By Sam Tully
SEEKONK, Mass. -- Saturday, August 20 marked the second-to-last regular season race weekend for the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Saturday divisions at Seekonk Speedway. That means drivers who are still not quite locked into the playoff chase had two more weeks to get the job done.
While the playoff contenders of three divisions have all but been decided, one division’s last playoff seat still remains very much up for grabs heading into lockdown weekend on Saturday, August 27. Let’s take a look at who is in and who is out going into our regular season finale.
CHAZ’S AUTO BODY SPORT TRUCKS
The contentious battle for the last spot in the playoffs for the Chaz’s Auto Body Sport Truck division has boiled down to two drivers: Tom Scully III and Jake Vanada. The scale seemed to tip in favor of Scully after his breakthrough feature win over one week ago. With just 19 points separating the two going into the weekend, Saturday’s drive was surely an emotional roller coaster for both drivers.
Vanada seemed poised to issue a loud and clear response to the Scully victory, leading several laps early, and with the field behind him spreading out, victory almost seemed certain. Meanwhile, Scully was riding in sixth.
And then everything came undone.
Barry Shaw had a tire cut down after racing hard with Rick Martin and Mike Duarte, bringing out the caution and reracking the field.
With just seven laps to go, Vanada ended up having to contend with four restarts in an effort to take down the win. The first time, he successfully fended off Brittany Campbell and Rick Martin. The second time, he again staved off Martin. When it mattered most, however, Martin edged out Vanada in a green/white/checkered during which the yellow flag flew yet again, for none other than a spinning Tom Scully III.
Disaster of differing proportions had now struck for both bubble drivers. Scully was sent to the back of the 11 remaining lead lap trucks. Vanada now had the challenge of restarting on the outside of Martin at the front, since Martin just edged out Vanada at the completion of the last lap prior to the caution. Scully was left with almost no time to pass any more cars, and even Vanada coming home with a second-place finish would make up almost the entirety of his points deficit to Scully.
The green flag flew for a second green/white/checkered, and Martin was clear ahead of Vanada after just half a lap. With one to go, Vanada had his hands full with Campbell to his inside looking to steal second place from him. Rounding Turn 3 toward the checkered, Vanada ceded second to Campbell and tried sliding in line behind her to lock down third-place and shut the door on Amy Arsenault. The move misfired!
Arsenault and Vanada connected in Turn 4. Their trucks were fused together, sidewinding down the front stretch as Shaw, Mike Cavallaro, and Ethan Heilborn (the youngster’s first-ever top-five) motored on past around the outside. At the line, Vanada edged out Arsenault by a hair, coming home sixth.
This was in turn a huge break for Scully, who came home in tenth.
Points-wise, Vanada made up more than half his 19-point gap to Scully, and will be heading into the regular season finale just eight points behind the eighth and final playoff spot.
It’s unthinkable that this division can get any crazier this coming Saturday, but look for Vanada to give everything he’s got to stay at least four cars ahead of Scully all race long on August 27.
HELGER’S SOUTH COAST POWER EQUIPMENT SPORTSMAN
For the second week in a row, the biggest contributing factor to the battle of the bubble in the Helger’s South Coast Power Equipment Sportsman division has been the absence of Steve Axon. The immediate beneficiary of the driver’s back-to-back absences has been the No. 97 of Tyler Almeida. Almeida, after earning 33 points on Saturday with a heat win and a 12th-place finish, now sits 40 points ahead of Axon going into the regular season finale.
Unless Axon shows up this Saturday, puts in a top-six performance (which he’s more than capable of doing) and Almeida goes on vacation for the weekend, it’s safe to say Almeida is your eighth and final playoff driver. For what it’s worth, even if Axon did attend and bust out the required performance, Almeida could still lock himself in with a “start-and-park”, provided no more than 25 cars take the green for the feature (the largest Sportsman feature field this season was 22 cars on June 19).
Almeida is likely to join Chad Baxter, Craig Pianka, Ed Perry, Doug Benoit, Scott Serydnynski Jr,. Colby Lambert, and Adam Pettey for the Sportsman division’s Drive For The Cup presented by Sunoco Race Fuel.
In similar fashion to the Sportsman, the battle of the bubble has been significantly impacted by the absence of an otherwise fierce competitor in the Late Model Division.
Josh Hedges sat as high as third in the points standings this season, but following a few mid-season absences, Hedges slipped to 58 points below the cutoff; Paul Lallier breathing a sigh of relief being to the good of the large point barrier.
Hedges was on track for the action this past weekend and drove his No. 29 Late Model to a solid seventh-place finish. Compared to Lallier’s tenth, Hedges only made up seven points on Lallier (including heat points: zero for Lallier, one for Hedges.)
With just one week remaining before we lock into playoff mode, Hedges will have to at least win his heat and then drive to a third-place finish or better to catch Lallier - and that could only happen if Lallier earned four points or fewer.
Suffice to say, the odds are looking like Lallier will lock himself into the Late Model division’s Sunoco Fuels Drive for the Cup this Saturday alongside Gerry DeGasparre Jr, Richie Murray, Mark Jenison, Chase Belcher, Vinnie Arrenegado, Jacob Burns and Jeramee Lillie.
The Pro Stock division joins the Sport Trucks as the only other points race that is still arguably up for grabs.
The situation is Rick Martin sits in eighth place ahead of Kenny Spencer by a 30-point margin. Spencer basically needs to find the spark he brought on opening day (finished second), or bring the speed he had two weeks ago early on if he wants any hope of catching Martin.
The margin was much slighter one week ago, as just six points separated the two drivers. On Saturday, gremlins struck Spencer’s No. 0 car yet again, and unfortunately succumbed to an early retirement, finishing scratch on the 15-car field. Martin on the other hand drove to a fourth-place finish, and combined with the result with his runner-up performance in his heat, earned 48 points on the night - double what Spencer was able to bag.
Martin, unlike Spencer, has largely managed to avoid mechanical adversity in his Pro Stock this season, and has subsequently graced the top-five a handful of times. Martin just needs to keep his stride for one more week, and hope that Spencer doesn’t beat him by 15 positions come the checkered flag on Saturday. Fifteen positions is about the entirety of an average Pro Stock field at Seekonk this season.
Should Martin prevail on Saturday, he’ll join Dave Darling, Mike Brightman, Mark Jenison, Colbey Fournier, Bobby Pelland III, Tommy Adams, and Tom Scully Jr., in the Sucono Drive for the Cup starting the second weekend in September.
This Saturday’s bill of racing marks the final chance for the drivers on the outside of the top eight looking in to make miracles happen and keep their playoff hopes alive. While pressures will be running high in at least a couple of the drivers' seats, this weekend is still likely to be the calm before the storm as we shift towards playoff mode come September.
You won’t want to miss this Saturday’s on-track action as 32 of our drivers lock themselves into the first ever Seekonk Speedway Drive For The Cup presented by Sunoco Race Fuel. The regular-season concludes this Saturday, August 27 at 6:00PM.
For tickets and more information on Seekonk Speedway, visit seekonkspeedway.com.
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