It’s hard to believe there is only one more month left in the season, eh?
The Atlantic Cat 250 weekend begins a month stretch where drivers and teams will be up on the wheel to not only grab those valuable championship points to move up the ladder, but also to grab those last checkered flags. They’ll drive hard to better their best finish of the year. If the driver is a rookie, s/he may be trying to get their first heat win, top ten feature finish or even a top five.
If you’re a veteran like Dave Matthews or Tim Webster in the Thunder class, you’re just looking to get a feature win.
It’s a big weekend, but I’m going to start with the Thunder class. Honestly, in my opinion, the most excitement this season has come from the Thunder cars. Not because you have a handful or more cars that could win each week, sure that adds to it, but it’s the unpredictability of how these races are going to end. Look at last week, Stevie Lively laid in wait after he, Dave Matthews, Matthew Warren and Tim Webster passed Kyle MacMillan within the last ten laps for the lead. Lively waited until the last lap to make his calculated move, diving under Matthews in Turn One and it paid off with his third feature win in four races.
Why did Lively wait to make his move on Matthews until the last lap? It’s pretty easy if you ask me. If Lively had tried it earlier, more than likely Matthews would have had the opportunity to drive back up on Lively and do the same thing. When Lively made that move though, it opened the door for Webster and Warren to get their nose in there too.
Regardless what side of the fence you are on, it was a great show put on by our Thunder car drivers and once again, the feature went caution free. If you’re keeping score, that’s 200 laps straight in feature action without a yellow flag.
Matthews still holds the point lead, albeit the margin is only nine points heading into Friday’s race. Matthews has five second place finishes in features. Five. I think Dave let his emotions get the best of him Friday, showing displeasure with Lively when he picked up the checkered flag. You have to feel a bit for him, after losing what looked to be his first win of 2014 in the final lap and eventually having to settle for fourth.
Here’s another statistic for you. Matthews and his closest point rival in Matthew Warren are the only two drivers in the Weekly Racing Series that have competed in all features this season in their respective class that have finished in the top five in all of them. Emily Meehan, Dan Smith, DJ Casey and Darren Wallage can be added to that list if you scale back to top six finishes in every feature, but to keep that up in a division so competitive as the Thunder class is something special.
Question remains, can Lively come from behind on this rampage that he has been on and win the championship? If Matthews stays as consistent as he has been, it’ll be an uphill battle for the #32. In fact, in the last four races, Matthews has scored seven more points than Lively, even with Lively’s three wins. The #32 Bud’s Top Soil Civic has scored three more points than Warren and with Lively’s deficit to Matthews being 41 points, it will take some magic within that soil to grow Lively’s second championship.
The last time the Lightning cars ran two weeks ago, it was “Rational” Richard Patrick who had the bad luck bug bite him with mechanical issues on his #141 Coveys Auto Recyclers Neon. What it did was open up the championship a bit. Now it is Deven Smith with the point lead by eight over Scott Thibodeau. Patrick fell to third, 15 behind the lead with Mike Brown only 11 behind Patrick. Essentially, everyone in the top four has had “a bad race,” with a finish outside the top ten. These four cannot afford another bad race if they want to take the championship.
If you’re into trends, it has been Patrick and Smith trading the last four wins, while Brown, Thibodeau and rookie Steve Matthews, who sits fifth overall, took feature wins on the first three weeks on the season. This was a big race anyway, but with the points as tight as they are, this week’s race, combined with next week’s 50-lapper will likely make or break this title chase.
The Coors Light Truck championship took another turn last week, even before the heat races went green. Matt Vaughan blew a transmission during practice and could not compete in the evening’s card, virtually ending his championship chances. Dan Smith, on the other hand, capitalized and would go to victory lane for the first time this season in a main feature. He now has a 15 point lead on Cory Leonard and a 20 point lead on Cy Harvey heading into action Friday night.
One of the stories in the Coors Light Truck Division has been Jason Fenton. Outside of Cole Butcher, Fenton has won the most feature races on the Weekly Racing Series this season with four. Minus the wreck last week and a mechanical problem on Week Two, he has yet to finish off the podium in feature races he has finished. Heck, and I’m sure this might hit a cord with the Fentonators, but if Fenton could have somehow made it out for the pace lap in the feature he missed in June, last place points in that main feature would have put him in the point lead by one point.
But, this is racing, and we don’t deal on “what ifs.” One thing we do know is that Jason will be looking for his fifth win of the season Friday night, and he knows how to shine on big races as he is a former winner on this weekend in his Coors Light Truck.
Let’s shift to Saturday’s Hydraulics Plus Bandolero feature before looking at the big show on the Weekly card this week. Call it what you will, but it is like the seas parted last week for Braden Langille. Langille, who hasn’t won a feature since Week One of this year but owns three straight third place finishes, was the only driver in the top three in the standings to finish in the top five. Meanwhile, while Langille was chasing Ettinger and eventual first time winner Cory Hall down for the win, Cole Tanner and Adam Meehan were having a little rendezvous of their own in Turn Four. Whatever side you’re on about who may or may not have been at fault for it, the end result is that it cost them a pile of points in the long run.
Cole Tanner has opted to run at another track this weekend, and will have Craig MacDonald in their backup car at Scotia Speedworld Saturday for points for the #33 car. This is MacDonald’s first start in a Bandolero this season and is a former feature winner that doesn’t have the words “slow down” in his vocabulary. This will either work real well for the team or it may put them further behind. Either way, this is a critical race for not only the #33 team, but also the #51 and #6.
And if the #33 and #6 falter, it will open it up to Ettinger and Wyatt McCulloch to move up the ranks. One point is the difference between the two and they sit 20 points behind the duo in front of them for second. Oh, and if you’re keeping score, we’ve had two first time Speedworld winners in the last two weeks in this class. Dylan Sutherland, Megan Parrott and Nathan Blackburn have all showed speed in recent weeks and could make us three for three Saturday if the cards fall in the right place.
The Strictly Hydraulics Legends are off, but the Maritime League of Legends Tour will contest the Scotia Tire 50. My preview is combined in their pre-race press release, which you can read on TimsCorner.ca or MaritimeLegends.ca.
Now, Friday night. The big one a lot of us have been waiting for - the Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman 100.
This is shaping up to be one of the best Sportsman races anywhere in Atlantic Canada this season. Now, it’s hard to piece together an expected entry list, because unlike the Pro Stock Tour we cannot base our list off who ordered tires and who didn’t. What we can do is speculate though.
A total of 24 drivers have run at least one race with us this season. All but one (Bronson Shanessy) has run with us in the last three races, so let’s say 23 drivers. With the Maritime Sportsman Challenge we are hearing rumblings that we will see Laurie Cormier and Hughie Richards, who we have yet to see this year. Yes, Russell Smith Jr is leading the Maritime Sportsman Challenge mini-series, but I’ve counted him in the 23 drivers that have already raced with us once this year. Colby Smith has mentioned he is running, Jerry Hayes has been testing at Scotia Speedworld, I’ve heard Shawn Thibodeau will be making the trip from Troy and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a Dale Richardson, Dave Timmons or a guy like Darren Price make the trip. That’s outside of the other handful of Sportsman cars that are sitting around that always like the draw of a big race.
So, if you add those seven or eight names to the 23-ish we have had run recently, we should have 30 cars or more attempt to qualify for the Dartmouth Dodge 100.
Question is now, who will be the top dog?
If you look at Weekly results, and you have to believe those with the home track experience will have the upper hand (even though Price and Richardson were on the podium last year), the top four in points will be the four to keep your eye on. Darren Wallage is coming off a big momentum boost by way of a victory last weekend, DJ Casey has been consistent all season, Aaron Boutilier has been winning races and Harry Ross White, minus a transmission issue last week, has been pretty spot on all season.
Leading the Maritime Sportsman Challenge by winning the first two races is no fluke and Russell Smith Jr will attempt to complete the clean sweep on Friday night by winning the race he took home one year ago. Jeff Dillman re-wrote the record book a couple weeks ago with his fourth Shriner’s Classic victory and with Phil Barkhouse Jr having his car ready to run on Friday night, you have to believe he will be in the mix too.
As our fans have seen, it is anyone’s race every time Ralph Vokey throws the green on our Sportsman division. I firmly believe that our Dartmouth Dodge Sportsman is the best weekly Late Model type division anywhere in Atlantic Canada for that close competition and unpredictability of what will happen.
Speaking of unpredictable, the “draw” may be one key to victory on Friday night.
We saw with Dillman at the Shriner’s Classic that track position in a 50 lapper was key. Yes, this is double the length but it is still big to get and keep track position. Each driver that rolls through tech will “draw the pill” or draw for their starting position in what will be one of three or four heat races, depending on car count. Draw a good starting position, finish well in that heat, start up front and you have a great chance at staying out of the “hornet’s nest” mid-pack and keeping your car clean.
Lots of keys to winning a 100-lap Sportsman race and when you throw in a driver’s track like Scotia Speedworld, it will be even tougher for these 30 or so to be the one to grab that checkered flag. My prediction? While the Atlantic Cat 250 will be an awesome show on Saturday night, the Dartmouth Dodge 100 just may steal the show on the weekend.
It all goes down Friday and Saturday, folks. This one is going to be memorable. Want to catch up on my thoughts on the Atlantic Cat 250? Check out MaritimeProStockTour.com for my Tim’s Corner preview!
Until Friday, keep the hammer down and we’ll see you at the track!
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