It's Wednesday again. Time to roll the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust her off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
WHEN DO YOU see the forgotten man walking around all day with an ear-to-ear grin? What that supposedly “forgotten man” is Joey Polewarczyk Jr., that's when.
Polewarczyk has been practically giddy of late, even before he finished second on Sunday in the ACT Late Model Tour's Armed Forces Day 150 at Oxford Plains Speedway. Polewarczyk had been keeping tabs on the racing coverage in the northeast over the last month, the same coverage that boasted headlines and mountains of accompanying copy praising the new rivalry atop the ACT standings.
Those same headlines and thousands of sentences produced an unending stream of the names “Helliwell” and “Hoar.” Barely anybody's even taken notice that Polewarczyk is right in the thick of this dogfight – up to second in the standings after bad days for both Wayne Helliwell Jr. and Brian Hoar at Oxford. Barely anybody, that is, except for Polewarczyk himself.
“That's exactly what I said before (last weekend),” Polewarczyk said. “They were battling at Lee and Thunder Road and even at Canaan last week. Everyone's had their articles about a new rivalry in ACT or whatever, and I'm sitting there third in points just smiling.
“I know I'm right there.”
That he is. Polewarczyk has three Top-5 finishes in four starts this season, including runner-up finishes in the last two races. Winning races is nice – and apparently generates its fair share of headlines – but Polewarczyk is taking a much different approach to 2012 than he's taken in seasons past.
It could be paying off.
“My whole look this year is the big picture,” Polewarczyk said. “Most of my years past, I only wanted to win races. I still do want to win races, don't get me wrong, but you've got to have these finishes to win the championship. A couple weeks ago at Thunder Road, we finished 13th and it was a big letdown for us. Whereas before, it would have been 'Oh, that's a decent day.' But we need to have these Top-5 finishes and the big picture play itself out.”
Polewarczyk is sandwiched atop the ACT standings between Helliwell and Hoar – drivers who have accounted for wins in three of the first four races this year – but he is just two points behind Helliwell for the series lead. He's sixth on the all-time ACT win list with eight career victories (in points-paying events), but he's never won a championship.
In a few short years, Polewarczyk has gone from bright, potential talent on the Tour to a powerhouse veteran presence. This is his best chance to cash in on that earlier “potential” labeling. The Top-4 in the standings are separated by only 19 points, and with only six races remaining nobody can afford anymore bad days.
“Next race, we'll be halfway done the year. Just like that, it goes by quick,” Polewarczyk said. “That's another thing we've looked at. You can't have bad finishes. We need to finish Top-5 every week, and if not, Top-10. That's how you're going to win championships.”
In the meantime, Polewarczyk will be happy to let everybody else steal the headlines, grab the attention and even win the races if that's what it takes.
“I hope all the attention stays on them until we take over the No. 1 spot, and then that will be pretty good,” he said with a grin from ear-to-ear.
LUCKY NO. 7? This one's from the “Odd Stat Of The Week” file.
The top four drivers in the ACT Late Model Tour standings all have two-digit car numbers ending in “7” – No. 27 Wayne Helliwell, No. 97 Joey Polewarczyk, No. 37 Brian Hoar and No. 57 Austin Theriault.
What does it mean? Absolutely nothing, really.
LAST WEEK'S SPRINT Cup All-Star Race was a real doozy.
A couple of cautions for mechanical failure and none of the door-to-door, bump-and-run, checkers-or-wreckers style of racing everybody told us for weeks leading up to the event that we were, uh, GUARANTEED to see.
None of it.
It's easy to blame a lot of things. It's easy to blame the format, the cars, the tracks, the sponsors, the officiating, the paint schemes, the lighting, the sound system, the size of the hot dog wrappers, Coke Zero, Pepsi Clear, or even Wham! breaking up for all the issues.
But has anybody ever considered the speed? Let's be honest. At Charlotte Motor Speedway, cars are launching off into the turns at speeds approaching close to 200 mph. This isn't Martinsville or Richmond, or even Phoenix or New Hampshire. It's a high-speed, mile and a half, D-oval that is bad fast.
Taking a guy out for no other reason than you “really want to finish seventh” is a risky proposition. I think the drivers understand this better than we do sometimes.
IT'S OFF TO Stafford Motor Speedway this weekend for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour (and the Granite Stripe Traveling Circus & Sideshow, too), a race that could be critical to the fate of many teams still hoping to be in that championship hunt come October.
Consider this: Last season, Ron Silk jumpstarted his championship run by winning the TSI-Harley Davidson 125 at Stafford on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Also consider this: Doug Coby trails Silk by just one point in the standings this season, and Coby won when the Tour was last at Stafford a few weeks ago. Imagine what a win could do for Coby this weekend.
Guys like Jimmy Blewett and Justin Bonsignore have been solid, if not exactly spectacular, to sit fifth and sixth in the standings, respectively. They are also a pair of drivers who could use the momentum a win at this point in the season could provide. Blewett is always fast at Stafford, while Bonsignore still seems poised to break out. It's only a matter of time.
THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 is this week. I felt like someone ought to at least mention that. Seems like there's just no talk about it anywhere.
I LIKE THE Coke 600 for the same reason I like a lot of quirky events on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule – like the two races each season at Pocono, the road course events, and the trips to Martinsville. I like them all because they are different.
When the Coke 600 rolls around, I don't expect a wild night of racing (like we'd all hoped to see in the All-Star Race), or tight packs maneuvering around in traffic. Granted, times have changed and the reliability of the cars and engines to perform for 600 miles isn't anywhere near the question mark it was 15 or 20 years ago, but it is still a test of both man and machine for some four and a half hours.
It can be a grind – kind of like watching a mid-August Sunday afternoon game between the White Sox and Mariners – but it's one that is usually satisfying at night's end. We don't often see a car in Victory Lane at Charlotte and think, “That car probably wasn't the best car tonight.”
It's a great event, a great testament to stock car racing in the sport's hub. It takes all of the elements we love about the sport and puts them in sharp focus.
Other races may be too long, too drawn out, too devoid of drama. This isn't one of them.
ANYONE ELSE CALL Bobby Labonte winning the fan vote to gain entrance into the All-Star Race last Saturday night?
A FINAL NOTE for regular readers of The Granite Stripe. The server issues have finally been fixed, so www.granitestripe.com should work fine from here on out. The site features more race day updates than the traditional spot on the NHMS.com site, so be sure to check it out if you haven't already.
YOU'VE BEEN A great audience. Try the southwest steak breakfast burrito, and don't forget to tip your waitress. Mac Miller is here, so stick around.