Championship Weekend Already?
It seems like we just started and all of a sudden we’re looking at the close of the 2013 season at Scotia Speedworld. For some teams, this couldn’t come soon enough. Maybe it’s a good run of bad luck they are on they want to snap with the changing of the seasons. Maybe they just need a break. For a lot of us though, especially with the weather we had at the start of 2013, we could turn around and go a couple more months.
This weekend we will see seven championships handed out on the 3/10-mile oval. We are guaranteed to see at least two, but have the potential to see all six of our Weekly Racing Series champions celebrate track title for the first time.
I want to start this with Aaron Boutilier. After last weekend, we may as well call our defending Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series champ “Mr. Come From Behind” after his heroics at Riverside International Speedway. He entered the 75-lap finale for the NAPA Sportsman Series 26 points behind Ross Lewis. Lewis started on the pole and quickly fell to around fifth while Boutilier pushed to the front and set sail in the lead. We know this sport is very unpredictable and Lewis found that out as he was swept up in a last lap wreck. Boutilier took the win and with Lewis finishing outside the top ten, the gap was great enough for Boutilier to take the Napa series title at Riverside International Speedway.
So now their focus shifts to the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series 50-lap finale on Saturday evening. The point gap for Boutilier between he and Darren Wallage is 25 points. Keep in mind, the point system for the NAPA Sportsman is similar to ours, so it is possible for Boutilier to gain enough points to win the title. Keep in mind who he is racing though. Wallage is also a seasoned veteran of this class but has yet to win a championship, though he’s won about everything else there is to win in the class at the Speedworld. Whoever comes out on top between the two will be a deserving champion and will be a great representative of our sport, I’m pretty excited to see this pan out Saturday.
Oh, and we mathematically can’t rule out Harry Ross White, the feature winner two weeks ago, in this either. The gap between he and Wallage is 52 points and with the possibility of 25+ cars at the Speedworld on Saturday, that 52 points is mathematically possible to close in but would need bad luck early from Wallage and Boutilier. Again, mathematically possible but a long shot. This is stock car racing though and you can surely expect the unexpected.
Something else cool to watch Saturday will be to see if Marie Brown can lock down a top ten point finish in 2013. For the first time in as many years that I can remember, we have four full-time female drivers at Scotia Speedworld, all of whom enter the final race of the season in the top ten in the standings. We’ll mention the others in a few, but in short, they have over a one race advantage on 11th in the standings. Brown on the other hand will have to earn her spot amongst the top ten in the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman Series as she sits 10th in the standings entering and only 11 points up on feature winner this season Chris Dingle. The 2012 Rookie of the Year John Poan is 12th in the standings and only 28 points back. On the other side of the coin, ninth place Tyler Hallahan is only 23 points up on Brown. A lot can change in a ten lap heat and 50 lap feature, so it is worth keeping your eyes on!
Let’s move to the other Weekly division battling on Saturday and talk about the Hydraulics Plus Bandoleros. It’s simple for Adam Meehan. He has a 30 point lead on Braden Langille heading into Saturday evening. Based on a 13 car field, which is the biggest we’ve had all season, Meehan can start both his heat and feature and the best Langille could do if he doubled down would be to tie Meehan in the standings, which the #6 car would take on a tiebreaker for feature wins with six.
Langille has a nice cushion on Craig MacDonald with 20 points between he and the sophomore, which can be done. MacDonald though may be playing more defense in this final race as he has Cole Tanner on his heels with just three points between the two. The battle for fifth is still tight too with rookie Wyatt McCulloch leading last week’s feature winner Nicholas Naugle by one point - an advantage he took based on his heat performance last weekend. Luke Ettinger is just five points out of fifth in seventh and will be a factor in this I’m sure on Saturday.
Another driver who has really came into her own in the last few weeks has been Megan Parrott. Her father and crew chief Brian told me they found a charging issue with the car a few weeks ago that would see the car lose power throughout the race. The repair sure showed two weeks ago when Megan went to victory lane in her heat race. Last Friday it appeared she was on her way to a top three finish in the Bandolero feature before a couple of overdriven corners in the late laps caused her to fall to eighth in the order. It would not surprise me one bit to see her up front Saturday, after all, she is in a point battle for eighth in the standings with Dylan Sutherland. Friday night sees two battles for titles that are insanely close that can go either way and two battles that see drivers have “comfortable” leads heading into their final races of 2013.
Notice the quotations there?
We’ll start with the most “comfortable” heading into the finale and heading into the last few races, I would have thought this would have been the closest. When all the dust settles this weekend, Cole Butcher may be the only driver to repeat as a champion in 2013, that is if Boutilier doesn’t come from behind in the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman or he doesn’t lose his 22 point lead in the Strictly Hydraulics Legends standings.
It’s simple for Butcher, based on a 14 car field, which is what we had last week, he can only lose six points in a heat race given he starts and finishes last in the heat, gaining minimum points for the race. Let’s say Cy Harvey, his nearest competitor in points, wins that heat. That point advantage goes from 22 to 18 heading into the feature. If Butcher was to finish ninth and Harvey was to win, the standings would be tied with Butcher getting the nod in the tiebreaker for the most feature wins (three) on the season. So, if Butcher starts his heat race in a 14 car field, he needs ninth or better to lock up the title in the feature.
If Cy Harvey falters though, it opens up the battle for second in the standings. Last week’s feature winner (and Cy’s nephew) Danny Harvey moved from sixth to third in the standings, 10 behind Uncle Cy. The logjam behind him is where this gets interesting, with Emily Meehan four back in fourth, Matt Moore one behind Meehan in fifth and Jeff Cruickshank four behind Moore in sixth. Reports have been circulating that Moore may be done for the season after the altercation with Cruickshank last Friday but we will see who ends up pulling into the back gate on Friday. Regardless, this could quickly shake up the top five with one mistake from anyone in the Strictly Hydraulics Legends field on Friday.
Let’s now look at the ACE Lumbermart Thunder class with it being the third closest point battle among the top two entering Friday night. Matthew Warren is looking for his first championship and enters 15 points up on Dave Matthews in the overall standings. This battle played out in 2011, albeit it was a slimmer margin heading into the finale but it was Matthews edging out Warren by one point. When you take the last three races into account, Matthews has outscored Warren by a total of 20 points, but, again, that is over three races. Both are quick to commend the other on being a great, clean driver who deserves to win the title when asked about their championship rival and I’m sure you’ll see a great battle between the two coming to the wire.
Now, let’s crunch the numbers like we did for Butcher for Warren. We’ll do this also on a 14 car field, which is the average the class has been getting a week, minus the 50 where we saw 22 cars out for the race but for the sake of this, let’s go 14.
A 14 car field would give you two fields of seven in each heat, so, like the Legends, the most you can gain on a heat race is six points. That would trim Warren’s lead from 15 to nine heading into the feature if Matthews won and Warren took the pace lap on his own power. In order to keep the title by one point, Warren would have to finish fourth or better to lock up the crown. Out of 11 races, Warren has finished worse than fourth four times. The bad news for Matthews? His worst feature finish on the season is sixth.
Tim Webster and Jordan Pirri are essentially racing for pride on Friday night with their point positions (third and fourth, respectively) locked up in case either driver in front of them does not start or flunks tech on Friday the 13th.
It’s fifth on back to about 10th that gets pretty exciting in these closing laps of the 2013 season. Kyle Gammon and Kenny Hopper are tied for fifth in the standings. Gammon has been on a rip to the top ever since he flunked post race inspection earlier in 2013 and has been virtually towing along his teammate Drew MacEachern to the top of the standings. MacEachern sits seventh in the standings, 13 points behind the tie for fifth. Gammon and MacEachern have both outpointed Hopper by over 20 points each in the last three races combined and MacEachern has outscored Hopper an average of eight points in those three races. The potential is there to have everyone pile up on each other for that fifth place spot at the end of the night, the question remains, which Darkside Racing Civic will place ahead of the other and can “Big Daddy” play a big spoiler on the night?!
Then you have the battle for eighth place between Patrick Riley, Chantel Ackles and Stevie Lively. For these three, it has been a tale of three totally different seasons. Riley has struggled recently with mechanical issues and his average point total in the last four races has dropped to 81.5 compared to 89 in the first seven races. Ask Ackles and she’ll tell you this season has been a struggle for the #30 team in her sophomore season but with Riley’s struggles in the last four races has been able to gain 14 points on the #07 car. Lively has been on fire, winning three of the last four races, along with a second place run in the fourth race, following a break.
So, here are some more numbers. Entering, Riley has 15 points on Ackles and 25 on Lively. Lively has been averaging, AVERAGING 25 more points a race than Riley and 22 more than Ackles. PER RACE. 20+ points. Needless to say, this could be exciting if Riley can keep it together and Ackles can get up on the wheel on Friday night.
ACE Lumbermart Lightning now. We are down to three for the title and two with a very good shot at the title. Chevy MacDonald sits third in the standings, but he is 22 points out of the top spot. Mathematically, it is very possible for the #172 to capture his first track championship. Realistic? I wouldn’t call it a long shot, but he is going to need to get up on the wheel.
MacMillan has to be the favorite when looking at statistics. The #192 Glenholme Petro Pass/Multi-Tech Automotive Dodge has two wins on the season and has outscored point leader BJ Nicholson in six of the ten races this season with two of those being ties between the two. Nicholson’s #140 Seagull Trucking Dodge has been consistent though, and it has been said many times over in this sport that consistency wins championships. It’s five points, so for Nicholson he could realistically keep MacMillan in his sights and finish right behind him in the heat and feature and still win the title by two points. That will be easier said than done though. Regardless how it plays out, all three guys are really personable individuals and will be great representatives for our sport, the division and series sponsor ACE Lumbermart.
Last, but certainly not least, the Coors Light Trucks. For the second straight season, Dan Smith enters Finale Friday with the lead in the Trucks and, for that matter, Jason Fenton will enter third in the standings. For Smith though, his lead over second and third are smaller, which could make things rather interesting when we get to the track on Friday.
Smith will have to hold off Ryan Goldsmith if he wants to take his second consecutive championship in the class. Smith had a six point advantage on JP Arsenault heading into last year’s finale before Arsenault was caught up in a dust-up with another truck, taking him out of contention for the title. Goldsmith is only three points behind and cut five points off last week to get to within three points for the title. Fenton meanwhile is 12 points back heading into the finale and is the most recent feature winner in the class. The #3 truck entered Finale Friday last year 17 back and finished third, just one point behind second when the checkers flew.
Here’s where it gets exciting though and it’s a word we may have to use on Friday night with the Trucks - tiebreakers (plural). Should there be a tie for the championship, the tiebreaker is first place feature finishes. All three drivers have two feature wins on the season, which could easily be the tiebreaker if one of them takes the win Friday night and there is a tie for the title.
But, let's say there is a tie and the wins are even, we go to second place finishes. Smith right now has two second place finishes, as does Goldsmith. If Fenton can rally from behind to win it, he's got four second place finishes on the season and would take the second tie breaker if he is tied with Smith or Goldsmith if it came down to that.
BUT, let's say Smith and Goldsmith tie for the title - both have two wins and two seconds. The third tiebreaker is third place finishes, which Smith has four of and Goldsmith has three. Okay, so Goldsmith gets third and they tie for the title. It goes to fourth place finishes, which Smith only has one of and Goldsmith has three of.
Long story short, it could get messy if we get a tie. Heck, realistically, it could go as far as fourth place feature finishes if Smith and Goldsmith are tied and all the stars align. Gonna be fun to watch on Friday night!
Also want to close this with a tip of the cap to Larry Vaughan and his grandson Matt. Matt has been coming to the track since he was two to watch his grandfather race at the Speedworld and Larry told me last week that this Friday marks the final race of his career that has spanned over two decades at the 3/10-mile oval. It was a great night last Friday for the team with Larry taking the checkered flag in the heat race and Matt driving the #08 to a very impressive second place finish, a drive that would look like he had been driving stock cars for 20+ years. We’ll see if Larry can cap off the career with one more checkered flag in the feature Friday night!
It’s going to be a tight battle down to the wire in all divisions - be sure you are at the Speedworld Friday and Saturday to see it all unfold!
Until then, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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