Monday, February 20, 2012

More Thoughts On Speedweeks

The best way to watch the ARCA race at Daytona is using a DVR. That way you can speed through the single-file green laps and the minor cautions until you get to the final lap. Although once again it appeared that nobody was even going to attempt to make a move to try to win the thing until leader Brandon McReynolds ran out of gas coming out of turn four and then the scramble was on. Bobby Gerhart, who was forced to start at the rear of the field due to an engine leak following qualifying, jumped to the outside groove and came from seventh to first to win for the eighth time in ARCA competition at Daytona. The veteran driver made what at the time looked like a questionable call when he pitted after just one lap to top off with fuel, a move that soon put him a lap down and in the middle of the always potential “big one”. But as it turned out, that extra splash of gas may have been what secured the win after all. The 43-car ARCA line-up this year was what at least I would call a “who’s who”, but not in the traditional manner of using that phrase. As the lineup scrolled across the screen before the start I found myself asking “who?” on at least 35 of the entries.

What the ARCA race lacked in excitement (until the last quarter-mile) the Budweiser Shootout definitely made up for up it, but not likely in the manner that NASCAR would have like it to. Can you say demolition derby? I wonder what the price tag was on the equipment that got trashed in that race! Pack racing is back, replacing the two-car tandems as new rules now causes the pusher in a two-car-tango to quickly overheat as you could see the overflow spitting on the M&M’s #18 as Kyle Busch made his move to pass Tony Stewart and win by one one-hundredth of a second in what definitely left those in attendance, and those of us watching from home, abuzz and ready for this Sunday’s Daytona 500. However, the drivers need to get together and remind themselves of what is meant by give and take this week, otherwise we may only have ten cars still on the track after 500 miles.

Everybody will remember that it was Jeff Gordon who took a hard barrel roll after sliding along oh his driver side for what seemed like forever, but the incident started when Gordon got into the back of Kyle Busch sending him for a spin. I got a chuckle on Sunday when Kyle quipped that Darrell Waltrip was a villain until Rusty Wallace dumped him, how many more times does he need to be dumped before the fans start feeling differently about him? Thirty-seven, Kyle, that might do it, but you need to cut back on dumping people as well.

I think that Steve Francis is really enjoying his role as the driver of the Barry Wright house car after taking the win East Bay’s finale for the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series Saturday night, the second trip to victory lane of the week for the Kentucky Colonel who went a long stretch without a victory last season. Dennis Erb Jr. took the win on Friday night and has emerged from the week at the point leader on the Lucas Oil tour. I’m not sure if “The One Man Band” was planning on running the entire Lucas schedule, but you can bet that Erb will be at the next event on March 24th in Brownstown, Indiana. I thought it noteworthy that Scott Bloomquist was not in the top ten in series points leaving East Bay so I went to the series website to see just where the perennial championship contender actually ranked and found that they only have the top ten in points posted on their website as well. Odd.

Josh Richards was Friday night’s winner and Rick Eckert took Saturday’s finale as the World of Outlaws wrapped up their weekend at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala. Eckert’s win was not without some controversy as Mike Marlar tried to make a run at him on the outside going down the backstretch on the final lap only to end up in the outside guardrail. From watching the video it appeared that Eckert maintained the same line that he had been running for the past several laps, so hard to pin any blame on this one. Marlar later stated that he essentially has a win it or wear it mentality, but if he truly plans on running the entire World of Outlaws schedule in 2012 he may want to learn how to accept a second-place finish in a case like this for the extra points and purse money that goes with it rather than having a damaged racecar and 18th-place points. As it stands Marlar will move on to the next two WoO events this week at Volusia County Speedway ranked eighth in the standings, but he would have been in fifth just ahead of rookie contender Bub McCool if he would have settled for runner-up honors Saturday night. The three drivers with series wins so far this season rank one, two, three; Darrell Lanigan, Josh Richards and Rick Eckert.

Hulk Hogan who is a friend of radio personality and track owner Bubba Clem waved the green flag to start the main event on Saturday night and it sounded like the Hulkster had brought along one of his WWF buddies to serve as one of the two announcers as well. Also, Todd Turner of Dirt On Dirt reported that Larry Plummer Jr. of Warsaw Indiana who was listed as having “No Time” in Thursday’s qualifying list was actually a fictitious entry as the track wanted to have more than fifty cars on its first night of going head-to-head with East Bay. “Larry” actually made the count 51 on opening night. For the best of Dirt Late Model coverage on the internet make sure that you check out Dirt on Dirt.

Heading to Volusia here are how I rank the Late Models in Florida thus far:

1. Don O’Neal, Martinsville IN 15
2. Steve Francis, Ashland KY 14
3. Josh Richards, Shinnston WV 13
4. Darrell Lanigan, Union KY 12
5. Dennis Erb Jr., Carpentersville IL 10

Kenny Wallace picked up his third UMP Modified feature win of the week at Volusia and I believe that he has had cameras following his efforts both on the dirt and the super-speedway, so keep your eye on SPEED this week for that feature story. Michael Long finished fourth Sunday night to lock himself in to Monday night’s Gator Championship paying $5,000-to-win for the UMP Mods. I am hoping that somebody other than the drivers with NASCAR connections (Wallace, Schrader, Dillon) can take the big win and Long would be perfect! They ran the program that was rained out Friday on Sunday afternoon and Michael finished fifth in that one with other Midwest drivers Mike Harrison, Brian Shaw, Dave Wietholder, Gary Cook and Jeff Leka finishing fourth, eleventh, fourteenth, seventeenth and twenty-fifth respectively out of a field of seventy-eight cars.

In World of Outlaws Sprint action at Volusia Danny Lasoski repeated his success at Volusia with the win on Saturday night. “The Dude” is the all-time wins leader in the Sprint Cars on the Barberville clay. And on Sunday it was Donny Schatz during the matinee and Craig Dollansky in the nighttime program. Schatz, who failed to make the A-Main during the two All Star sanctioned events here last week leaves Voluisa with the Outlaws point lead by five markers over Sammy Swindell.

Open wheel fans are likely familiar with California phenom Kyle Larson who took the sport by storm last year posting several big wins in USAC midgets and non-wing sprint cars. It was announced today that Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates has signed the 19-year-old to its roster as a developmental driver. Looks like his first assignment is to drive a Super Late Model this week at New Smyrna Speedway’s annual World Series of Asphalt Racing on the fast ½-mile south of Daytona as Larson finished second to Kyle Benjamin in Sunday’s main event. Larson actually won in his first night out on the asphalt in a Late Model when he won the Pete Orr Memorial at New Smyrna.

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