NASCAR Saturday's Drive for The Cup Update - Championship Contenders Locked In For Final Four Weekend
By Sam Tully
SEEKONK, Mass. -- NASCAR Saturday roared to life for the penultimate round of the 2022 season, and the task at hand was slimming down the six remaining playoff drivers in each division down to just four final championship contenders.
Let’s dive into Turn 1 of this week’s update, and take a look at who’s in and who’s out of the Sunoco Drive for the Cup.
CHAZ’S AUTO BODY SPORT TRUCKS
The Sport Trucks filed into the track for their second round of the Sunoco Drive for the Cup playoffs, and it did not take long at all for trouble to find one of the playoff drivers.
Diving into Turn 1 for the first time, Jake Vanada and Amy Arsenault got crossed up, sending Vanada around, making contact with Ken Lavallee as well, and blowing a tire in the process. Things were already off to a rough start for Vanada. He headed pit side for a new tire and with it a new chance at life in the playoffs.
At the front of the field, you had Barry Shaw, Mike Duarte, Rick Martin, and Brittany Campbell all battling each other for position as they made their way through the front of the field. Seven more laps were completed, with three cautions sprinkled throughout for spins and stalls. The third was caused by a spinning Arsenault, who joined Vanada towards the rear of the field - both drivers on the outside looking in by a wide margin.
Off the next restart, Shaw made haste toward the lead, passing Tom Scully III for the top spot by Lap 10. Martin followed through closely behind.
Meanwhile, a couple cars back, Campbell and Duarte raced with each other, desperate to move by a stout Ethan Heilborn to keep distance from a charging Vanada. Duarte led the way on the outside, and Campbell looked to follow, but the field was given reprieve when none other than Vanada and Rick Albernaz tangled into Turn 1. Vanada was not sent to the rear with Albernaz, but his No.29 truck did not need the contact.
The field lined up to restart for the final time with 14 to go, and Shaw and Martin sped off to continue exchanging blows for the lead. Further back, Duarte showed the way early for Campbell, but by Lap 22, Campbell made the pass on Duarte, and no better time to do it as Arsenault had crept back into the mix and was now bearing down on Duarte for the final transfer spot!
Laps ticked down and Arsenault pulled up on the inside of Duarte - the final transfer spot was her’s for the taking! But with a lap and a half to go, Arsenault let slip the reins of her No. 9 machine and scrubbed speed, allowing Campbell and Duarte to run off with the final two transfer spots. Arsenault now sat in the drop zone with Vanada, and with next to no time to recoup their losses, remained their at the checkered.
Half a lap ahead, Shaw and Martin were clear locks for the Final Four, but this didn’t stop the pair from putting on a show. Coming to the checkered off Turn 4, Martin pulled around the outside, passing Shaw at the line in stunning fashion, making it his seventh Sport Truck win of the season.
HELGER’S SOUTH COAST POWER EQUIPMENT SPORTSMAN DIVISION
The Sportsmans set out for their 30-lap feature, and six playoff drivers would become four in the process.
The drivers clicked off many laps early on with just one interruption coming at the hand of playoff driver Doug Benoit, who spun on Lap 4. Benoit began driving his way back through the field, but faced mechanical issues that forced an early exit, extinguishing his playoff hopes after just nine laps.
Chad Baxter led the way for the playoff drivers during the 18-lap green-flag run, working up to as high as fifth position. Just behind him, Ed Perry, Craig Pianka and Colbey Lambert all traded punches to keep themselves as far from the drop zone as possible. Tyler Almeida was the early inheritor of the chopping block and drove urgently to keep his playoff challengers within reach.
Yellow flag waved on Lap 22 for a turned-around Caleb Marcou, giving the field a chance to catch their breath for the final eight-lap sprint.
With the field crossed over, the battle resumed, and Baxter, Perry, Pianka, Lambert, and Almeida all shuffled in order down to the bottom lane, each driver doing whatever it took to not be the last driver in that line. Baxter worked his way up to second place, distancing himself from his playoff foes. Yellow flag unfurled for the last time on Lap 28 for a spinning Sam Lincoln setting up for a Green White Checkered finish.
Baxter lined up outside of the front row alongside Adam Pettey, who had led every lap of the race up to this point. The rest of the playoff drivers sat a couple rows back, with Perry in sixth, and Pianka, Lambert, and Almeida all in succession.
Green flag soared and Baxter applied the pressure to Pettey, but came up short, as Pettey claimed his first win of the season. Behind them, Perry showed off the moves of a true wheelman with a three-wide dive down the middle of Scott Serydynski Jr. and Chris Rioux, and one lap later, a clutch save avoiding a spin - and ultimately saving his playoff run - by going full opposite lock and matting the throttle off Turn 2. Perry and Lambert claimed transfer spots crossing the line in fifth and sixth overall, and Craig Pianka crossed ninth, owning the fourth and final transfer spot. Almeida tailed Pianka but just under .3 seconds at the checkered, but the difference was enough to bring his playoff run to an end.
The Late Models gridded up for the second feature of the night, ahead of what was sure to be a fierce battle between six playoff drivers vying for the Final Four.
Mark Jenison started furthest forward out of the six playoff hopefuls in fifth, and spooled to life early as he diced his way to the point, challenging and overtaking Josh Hedges for the lead by Lap 10. Jenison’s car was hooked up perfectly and cruised on to lead the next 25 laps, clinching both the win and the firth berth into Round Three of the Drive for the Cup.
Deeper in the pack however, things were a bit trickier for the rest of the playoff drivers. Vinnie Arrenegado came under fire early from the likes of Gerry DeGasparre Jr., Reese Bogue, and Richie Murray. DeGasparre worked his way through first, as Murray took Arrenegado and Bogue three wide. Murray pulled off the two-for-one cleanly and continued on to chase down DeGasparre for the number two transfer spot. Arrenegado got stuck on the outside, causing him to fade further and further back. In one turn, Arrenegado went from the last car into the second car out of the playoffs due to Chase Belcher and Jacob Burns flashing by on the inside.
As the lap counter climbed higher, the field began to spread thin. Murray worked his way past DeGasparre after several laps of hot pursuit. DeGasparre struggled to march forward, allowing Belcher and Burns to loom large in his rear view mirror. Belcher sized up the No. 71 off his front bumper, and managed his way on the inside by Lap 26. DeGasparre now sat on the threshold of elimination with Burns now bearing down. The door looked wide open for Burns to sneak through as Belcher worked on by, but Gerry shut the door decisively, denying Rowdy the final transfer spot!
That moment would be the last real shot Burns had at stealing his way into Round Three, as DeGasparre managed to outpace Burn by about a carlength gap for the next eight laps to the checkered. Burns joined Arrenegado in the drop zone, putting an end to both their championship hopes. Gerry D will join Belcher, Murray, and Jenison in the final showdown for the championship in Round Three.
The Pro Stocks rolled out on stage for their 45-lapper to wrap up the night of action, and for the second week in a row, the deciding factor on who made the cutoff to continue their playoff journey came right down to the wire.
The cars strung out single-file quickly, and before long, Colbey Fournier and Tom Scully Jr. had their horns locked for the final transfer spot. Scully played the patience game, waiting for the perfect time to strike, which he decided was on Lap 14 down the inside into Turn 1, and completed the pass on the next lap. Despite the battling, Scully and Fournier were both able to catch up to Mike Brightman and Bobby Pelland III, who held the next two transfer spots. Meanwhile, Mark Jenison was busy chasing down leader Dave Darling all night, but had the top transfer spot to himself all night long.
Scully’s No. 2 machine seemed to get faster and faster, and on Lap 29 made a pass on Pelland for a little breathing room from the bubble, and Fournier was right in line to shuffle Pelland right out of the transfer spots all together momentarily!
Pelland didn’t give up that easy however, attempting a strong crossover move which drew him alongside Fournier’s No. 16. After a couple laps of door-to-door racing between the two, Pelland lost the handles on his pro stock and was sent spinning down the back straight! Caution was deployed, and now Pelland had to start at the tail of the field. Meanwhile, Rick Martin, who had been fading back and out of the running, welcomed the opportunity to bunch back up to the pack of playoff challengers.
With 12 laps remaining at the restart, the playoff drivers scrambled to stay out of the drop zone, and Brightman got booted to the outside and began fading back into the jaws of Martin. Within a couple of laps, Brightman and Martin got locked together going into Turn 3, and pretty much stayed fused together all the way into Turn 1, with Brightman eventually sliding out. Caution again, Brightman to the rear with just four laps remaining, joining Pelland on the outside looking in.
The next caution came almost immediately, brought on by Scully and Fournier getting crossed up, with Fournier smacking the wall on the front stretch, damaging his rig enough to simultaneously end his race and his playoff run. That one lap however was all Brightman needed to pass his way past Pelland. That move, combined with Fournier’s exit, had now put Brightman back in line for a shot at the Final Four.
With just three to go, Pelland had three more circuits to save his shot at the Cup. He gave it his all unwinding from Turn 4, pulling right up alongside Brightman… and at the line….. Brightman! By a margin of .05 seconds, Mike Brightman had secured the fourth and final playoff spot, joining Jenison, Scully, and Martin in the final Round of the Drive for the Cup.
After five months of racing, it all comes down to just one night. Saturday, September 24 will be a night to remember as four drivers in each division square off for the last time in 2022 with just one goal in mind: hoisting the Cup.
Call the babysitter, reschedule your dinner plans, do whatever you must to make sure you get down to the Action Track of the East when we go green for the final time at 6:00PM, Saturday, September 24. You definitely don’t want to miss this.
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