By Alex Nieten
MECHANICSBURG, PA (July 22, 2023) – Not often do the Pennsylvania Posse fans embrace an outsider like one of their own. But not all outsiders are as beloved as Rico Abreu.
When Abreu stopped in front of the famed Beer Hill in Turn 3 after winning Saturday at Mechanicsburg, PA’s Williams Grove Speedway, the passionate fans cheered as if PA is listed next to his name instead of CA in the home state column. As he climbed the fence in front of them, the noise elevated from cheers to a roar.
The St. Helena, CA native led all 30 laps of the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals finale, holding off a late David Gravel charge to collect a victory representing neither the World of Outlaws or PA Posse, but the Invaders. A $20,000 paycheck awaited Abreu for his efforts.
Abreu’s visit to Victory Lane was his fourth of 2023 with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars. It also marked his first career triumph at Williams Grove, making him the 53rd different driver to win at the half mile with The Greatest Show on Dirt. The 31-year-old has now won twice as an Invader in PA this year after topping Lincoln’s Spring Showdown race back in March.
For Abreu, the night marked yet another testament to the vast strides he’s made in 2023 as he continues what’s been an amazing season.
“That was really intense there at the end. It’s really hard to judge your pace. I really wasn’t catching traffic,” Abreu said. “I’m just thankful for this team. Everybody does an unbelievable job making the right decisions. The Dash Draw was really important tonight for us and the way the circumstances laid out in the race. I’m wore out from climbing the fence back there.
“This has been a really special racetrack to me. A very difficult racetrack as a race car driver coming from the west coast out here. Just totally different driving styles. It’s taken me a few years to really conquer this place and put a team behind me that developed me into a mature enough driver to be successful here. We haven’t ran out of the top five, I think, with Ricky (Warner, crew chief) here. It just shows how important your team is.”
As Abreu noted, the Dash Draw positioned him favorably as drawing the one lined him up first for the Toyota Racing Dash that he won to earn the pole of the Feature. The best starting spot in the field allowed him to pull ahead at the drop of the green flag.
Behind Abreu, Spencer Bayston held second while David Gravel and Brent Marks commenced a war for third. The two traded sliders and crossovers and even a little contact until Gravel finally secured the spot.
Only a few laps later, Gravel pulled up to the tail tank of Bayston to begin a battle for the runner-up position. On lap 12, Gravel ripped the cushion in Turns 1 and 2 to roll around Bayston. With Bayston unable to answer his move, Gravel put Abreu in the crosshairs.
Up front, Abreu worked smoothly through traffic as the race moved beyond halfway. Gravel steadily began to inch toward the top spot. While Abreu favored the bottom line around both ends of the paperclip-shaped track, Gravel opted for the top in Turns 1 and 2. Hitting the cushion perfectly allowed him to chip away at the lead until he was only a few car lengths back.
“I knew Gravel was pressuring me there the whole race,” Abreu noted. “You have to be very disciplined as a race car driver when you get put in those circumstances. You know there’s pressure and you get out of the groove and you lose a pass and that’s the race winning move.”
Once Gravel got close with less than 10 laps to go, it was as if he hit an invisible wall. Suddenly, the Big Game Motorsports #2 couldn’t close as Abreu continued to roll the bottom. Then one small mistake from Abreu nearly cost him the race. Exiting Turn 4 coming to three laps remaining, Abreu narrowly missed the grip, helping Gravel get a massive run. He peeked to Abreu’s outside heading down the front straightaway but wasn’t able to nose ahead entering Turn 1.
That move proved to be the final challenge as Abreu went on to cross the finish line with a little over a half a second advantage.
“I know my family is at home watching,” Abreu said. “And I know how much it means to them to be able to see us have success and the investment and time it takes to get a team to the elite level like this to compete against the World of Outlaws and Pennsylvania Posse. They’re all here this weekend.”
As for the celebration on Beer Hill? It was something he’d been planning for a while.
“I watched Fred Rahmer do it when he won the National Open, and I had a lot of respect for that,” Abreu said. “I’ve always said if I ever were to win a race here, I was going to make sure to stop over there. Those race fans don’t get a whole lot of love when it comes to Victory Lane, so it was important to me to stop over there and try to rowdy them up.”
Gravel came home second for his 14th top five in the last 16 races and 23rd podium of the season. The Watertown, CT native felt that timing wasn’t his friend. Whether it was his preferred line going away when he neared Abreu or the checkered flag flying right when he thought another opportunity to take the lead was coming together, time wasn’t on his side.
“I found the bottom early in (Turns) 3 and 4, and Rico was running high then he moved down at the right time,” Gravel said. “Then I found the top of (Turns) 1 and 2, and he didn’t, but that top got so far around and the bottom started cleaning up. I knew every lap the bottom was going to get faster and faster, so I knew I had to try really hard to get him as soon as possible. I got to his rear bumper here on the front stretch and did all I could and let it all out there… I wish it was like five more laps because if he got a little closer to lapped traffic in (Turns) 1 and 2, I think I would’ve had a little bit better shot on that last lap.”
Bringing home the final podium spot was the PA Posse’s leading representative – Brent Marks. The Myerstown, PA driver was happy with he and his Murray-Marks team’s performance in the main event and thought he could’ve finished a spot better had a couple things fallen his way.
“We had a really good car there the last half,” Marks said. “I ran those guys down. I was really hoping David would keep running the top down in (Turns) 1 and 2. It just felt like I could’ve squeezed by him there, but I guess he felt like he was losing some ground and moved down to the bottom there for the last few laps. On the last lap he tried another one around the top, and I was hoping I could get a run off of (Turn) 2 to squeeze by him to get to second but just wasn’t able to do it.”
Spencer Bayston and Justin Peck completed the top five.
Gravel’s runner-up coupled with Brad Sweet finishing eighth tied the two at the top of the championship standings as they continue their competitive title fight.
Carson Macedo picked up the KSE Racing Hard Charger with a run from 21st to 14th. Macedo also topped the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.
In Low-E Insulation Qualifying, Brad Sweet netted his first Simpson Performance Products QuickTime of the season and the 70th of his career.
CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One also went to Sweet (227th Heat Race win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four were claimed by Justin Peck (eighth of career), Spencer Bayston (18th of career), and James McFadden (42nd of career).
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars make their one trip to New York in 2023 as they invade Weedsport Speedway for the Empire State Challenge (July 29-30). The final night will serve as another “Summer of Money” stop with $20,000 going to the winner. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action on DIRTVision.
NOS Energy Drink Feature (30 Laps): 1. 24-Rico Abreu; 2. 2-David Gravel; 3. 19-Brent Marks; 4. 5-Spencer Bayston; 5. 13-Justin Peck; 6. 83-James McFadden; 7. 11-Cory Eliason; 8. 49-Brad Sweet; 9. 15-Donny Schatz; 10. 8-Freddie Rahmer; 11. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 12. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 13. 17B-Steve Buckwalter; 14. 41-Carson Macedo; 15. 44-Dylan Norris; 16. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 17. 67-Justin Whittall; 18. 2D-Chase Dietz; 19. 69K-Lance Dewease; 20. 99M-Kyle Moody; 21. 11T-TJ Stutts; 22. 48-Danny Dietrich; 23. 5E-Brandon Rahmer; 24. 5W-Lucas Wolfe; 25. 7S-Robbie Price; 26. (DNF) 23-Devon Borden; 27. (DNF) 6-Bill Rose