From Lonnie Wheatley
TULSA, Okla. (April 13, 2010) – With the Lucas Oil ASCS National points chase beginning to take form after the first Kilgore-Little Rock weekend double in series history, another edition of Tuesday’s Top Ten hits cyberspace.
In no discernible order, the ten follow. Dig in…
1. Thin Ice – With the initial three Lucas Oil ASCS Sprint Car Series presented by K&N Filters events of the 2010 season in the books, Rock Star Shane Stewart is once again atop the point charts as he defends his series title. Just barely though, as that rocket known as Jesse Hockett is just three points back.
Stewart has advanced 35 positions in three features, improving upon starting positions of 23rd, 11th and 18th to post finishes of sixth, third and eighth, just good enough to have the edge over Hockett finishes of seventh, eighth and then third at I-30.
Maintaining his string of nine top-tens in as many overall ASCS feature starts this year, tenth and fifth place finishes this past weekend at Lone Star and I-30 along with a fifth-place run in the Devil’s Bowl opener have Tony Bruce, Jr., in the thick of the points battle as well, just 13 points off Stewart’s pace.
With Brady Bacon, Jason Johnson, Sammy Swindell, Zach Chappell, Danny Wood, Matt Covington, Jack Dover and Tim Crawley among others well within striking distance, Stewart has little room for error. Especially since he’s already used one provisional. If he has to use another one before the second full-point provisional is awarded at mid-season to those that have competed in 100% of the events, it’s tenth-place points at best in that event.
2. Free Passes – It’s unlikely that anybody could have predicted that in the opening three events of the Lucas Oil ASCS National season that Gary Wright would have to use three provisionals. But that’s exactly what has happened.
Struggling with the draw, a slipping magneto at Devil’s Bowl and a flop-tube that doesn’t seem to hook up, “The Texan” has limped to feature finishes of 18th, 22nd and 14th and is just 19th in points.
Riding a series record streak of 223 events competed-in, Wright has claimed 60 of his 126 career National wins during that stretch. He’s been shut out of victory lane over the past eight features though, last winning in Devil’s Bowl Winter Nationals preliminary action. It’s a winless run of features exceeded just twice, including ten features in 2006 and 14 in 2008.
3. 95 – The 2009 Newcomer of the Year with the Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series, 20-year-old Matt Covington notched his first ASCS National win on Friday night when the series returned to Lone Star Speedway in Kilgore, TX, for the first time since April 13, 2002.
Driving the No. 95 entry, Covington became the 95th different winner in ASCS National history in just his 20th career National feature start.
While 13 drivers topped Lucas Oil ASCS National events last year, Tim Kaeding (a Western World Championships prelim winner at USA Raceway) was the only first-timer after six drivers (Gary Taylor, Jack Dover, Aaron Berryhill, Danny Lasoski, Gavin Punch and Skip Wilson) snared first career wins in 2008.
If 95 became the 95th in the 573rd National feature in ASCS history, does 99 become the 99th? After podium finishes in two of three events (third at Devil’s Bowl and second at I-30) to rank fourth in points, Brady Bacon may not wait to become the 99th.
4. Fresh Rubber – Shane Stewart has already earned a pair of Hoosier tires with Hard Charger efforts at Devil’s Bowl and I-30, with Jesse Hockett picking up some Hoosier rubber by racing from 19th to eighth at Lone Star Speedway.
A Hard Luck driver has also been awarded a Hoosier tire at each event, with Channin Tankersley (lost a muffler while among the top five at Devil’s Bowl), Danny Wood (fourth until the last lap at Lone Star) and Travis Rilat (to the infield with a broken front end on the second lap at I-30) the unlucky recipients.
Drivers must be registered members, display the Hoosier decal on their car and have Hoosier tires on all four corners to be eligible for the freebies, which are doled out at a clip of two per National event.
5. Rookie Watch – Nearly as intriguing as the $60,000 Lucas Oil championship chase is the Brodix Rookie of the Year race.
Narrowed from ten to eight Rookie contenders with the absence of Joe Ramaker (eye surgery) and Aaron Reutzel (presumably opting to defend his ASCS Gulf South title), the Rookie rankings were shaken up over the weekend.
After his Lone Star Speedway win, Covington slid from third to 16th at I-30 Speedway after time spent thrashing to change a fuel pump took away from precious chassis time. Covington still escaped the weekend ninth in overall points and atop the Rookie charts with California’s Kyle Hirst just 23 points back.
Dustin Morgan moved to third, with Channin Tankersley and Austen Wheatley rounding out the top five. Wheatley and Tankersley had led the way into the weekend.
Current rookie points: Covington 313, Hirst 290, Morgan 252, Tankersley 244, Wheatley 238, Justyn Cox 195, Joshua Hodges 195 and “Diamond” Don Young 195.
6. High Water Mark – Matt Covington wasn’t the only driver to record a career best Lucas Oil ASCS National finish over the weekend, as another pair of Tulsa-area drivers set new standards.
After matching last year’s third-place run at Lake Ozark in March’s season opener at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, Brady Bacon climbed another notch by finishing a close second to Zach Chappell at I-30 Speedway.
One night earlier at Lone Star Speedway, Kenny Woodruff wrenched Dustin Morgan to a career-best finish of sixth. Morgan’s previous best was a seventh in preliminary action at the 2008 edition of I-30 Speedway’s Short Track Nationals. A die-hard Cubs fan, that fandom had to help Morgan deal with the disappointment of a cut right rear tire on Saturday night that derailed feature hopes after a front row “B” Main start.
7. First Time – A half-dozen drivers made first career Lucas Oil ASCS National feature starts over the course of the weekend including Kyle Hirst, Matt Sherrell, Bean Elliott, Taylor Milton, Justin Spoerl and Justin Carver.
Loomis, CA, rookie contender Hirst raced to a strong seventh-place finish after a heat race win at Lone Star Speedway and then bounced back from a wild last-lap heat race fracas with Travis Rilat to finish 12th in Saturday’s main event at I-30 Speedway.
Adjusting to the winged ranks with wingless Sprint Car and Midget outings still in 2010 plans, Sherrell’s first series feature start netted a ninth-place finish at Lone Star Speedway.
ASCS Gulf South shoe Elliott won his Lone Star Speedway heat race before finishing 17th in the feature, 16-year-old Milton made the feature cut in just his second career ASCS start and Spoerl (an ASCS Sooner winner at Devil’s Bowl in 2008) won a “B” Main to transfer to the Kilgore finale, where he tested the turn three wall in the early going to become the race’s first casualty.
After scratching from his Kilgore heat with driveline woes, Carver raced into the I-30 Speedway feature redraw before finishing out the night in 15th.
8. 103 – Zach Chappell snapped a streak of 103 ASCS National feature starts without a victory with Saturday night’s triumph at I-30 Speedway, where poppa David commented among flashbulbs, “I wish this was the Short Track Nationals.”
It was Chappell’s first Lucas Oil ASCS National triumph since a June 2004 win at Nebraska Raceway Park’s I-80 Speedway.
While the 2001 ASCS champ has spent some time on the Kool Aid trail since that win and then earned NCRA runner-up honors last year, other wins in the interim have included an ASCS Sooner score at Fayetteville in 2005 and then an ASCS Speedweek win at Creek County last June.
9. Non-Stop – Thirty-five caution-free laps at Little Rock’s I-30 Speedway on Saturday night was simply a thing of beauty.
With the 24-car field racing the high-banked, ¼-mile from top to bottom throughout and leaders in traffic from the 12th lap on, the final outcome was in question until the checkered flag finally flew.
Driving for Mike Ward, who won the first official ASCS National feature at I-30 Speedway back in 1993, Tim Crawley led early from the front row outside before eventually fading to fourth with brake issues. It was still good enough to vault from 20th to eleventh in points. And a repeat of last year’s Rock ‘N Roll 50 sweep at Riverside would put the three-time series champ right in the meat of the points race.
Brady Bacon worked the top side of the I-30 oval in an effort to snare that first Lucas Oil ASCS National win as Jesse Hockett closed in, but Zach Chappell was the man in this one.
Non-stop runs are the exception at I-30 Speedway. Twenty-five ASCS National features have come and gone since the last time it happened nearly eight years ago on July 13, 2002, when Gary Wright won his 62nd career National feature by wiring the field in a 30-lapper.
Wright was in Saturday’s feature as well, climbing from 21st to 14th this time. Others in that 2002 feature that were in Saturday’s field included Travis Rilat (’02 runner-up was the first car out on Saturday), Jason Johnson (third in ’02 and 13th in ’10), Crawley (6th and 4th), Darren Stewart (11th in ’02 and 11th in his return to the Sparks mount on Saturday), Marshall Skinner (12th and now 6th), A.G. Rains (15th and 18th) and Chappell (16th in ’02).
10. It’s Not Easy – With three nights of Lucas Oil ASCS National action in the books, 97 drivers have competed in at least one event with 31 drivers taking in all three nights of action. The nightly average is at 55.7 cars per night, just a smidgeon over the 2009 average of 55.3 cars per night.
How tough is it?
The fact that every driver that has competed in all three events has competed in at least one “B” Feature thus far pretty much sums it up. Even the points leader, Shane Stewart, has had to battle it out in two “B” Mains.
Nine drivers have started all three main events, including Stewart, Jesse Hockett, Tony Bruce, Jr., Jason Johnson, Sammy Swindell, Danny Wood, Jack Dover, Travis Rilat and Gary Wright.
Stewart, Hockett and Bruce, Jr., are the only three to finish among the top ten in all three features, while Bruce, Jr., and Brady Bacon are the only drivers to post two top-five finishes in the opening three events.
And, there’s no reason to think things will get any easier. Elbows up it shall be.
That black Mississippi River gumbo clay at Riverside Speedway is next for the Lucas Oil National series on April 23-24 with some Regional rumbles to pass the time this weekend.
Until next time, find what you need in terms of ASCS info at www.ascsracing.com.