SEEKONK, Mass -- The NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series divisions stepped foot on their first ever journey toward the Drive For The Cup presented by Sunoco Race Fuels this past Saturday, September 10.
Let’s take a look at how the night of extra-distance racing shook out across all four divisions, as well as review who is in and who is out of the Drive For The Cup as we head for the final two rounds.
CHAZ’S AUTO BODY SPORT TRUCKS
The Sport Trucks squared off for 30 laps to start the program on Saturday evening, and it was Rick Martin who led the rest of the playoff drivers to the green flag, starting third overall. Within a couple laps, Martin was challenging Ethan Heilborn for the lead, and with an outside pass, seized it, and never looked back. Martin took down the win for Round One of the playoffs, followed by contenders Jake Vanada and Mike Duarte in second and third, all advancing to Round Two.
Further in the field, Brittany Campbell and Daryl Church arm-wrestled over the final transfer spot into Round Two. Campbell faded backwards early after being stuck on the outside from the onset of the race. This allowed Church, Vanada, and Amy Arsenault to slide up into transfer spots. Meanwhile, Mike Cavallaro inherited a spot in the drop zone with a start towards the rear of the grid, and would unfortunately remain there until the conclusion of the feature, and be eliminated from playoff contention.
Campbell shuffled to the bottom and began to regroup as she mounted a charge forward, working over Heilborn for position just before a caution re-racked the field. Campbell took advantage of her inside restarting spot, followed through Arsenault on the inside, and powered up to the sixth and final transfer spot, as Church held on in the high groove. Soon after, Church had his hands full with Danny Thibeault, which held him up enough to deny him advancement for the rest of the race, and cost him a spot in Round Two of the playoffs.
Campbell and Arsenault continued to skirmish for fifth place overall, with Campbell prevailing, both tailing Barry Shaw Jr. who came home fourth - all three now heading into Round Two as well.
Can anybody stop Radical Rick??
HELGER’S SOUTH COAST POWER EQUIPMENT SPORTSMAN
The Sportsman division had 30 laps of their own to whittle down the playoff field from eight to six, and boy was it decided in heartbreaking fashion for one driver.
The feature kicked off with a moshpit on Lap 2 between Turns 1 and 2, when a spinning Don Perry caused several cars to tangle, including playoff driver Adam Pettey. Pettey suffered a blown tire, causing him to go a lap down to the leaders, and snowballed into an early exit and a playoff eviction for the young driver.
Craig Pianka found himself in the back of the pack after taking his No. 4 machine pit-side to get checked out following the Lap 2 incident. After that, he set out on a mission to grind back to a transfer spot. Doug Benoit found him in the middle of some unwanted excitement when Jim Silvia came sliding off of Turn 4 to complete Lap 12. Silvia spun down, tagged Chad Baxter in the right rear, and just about collected Benoit in the process, bringing out the caution. Benoit slowed up just enough to incur terminal damage, but enough to take the car to the pits and restart from the rear. Baxter escaped the minor contact and continued forward.
As the race wore on, Pianka emerged from the rear distancing, himself from Doug Benoit, and overtaking Tyler Almeida for playoff insurance. Now it was Almeida with the target on his back as the last driver in!
With five laps to go, Benoit scratched and clawed his way to the inside of Almeida, and claimed the sixth and final transfer spot! But it was all for just a moment, as two laps later, hard racing resulted in a spin off Turn 4 for Benoit, resetting him to the rear of the field with just three laps to try and catch Almeida again.
Unfortunately, time ran out for Benoit, finishing two cars behind Almeida overall, and joining Pettey in the drop zone for Round One of the playoffs.
Upon post race inspection, Scott Serydynski Jr. was found to be illegal after finishing second in the race. The findings cost Serydynski his second-place finish, as well as a trip to Round Two of the playoffs, allowing Benoit to slide up in his place, and continue to race for a championship after all.
The Late Models had 35 laps to settle the score Saturday evening. Paul Lallier took to the grid in sixth, and tried staving off playoff contenders including Mark Jenison, Vinnie Arrenegado, and Chase Belcher who all stormed through on the inside like a freight train. In no time, Lallier found himself on the chopping block along with Jeramee Lillie, who started there in 10th overall.
Lallier and Lillie would spend the rest of the 35 laps trying to scrap their way back to transfer spots. Meanwhile fellow contenders Jacob Burns and Gerry DeGasparre Jr were busy battling with Josh Hedges for the race win. When the checkered waved, the field had nothing for “Rowdy” Burns, as he sailed on to his second feature win of the season, DeGasparre finishing just behind, both moving ahead to round two.
Richie Murray hung around the top five all night, cruising on to a fourth-place finish and into Round Two. Jenison, Belcher and Arennegado put on a thrilling display of racing all the while, including a fantastic four-wide moment putting Chris Gomes a lap down coming off of Turn 2! These three drivers sure put on a show, and will all move on to the second act in Round Two.
Lillie fought valiantly to catch Jenison as the laps ticked off. His efforts included an impressive two-for-one move on Luke Lebrun and Corey Fanning down the inside going into Turn 1 on Lap 22. Despite his hard-charging, a trip two the second round of the playoffs was not in the cards for Lillie, as both he and Lallier were both dropped from championship contention.
The Pro Stocks were afforded 45 laps to cap off the night of thrilling playoff action, and little did everyone know what would be in store coming back to the checkered.
Tom Scully Jr. spooled to life after firing off in the 12-hole, being dealt the heaviest workload out of the rest of his fellow playoff contenders. Rick Martin and Mark Jenison both each took a turn sitting on the outside looking in, and Colbey Fournier sat on the chopping block all night. Well, almost all night.
Round Two of the playoffs was decided between Turn 4 and the flag stand in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. Kenny Spencer led every single inch of this race until the field dove into Turn 3 for the final time. Playoff driver Tommy Adams, nipping at the heels of Spencer for several laps now, made contact with Spencer, sending both cars spinning. Pandemonium followed.
Mike Brightman got a good read on the wreckage ahead of him and soared to the outside and to the race win. Scully pulled a similar move, wielding cat-like reflexes and earning second place. Both Brightman and Scully were locked in.
Dave Darling had no choice but to take the inside and avoid Spencer, which he did by the skin of his teeth. The door to a third-place finish seemed wide open for Darling, but in an instant, the lane disappeared. An out-of-control Adams appeared in front of Darling, and both cars skidded to the infield. The Adams machine managed to cross the timing loop, but Darling did not!
Darling’s No. 52 happened to roll perfectly parallel to the timing loop, while Jenison, Bobby Pelland III, and Fournier sped across the line to transfer into Round Two.
Darling could not have been a more unlucky victim of circumstance in the final seconds of Saturday’s feature, and as a result, the eight-time Pro Stock champion was denied his chance to make it a ninth.
Joining Darling on the chopping block was Tommy Adams, following a post race review, after being sent to the rear for being deemed responsible for causing the leader to spin on the final lap. This decision meant that Adams would cede his transfer spot, falling all the way to the last playoff driver to cross the finish line ahead of Darling – which was Rick Martin.
Week One of the Seekonk Speedway Sunoco Race Fuels Drive for the Cup is in the books. Thrilling finishes and heated mid-pack racing were in no short order as each division battled to filter down their playoff field ro six drivers.
NASCAR Saturday returns for Round Two of the Playoffs to decide the Final Four in each division, and you are not going to want to be anywhere else when the track goes green at 6:00 P.M., this Saturday, September 17.
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