By Sam Tully
Seekonk Speedway’s NASCAR Advanced Auto Parts Weekly Series has put on five thrilling weeks of action so far. With the May 7 scheduled program being lost entirely due to inclement weather, all divisions have filed away five weeks worth of feature racing, except for the Pro Stock division, who missed out on their feature due to rain at the end of the May 21 program.
And just like that, the regular season of racing for the Saturday night divisions is officially one-third of the way complete, hurdling quickly towards Seekonk Speedway’s first ever edition of playoff racing in the Drive 4 The Cup presented by Sunoco Race Fuel.
That said, it’s time to pause and look back at the first part of our season so far. In this first installment of “Comers and Goers”, we’ll reflect on some of the highlights from all the exceptional on-track action, and underscore just a a few the the notable drivers worth keeping an eye on going forward.
Some have surged to the top of the points standings, while others float on either side of the eight place points playoff bubble, weighing the fate of championship hopes. This edition of Comers and Goers discusses our NASCAR Saturday classes only, as Fast Friday is only three weeks into their season.
Playoff Format Rules: A Quick Overview
For those who are still unfamiliar with Seekonk Speedway’s new playoff format, here’s a quick high-level overview on how this year’s season-long points races are structured, and how each division’s champion will be determined.
Now.. let’s get to it!
Chaz’s Auto Body Sport Trucks
The Chaz’s Auto Body Sport Truck Division has provided fans with fantastic racing to kick off our Saturday night program each week. Through five weeks, we’ve seen four unique winners, and two drivers with four top-three finishes. Mike Cavallaro won the season opener, followed by Barry Shaw in week two, Rick Martin in week three, Mike Duarte in week four, and Martin again in week five.
POINT STANDINGS AFTER FIVE WEEKS
#14 Rick Martin
Rick Martin comes as no surprise as one to watch given his decade’s long pedigree of success at the third-mile. Last year, Martin notched his 100th career win at the track and has showed no sign of slowing down as he hit the 102-win watermark this past Saturday. Keep your eye on the #14 of “Radical” Rick as he looks to build on his early success.
#8 Brittany Campbell
Brittany Campbell has arguably been the most consistent driver of all the Sport Trucks through 5 weeks, finishing second three times already. A regular in victory lane already this season, keep a look out for Campbell as she tries to break through for her first 2022 feature win.
#85 Barry Shaw
It may surprise a few that Barry Shaw is the first to make our “Goers” list. Objectively, the defending Sport Truck Champ has put together a solid start to the season. With three fifth-place finishes to date, and add to that a feature win in Week Two, what more could you want? Well, back up to this time last year, Shaw had already waved the checkered flag in victory lane four times through the first five weeks! This is a driver who is used to winning early and often. After falling out of the top five for the first time this season in the June 11 feature, look for Shaw to rebound as he sets his sights on getting back to his winning ways.
#80 Mike Cavallaro
Mike Cavallaro, as with Shaw, has run an objectively strong campaign through five weeks of Sport Truck racing. With a win and two fourth-place finishes to his name this season, the six-time Sport Truck Champion sits comfortably in the points standings. It’s the cooling off trend that has landed the #80 truck on the “Goers”s list, considering he opened the season with that win, and has finished fourth, fourth, seventh, and sixth in the weeks following. Look for this proven champ to find his way up the running order and catch another interview in victory lane any Saturday now.
Helger’s South Coast Power Equipment Sportsman
The Sportsman division has not disappointed one bit through the first portion of the season. We’ve seen some hard licks into the wall, Green/White/Checkered finishes, and a two-horse battle in the win column. Craig Pianka got off to a blistering start, winning three of four features to launch his 2022 campaign. Ed Perry so far has been the only other driver to bag a win (two of them).
POINT STANDINGS AFTER FIVE WEEKS
#4 Craig Pianka
It should come as no surprise that Craig Pianka tops our “Comers” list. The #4 car has shown speed week in and week out, charging his way through the field to the front even when least expected. Pianka has consistently put himself in the right spots to make the most of late race restarts and turn what would otherwise be solid top-five finishes into outstanding wins. Market correction struck for Pianka during the June 11 feature when he was involved in a Lap Two incident that would take his car out of the running early, ultimately finishing 20th out of 21 on the night. Watch for the #4 car to stay out of harm’s way next week and continue his tear through the Sportsman Division.
#1 Ed Perry
Ed Perry has been as relentless of a mover and a shaker in the Sportsman field as anyone so far this season. No stranger to burning up his right rear off Turn 4, nor sending it three-wide up the inside to pull of two-for-one passes for position, Perry’s boom or bust driving style has certainly landed himself in the thick of several race-defining situations, for better or worse. But as of late, the gutsiness has paid off, picking up two feature wins in four weeks. Will Perry’s tenacity continue to pave the way to victory lane, or will his luck run out? Only time will tell.
#0 Chad Baxter
Currently, Chad Baxter sits 7th in the points, just 11 points to the good of ninth place. If the season ended today, he would find himself locked into the final eight and qualified to make a run for the championship. That being said, his current standing is a far cry from the success he found this time last year, already having won four of five races to start the season. Look for Baxter to find the spark and further insulate himself in the top of the points standings.
Through five weeks, the Late Model division remains a wide-open points race. With five different winners so far, the variety up front perfectly represents the mix of strong drivers and hard chargers this division offers week in and week out. Weeks Four and Five particularly showcased dazzling displays of nose-to-tail racing for the lead lap after lap.
POINT STANDINGS AFTER FIVE WEEKS
#29 Josh Hedges
Hedges has maintained a bit of a background character status through the early stage of the 2022 season – he’s the only driver in the top five in points without a feature win this season and has come home outside the top three each week since the season opener. That said, the #29 has finished inside the top six each week, except week three, where he finished eighth (edged out at the line by Reese Bogue and Chase Belcher, respectively). Hedges is showing that consistency is key in a season where points are at a premium in the first ever playoff format. Look for the #29 to keep beating the consistency drum towards more top-six finishes and hopefully a feature win.
#70 Paul Lallier
Weeks One though Four objectively did not result in much to write home about for the #70 car of Lallier. Sure, he’d been caught up in the twists and tangles that are customary of the Late Model Division, stunting his performances from Weeks Two through Four. In Week Five however, like a beachball held underwater, Lallier exploded to the top of the running order, holding off a fierce Jeramee Lillie for several laps, earning his first win of the season. Despite the early season tumult, the win puts Lallier ninth in points, 20 back of Chase Belcher. Look for Lallier’s fresh taste of victory to fuel his driving as he looks to crack the top eight in points in the coming weeks.
#08 Richie Murray
A quick glance at the Late Model points standings warrants no cause for concern for the #08 camp, who at the time of writing sits fifth with a 28-point cushion over the bubble. A deeper look into the numbers shows that Murray has earned fewer points week-over-week since his opening weekend win, earning 50, 46, 42, 36, 26 points from features, respectively. Of course, the numbers only show so much, as Murray has been dealt his fair share of on-track adversity the last couple of weeks, which has certainly aided his recent less-than-optimal finishes with tons of bad luck. Look for this exceedingly capable driver to steer clear of trouble on track and start cashing out with high point totals in the weeks to come, and likely visit Victory Lane for the second time soon.
#35 Chase Belcher
Tough to put this name on this list, especially after this driver posted a third place finish in the Week 4 feature. But if we had to cherry pick a trend to try and define a “goer”, Chase Belcher’s 16th place-finish in Week Five is the lowest finish posted by any driver in the top eight of the points so far this season. Likely a blip on the radar due to on-track adversity, look for Chase Belcher to turn things around next week and continue to pad his lead to the good of the bubble.
The Pro Stock Division has generated a steady stream of fireworks through only four weeks worth of features. From Opening Day’s script-flipping incident between Dave Darling, Ryan Vanasse and Rick Martin, to Week Three’s Lap 2 multi-car wreck involving Vanasse, Daryl Stampfl, Mark Jenison, and Bobby Pelland, among others, the 2022 Pro Stock campaign has been off to a chippy start, but has yielded some awe-striking racing and finishes to boot.
POINT STANDINGS AFTER FIVE WEEKS
#27 Mike Brightman
It might seem like a layup putting Mike Brightman on the "Comers” list, given he has already notched two wins this season. It’s worth noting, however, that Brightman has not finished outside the top three this season, and is the only driver to lay claim to that feat in our Pro Stock Division and across all four of our Saturday night divisions! Look for the strong performances to keep on coming and coming for the #27 of “Mighty” Mike Brightman.
#52 Dave Darling
Placing the four-time defending and eight-time Pro Stock champion on a “comers” list may seem out of pocket to some, considering that as of late, there’s really been no where for him to come from. He’s been there, and stayed there… for the better part of 16 years.
The early running of the 2022 season however teases a bucking of that trend. Through four races, Darling has yet to wave the checkered flag in victory lane. Despite the budding winless streak, Darling has finished consistently stronger than any of his competitors, save Brightman, putting together fourth, second, and third place finishes in the last three weeks, respectively. The season is young, and with the top-three finishes mounting, it would be a fool’s errand to bet against the #52 on any given Saturday.
#11 Ryan Vanasse
As the age old saying goes: it’s better to be lucky than good. Well Ryan Vanasse may know all to well the tired adage, because as sure as he’s been good this season, boy has he been unlucky. Whether you want to discuss the Martin and Darling sandwich Vanasse found himself in on Opening Weekend or being stuck between Darling and a hard place high up on Turn Three in Week Three, or just plain having a failure in the car last week, the #11 has been unable to catch a break. That one week where disaster didn’t totally strike? A late race caution in Week 2 wiped away his six-second lead, and ultimately cost him the feature win to Tommy Adams. Look for this unlucky streak to subside to finally let the #11 strut its stuff all the way to victory lane.
#0 Kenny Spencer
The former Pro Stock champion’s 2022 march could have hardly started off on a stronger foot, bringing home his #0 machine in second on Opening Weekend. Unfortunately, that would be the last time the #0 would come close to posting a top-five finish, posting finishes of ninth, 11th, and eighth in the weeks since. The rough and tumbled nature of the Pro Stocks this season has surely not been kind to Spencer, and what seemed to be a bad loose car on June 11 did not help matters either. Look for this two-time champion of “The Konk” to get things figured out stat, and start eroding the slim three-point margin keeping him below the playoff bubble.
While only 16 of our more than 80 weekly Saturday drivers have been highlighted above, it goes without saying that there are countless storylines to be followed as the season unfolds. With only five weeks of the regular season in the books, plenty of time remains for driver to emerge and fade and for points races to shake up.
If you made it this far, thank you for your time! We hope you enjoyed this fun little exercise in early season analysis, and hope you join us at the track to watch what the rest of the season has in store.
For tickets and more information on Seekonk Speedway, visit seekonkspeedway.com
Seekonk Speedway Features stories on the Stars and Cars that race at Seekonk Speedway