“Breaking Out of Winter”
with 2016 Predictions
Are you guys ready to go racing like I am?!
Whether it has been the lack of snow in comparison to last year around Halifax or the leap year adding an extra day to February, for some of us it seems like this off-season has been longer than usual. There has been plenty of talk throughout the winter about drivers moving up, scaling back their schedules, adding teammates, tweaking setups and many, many other things and while we’ll see all that unfold during our Weekly Racing Series season opener on May 22nd, I want to turn to the crystal ball.
One question that keeps coming up in conversation is about who will be the next surprise and who will turn heads throughout the 2016 season. Last year when you think of drivers who had a breakout season at Scotia Speedworld, a guy like Travis Roma comes to mind. Roma won his first Sportsman feature last season after knocking on the door of victory lane in previous seasons and was in a fight for second in the standings heading down the stretch run to the championship. The #38 car ultimately finished fourth in the standings, but it was a year that Roma broke through as not only a race winner but as a championship contender as well.
Who should we keep our eyes on heading into this summer?! Here’s a few to put in the memory bank for 2016!
Sportsman - Matt Moore
There are a lot of veterans that could potentially bust out a championship run this season. Feature winners like Alex Johnson, Jordan Veinotte and Fred Schofield should be on your radar to challenge your odds on pre-season favorites for the title, but I like what I saw out of Matt Moore in 2015.
Moore was a rookie last year, but some mechanical issues and a blown motor during practice for the 100 plagued the first Sportsman season for the Legend car standout. If you remember back to the 50-lap feature on the undercard of the Dartmouth Dodge 200 last year though, you’ll remember the #1 Pothier Motors Dodge ran up front and was looking for a checkered flag. He finished second to Aaron Boutilier that night, in only his sixth career Late Model start. Add two top tens to that record and Moore was pretty stout in a strong division of proven veterans last year.
Moore is a great shoe, we saw his talent in a Legend car and he is a great personality that wears his heart on his sleeve. Give him some luck to go with the talent behind the wheel, and Moore could potentially visit victory lane in 2016, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did it early in the year.
Strictly Hydraulics Legends - Scott Cunning
This one is a tough one, because there are so many bona fide championship contenders that have already established themselves within the Strictly Hydraulics Legends division. Our Tim Hortons at the Airport Rookie class even stepped up their game and proved themselves as contenders within the field, with two of the three winning features in 2015.
Scott Cunning has had a lot of close calls with victory lane over the past couple of seasons. Last year, he missed the first race of the season but would turn seven top tens in the next ten races. Of those top tens was a fourth place finish on Canadian National Autism Foundation Night where he was in the fight for the win. That wasn’t the only time Cunning was near the front last year, the #14 had led laps and looked poised on multiple occasions to land on the podium on Friday nights, but he would end up on the wrong end of some of the classic late race battles we saw in this class last year.
Looking back at Cunning’s last few seasons, the stat lines read almost similar to what Travis Roma’s did heading into 2015. Cunning is a driver who runs strong every week and has been knocking on the door of victory lane but gate keeper has yet to swing the doors open for the #14 to enter that hallowed ground. A strong start to the upcoming season would not only put Cunning’s name in the championship discussion but may also give him the shot he needs to kick the door open to victory lane.
Coors Light Trucks - Adam Carter
The Coors Light Truck division has shown us in recent years to expect the unexpected. We saw our share of fireworks between teams on track last year and with those drivers returning to the grid this year, along with the potential of one or two others, it should keep fans on the edge of their seats. While Dan Smith has four championships in a row, the competition continues to get stiffer and he could once again be in for a run for that coveted title.
I mentioned in my last article that I predicted Adam Carter would win a race or two this season and I’ll stand by that here. His final three races last year resulted in two top five finishes and without two missed features, the sophomore was sure to be in the conversation for a top five point finish. For the most part, he’s been quiet on track results wise, he goes about his business and all of a sudden when Rob Bowness is getting close to dropping that checkered flag, the #24 truck is battling for a position.
It’ll be difficult to beat the #39 team for the championship, but Carter could be the one turning heads if he can find that magical combination that will let him enter victory lane.
Chickenburger Thunder - Nic Baker
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, I’m going a bit off the board for this one, but hear me out.
There are easily a half dozen drivers that could be here, guys like Chris Hatcher, Brad Hayes, Merle Corbin, Andrew Lively, Brandon Watson have shown loads of promise and could easily be in the championship picture this season.
So, why are we looking at a guy that had a season personal best finish of 13th last year as a “breakout performer”? Follow me here. Baker has led feature laps in his two seasons of Thunder car racing and has shown glimmers of hope but on the other hand has also shown his rookie stripes. Coming into the sport with no previous oval racing experience, Baker had to learn how to get consistent laps down and hit his marks every lap. Racing against guys like Dave Matthews, the Warren brothers, Stevie Lively, champions that can drive the track virtually with their eyes closed, you cannot afford to slip up one iota. The line is so fine that if you slip corner entry, you are losing tenths of seconds on the stop watch and before you know it, you are slipping through the field.
At the end of the season, Baker acquired a car previously driven by Shane Lively. You could see the improvement at the end of the year in Baker’s racing effort in the car and given they didn’t dial the car out over the winter from where Lively had it, the #88 will be a good piece. Being able to harness that race winning car will be something Baker will be challenged with, but if he can do that, find his groove and nail down 25 consistent laps on a Friday night, you’ll see that team near the front before we are done with 2016.
Lightning - Tom Stewart
Like a fine wine, Tom Stewart keeps getting better with age - and track time.
Stewart, in his first full year behind the wheel of a Lightning car after splitting time with his son Devon in 2014, finished the season with three consecutive fifth place finishes. Add another fifth place finish at the start of August and the #171 car drove to his first career top four finishes in the last six races of 2015. The drive at the end of the year put Stewart seventh in points, one point behind sixth and one point up on seventh.
Let’s call a spade a spade, we had five front runners in the class last year that seemed to be near the front week in and week out. That can be proven in the standings with the gap from fifth to sixth in the year end results. It will also show that sixth to ninth were close in the standings coming down to the finish of the year along with the strength of Stewart within that pack.
What will it take for Stewart, or the other handful of drivers around him to make that leap from fighting for a top five finish each night to a contender for race wins? We’ll soon see, but you’d have to believe that Stewart is on the cusp of making that jump based off his late season performance in 2015!
Hydraulics Plus Bandolero - Danny Chisholm
I’ve got a feeling that this is Danny Chisholm’s year.
Chisholm has honed his skills in the Hydraulics Plus Bandolero class for the last few years and showed lots of promise last year in the Bandit age group, especially late in the year. You could see the Canning youngster gain confidence with the way he drove on track. He won two heat races and had three top six finishes in the last three races of the year and, like Tom Stewart, I’m sure he did not want 2015 to end with the momentum he had on his side.
Chisholm had some hiccups at the start of the season last year and probably would have been in the top five in the standings without them, but that’s how the sport goes. A strong start this year could give the youngster the boost he needs to not only land himself a feature podium, but maybe that elusive first win as well.
Whoever comes out of the Bandolero Bandit class to challenge for the championship this year might just have to rattle off a first win, like Josh Langille and Austin MacDonald did in 2015. With both moving up to the Outlaw age group in 2016, the championship conversation should be fairly interesting as we move through the summer.
If you are a driver and you have yet to send in your registration, you have a few days left to save a couple bucks by submitting your registration early. You also get your team listed in the annual souvenir program and the earlier we know you are racing, the more we can talk about you leading up to the May long weekend.
The point is, get those forms in by April 1st!
Until next time, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
|BACK TO ARCHIVES|