OXFORD, Maine – Jeff Taylor stood on the podium, one arm around Joey Polewarczyk Jr. and the other around the 6-foot-tall trophy and looked the youngster straight in the eye.
“You don't know how hard it is to win one of these things,” Taylor said.
Polewarczyk smiled his usual wide grin: Truth is, he doesn't.
Polewarczyk, of Hudson, N.H., led more than 200 laps on Sunday evening at Oxford Plains Speedway, dominating a field of nearly 40 Late Models from across New England and Canada to win the 39th annual TD Bank Oxford 250. Polewarczyk earned a winning share of $45,500 – his first victory in his fifth start in the midsummer jewel.
“I can't believe this. This is unbelievable,” said Polewarczyk, who was just 19 when he finished third behind Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick in 2008. “It really hasn't sunk in yet. I've been coming to this race since I was seven years old, just watching from the stands. Now, I just can't believe I won it.”
Taylor finished a fading second, after running in the Top-5 throughout the race. A nine-time Oxford Plains Speedway track champion, a record for the historic short track in rural western Maine, the TD Bank 250 is the only thing missing from the veteran driver's impressive resume.
Austin Theriault, 18, of Fort Kent, Maine, finished third. It was the second-straight third-place finish for the Brad Keselowski development driver. ACT Late Model Tour point leader Wayne Helliwell Jr. was fourth, and Oxford Plains Late Model point leader Travis Stearns was fifth.
Theriault had the fastest car on the race track over the final 20 laps – going from 13th to third following the final restart of the race on Lap 209. He was one of the only lead lap cars to pit for fresh right side tires during that caution period, and it nearly paid off.
“We played some strategy games midway through the race,” Theriault said. “Third-place again is a little bittersweet – but I'm glad Joey won... Maybe next time. I knew if we had another 15-20 laps, we would be right up there.”
But the day belonged to Polewarczyk, who started on the outside pole and led from the very first lap until the race's first caution on Lap 135.
After virtually all of the leaders hit pit road on during that yellow flag, Polewarczyk needed only a handful of laps to gain back the track position he'd lost and overtake Helliwell for the point. It was smooth sailing for the second-generation driver from there.
Polewarczyk is still only 23 years old – yet he's now won the three biggest Late Model races in New England in his short career. He's a Milk Bowl champion at Thunder Road International Speedbowl, an ACT Invitational winner at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and now a TD Bank Oxford 250 champion.
Taylor was right about one thing on that podium. Polewarczyk doesn't know how hard it is – he's made this Late Model racing thing look easy in only a few short years.
“I can't thank (the crew) enough,” Polewarczyk said. “We worked on this thing all day yesterday, and we finally got it where we wanted it to be. This is huge. I don't even know what else to say.”