From Bill Wright
September 27, 2017 – Sam Hafertepe Jr. and the Keith Dobbs #15H team added another feather to their 2017 cap by claiming their first Jesse Hockett/Daniel McMillin Memorial at Lucas Oil Speedway near Wheatland, Missouri Saturday. The win was the team’s 17th this season. The Sunnyvale, Texas driver will tackle the Fall Brawl at the I-80 Speedway near Greenwood, Nebraska this Saturday night with the Lucas Oil ASCS National Series.
The draw didn’t go well for Sam in Thursday’s prelim. “We drew the back of the heat and we couldn’t get through there well (finishing fifth),” he says. “The car felt good in hot laps, and I thought we’d be good. We just didn’t have the drive off the corner we needed all night long. That put us on the pole of the Qualifier and we were able to win that.”
That put Sam outside row five for the feature. “We were able to get a few guys on the start, and I thought we’d have something for them up front,” he says. “But the last half of the feature, the track took patches of rubber, and we couldn’t really gain on anyone. We fell in line there, and Sammy (Swindell) tore through the field and we ended up fourth. We knew we needed to turn the wick up on Friday.”
He did just that in the heat race after starting sixth. “We were able to get up to second,” says Sam. “That made us high in points and we started sixth in the Qualifier. We were able to win it, and that was as good as we were all weekend. We took the lead on the last lap. We felt we had a good handle on the racecar.”
Sam would earn the pole position for Friday’s main event. “Going in, I thought we’d be tough to beat,” he says. “As we sat in staging, they reworked the track. It really threw us off. There wasn’t time for adjustments and we didn’t have anything for Wayne (Johnson) at the start. He took off. Sammy got by us as well. When the car came around, we closed on them at the end. We just couldn’t finish it off. Wayne spun with one or two to go, and that gave us second back. We just weren’t good enough with the track conditions the way they were.”
He was locked into Saturday’s finale, however, starting outside row one. “We really didn’t change a thing on the car for Saturday’s race,” says Sam. “I knew we’d gained so much on Friday night. The only thing that put us behind was the track during the feature. We figured the track would get harder and drier. We were fastest by two tenths of a second in hot laps, and we felt good going in.”
Sam had the right strategy. “They sprinkled the bottom for the feature, so I knew it would be good down there for a few laps,” he says. “Sammy started down there, and I paced behind him for a while. He was getting off the bottom all weekend better than any car. That’s how he’d been moving through the field. I knew we were the best car on top. So we followed Sammy on the bottom for a while.”
Then, he made his move to the cushion. “The caution came out for (Aaron) Reutzel,” says Sam.
“We started working the top from there. In two laps, we had gotten by Sammy and started checking out on them. We had an eight-car pileup in one and two and somehow, we got through the little gap they had. Sammy wasn’t as fortunate. I think saving the car there won us the race. Sammy wasn’t as lucky. From there, I knew we were good up top and that was the place to be. Lapped traffic was piled on the top, and Wayne got a run on us. We ended up having some cautions and those helped us. We could pull away on those, and that helped us stay out of lapped traffic. We were able to build a buffer that we could use. Things really lined up perfect for us.”
Sam held on for the big win. “We used our tires up and we were holding on those last few laps,” he says. “We were just happy to win it and get that $10,000. We thought we were going to win it last year and hit the big hole in turn one. We just weren’t where we needed to be until Friday night. We knew we had a good car for Saturday.”