Last year, Vinnie Arrenegado finally grabbed the championship crown he had been fighting for in the Late Models. But last year is in the past, and 2022 is a brand new year. Is he poised to repeat as the Seekonk Speedway NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Late Model track champion?
The chance is high. After trying for so many years, and winning so many races, Vinnie was finally able to put the consistency together to win the championship in 2021 — but he has to be rolling into a new format with a completely different mindset. There’s no doubt that Arrenegado will make the new playoff system as part of the Drive 4 For The Cup. The playoff system will be three races in September, where the field will be cut from 8 drivers, to 6, down to the final 4.
In that final championship race, the driver that bests the other three in the feature will be the champion. The first 8 will be determined based off the eight drivers that are at the front of the point standings, where we know Arrenegado will be. From there, it will be about hitting your stride at the end of the year — something Vinnie has no problem doing. For many years, he’s been the one to win the Fall Classic, and some of the final events of the year. In 2022, if he captures the final race of the season, he may have the chance to call himself a two-time champion.
But there are a few drivers that come to mind as his major threats: Gerry DeGasparre Jr., Josh Hedges, Richie Murray, Chase Belcher and Jacob “Rowdy” Burns. Let’s break them down.
DeGasparre needs no introduction. As a seven-time Seekonk Speedway Late Model champion, Gerry is chasing history, as Pro Stock standout Dave Darling is the only driver to win eight titles. Can Gerry boost himself to that level in 2022? He may not have won a championship in a while, but don’t let that fool you. The driver of the familiar No. 71 is sure to have speed, and sure to be close when the final championship battle begins.
Chase Belcher has to be one of the odds-on favorites to knock Arrenegado from the top. Belcher, driver of the No. 35 Everett’s Auto Parts machine, was the class of the field multiple times in 2021. When Belcher was on, he was on. When he was off, he was still in the top-10. A few years after winning the Sport Truck title, Belcher seems more poised than ever to have the year of his dreams. He won multiple times last year, and is expected to do the same this year. If he makes the Final Four, is he the favorite?
Hedges and Murray are two former Seekonk Sport Truck champions looking to make their mark by becoming champion in the Late Models. Hedges picked up his first Seekonk Late Model win last year, while Murray missed the first few races, but stormed onto the scene during the summer to be in contention for wins each week. Although he didn’t win, it’s almost a near certainty that Murray will hold the checkered flag this season, you can bet on it. Are either of them title threats? Sure. Making the playoffs shouldn’t be a major issue, and once they get there, they will be towards the front of the field when the checkered flag falls. For Hedges, it’s about winning races and being consistent to get there to the Final 4. For Murray, the major goal is to grab that first winning trophy, then go from there.
Jacob “Rowdy” Burns has proved that he can get the job done. Moving up from the Legends Cars in the second half of last year, Burns was competitive in the Late Models, you can expect him to contend for his first win, and be in the mix when it comes time to determine the playoff field.
What about names like Mike Duarte and Nick Uhrig? Both are former track champions, just in a different divisions. Duarte won the Sport Truck title, while Uhrig won the Pure Stock title on Fast Friday. They both are inching closer to their first Late Model wins, and this could be the year. Defending Rookie of the Year Ryan Flood is also expected to contend for more wins, and potentially the championship. Tied-in with the DeGasparre team, Flood has the ability to get the job done.
Two drivers are going to be the major threats for Rookie of the Year — both moving up from other divisions. Reese Bogue, a former Seekonk Youth Racing Association Fast Friday champion, will be making his Late Model debut with the chase for Rookie honors his major goal. Winning races in the Bandolero division wasn’t an issue for Bogue, and he moved to the Legends Cars last year, scoring multiple top-five runs. For the new year, he goes from small to big for the first time — jumping behind the wheel of a Late Model.
Christopher Gomes, moving up from the Sportsman division, has registered for Late Model battle. Gomes worked hard for many years to build his speed in the Sportsman class, and was running at the front of the field inside the top-10 on most weeks. Now, as he registers for a higher division, the learning curve begins again for the driver of the No. 10 machine.
What about names like Nathan Tracy? Mark Hudson? Are registered Pro Stock drivers Mark Jenison and Ryan Lineham going to slide in for a few starts? Is there someone we are missing who will contend for wins or potentially the title?
The Late Models will have regular 30 lap feature races, along with the three events in the Everett’s Auto Parts Triple Crown Series, set for 50 laps each.
The Late Model season opens on Sunday, May 1 at 2PM, along with the other three Seekonk Speedway NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series divisions. Tickets are available in advance online at SeekonkSpeedway.com and will also be available at the gate on race day.
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