway owner Bill Ryan last Friday morning on his weekly “In The Pits” radio show. We were posed an interesting question about the ACT Late Model Tour, specifically what has contributed to such a seemingly wide-open championship race in 2012.

Though there were rules changes that teams were forced to contend with in the off-season, and though it's a shortened season with only 10 points races, it really boils down to just one name.

Wayne Helliwell Jr.

Helliwell has singlehandedly added depth to the field, pressing eight-time ACT champion Brian Hoar into a dogfight atop the standings. Helliwell's emergence also seems to have had an effect on the efforts of Joey Polewarczyk Jr. – a longtime holder of ACT title promise. Polewarczyk, who grew up in the New Hampshire short-track ranks with Helliwell, is in top form and seems to have learned over the past few seasons how to race for points and not just for all-or-nothing trips to Victory Lane.

Helliwell leads Polewarczyk by two points through four races this season on the ACT side.

But if those four races are too small a sample size for your liking, keep in mind that Helliwell was also ranked 10th in this month's NASCAR Hunter Index, a ranking of the top drivers from NASCAR's development series and Whelen All-American Series.

NOW JOEY LOGANO really is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner.

Logano won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009, after rain brought an early halt to the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 – and after he twice smacked his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota off the wall to get himself off pit sequence that day and get him into position to win when it rained.

But at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, Logano beat the other 42 drivers fair and square, becoming the first driver to win a race from the pole since Ryan Newman at NHMS last season.

Make no mistake: It was an important victory for Logano, whose contract with Joe Gibbs Racing is up at the end of the year and whose name has swirled through the rumor mill of late. Silly Season may never have an off-season in the NASCAR world, but with names like Matt Kenseth – and even, ahem, Kurt Busch – out there and available for 2013, Logano can be replaced.

I'm not sure that winning at Pocono will keep that from happening, either. If I were a betting man, the smart money would be on Logano having a new home next season. But winning on Sunday, at the very least, make Logano marketable enough to shop his resume with confidence.

SPEAKING OF POCONO, I'm going to try and not get busted for speeding this weekend while going 33mph in a 45mph zone.

YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the Louisiana Burger with Pickled Onions, and don't forget to tip your waitress. ZZ Top is here, so stick around.

– TB