SEEKONK, Mass. — Just two weekends remaining in the 2023 Seekonk Speedway short-track racing season, and it’s time to crown some champions at the end of the month. This weekend, September 22-23, the final four drivers in all nine track divisions will be set in the second round of the Sunoco Drive For The Cup, as championship weekend on September 29-30 is quickly closing in.
As the drivers return to the track for both Fast Friday and NASCAR Saturday, both Bandolero divisions will cut their playoff field from five to four, while all other divisions will cut from six to four. In all divisions, including Bandolero’s, the four eligible drivers who finish highest this week in their race will advance to the final four.
The NASCAR Saturday Pro Stock battle eliminated Rick Martin and Dylan Estrella last week, leaving six to contend for this week. Mike Brightman, Bobby Pelland, Mark Jenison, Tom Scully Jr., Dick Benoit and Mike Rotondo are the six remaining drivers. The group includes a mix of veterans who have titles - two of them former Pro Stock champions and two former Late Model champions. Jenison is the defending Pro Stock champion, Scully won the title in 2016. They are joined by Brightman and Pelland, two former Late Model title holders who have been near the front of the pack all year long. Dick Benoit is a stranger to championship contention, but has shown consistent speed all year in the Pro Stocks in the Danny Cabral Racing entry. And Mike Rotondo - who is driving one of the New England region’s most historic rides - the Rollie Lindblad No. 48 special as a Rookie of the Year contender - has a shot at the championship. Four of them will advance, two will go home.
The Late Model division is down to six, with two former division champions in the mix. Vinnie Arrenegado and Mark Jenison are the top-two seeds and enter both with championships - Jenison’s coming last year in this format. Arrenegado has been consistently strong all year with feature wins and another podium last week. Both will be tough to beat - but will have to contend with Jacob “Rowdy” Burns, who has won both of the first two playoff races, holding off Charlie Rose to do it last week. Rose, a veteran of racing at Seekonk and other tracks in New England, seems to have found some speed he needs just at the right time to contend for the title himself. Connor Souza and Chase Belcher might be the two dark-horses in the battle, but both are proven winners in the division. Belcher came down to the final few feet last year in contention for the title and was part of a wild wreck that ended up with Jenison as champion.
The Helger’s South Coast Power Equipment Sportsman division had a shake-up in their playoff battle after post-race inspection last week. With the disqualification of Chad Baxter, Steve Axon and Colby Lambert, the Sportsman field looks different entering round two than we originally thought. Axon still advances as the third seed, earning enough points in the first race of the playoffs to barely be in front of Lambert and Baxter, who have both been eliminated. That leaves Axon to battle top seeds Adam Pettey and Craig Pianka, Ryan Lineham, Randy Moretti and Don Perry. Lineham won last week - asserting his shot to make the final four strong as a former division champion. Pianka is the defending Sportsman champion, and “Captain Fun” would love to go out on top in his retirement season. Axon still has just as good of a chance as anyone to win the crown, and has been in contention right from the first laps of the season. Randy Moretti and Don Perry were originally eliminated, but are now back in. Do they have a chance to shock the division and make the Final Four this week?
In Chaz Auto Body Sport Truck action, the first two weeks of the playoffs saw Dave Darling, a non-playoff driver, and Jake Vanada, the number two playoff seed, pick up feature wins. Vanada might be getting hot at just the right time, as the No. 29 has been fast all year, but a second playoff race win came at the perfect time. He will have to contend with Rick Martin, who needs no introduction and is also the defending Truck champion. Brittany Campbell scored a podium last week and the Busch Light Accelerate Her driver is certainly showing the speed she needs to make the Final Four. Speaking of Busch Light drivers, fellow female Amy Arsenault joins her in the final six and has been consistently picking up speed as the season winds down. Those four are joined by two other track veterans - Bobby Tripp and Mike Cavallaro - as contenders. Tripp and Cavallaro have both won this season and many times in their career. Cavallaro is a former multiple-time Truck champion. Picking the Final Four in this division is a tough task.
On Fast Friday, Ryan Vanasse Jr. added yet another victory to his Seekonk Grand Prix Bandolero Outlaw season last week, cementing his spot in the final six. With the speed he’s had all year, he should be just about a lock to make the Final Four, but we will see what happens on Friday night. He’s joined in the remaining playoffs by Bryson Robidoux and Brent Robidoux - two brothers - who both have been showing consistent speed. Bryson is still looking for his first career win, but Brent has experience in this format, making the finals last year. Both Andrew Gomes and Collin Vanasse have also been up front all year and enter this week with a shot at the final four. Collin, the cousin of Ryan, may be one to watch when it comes down to the final laps. With only one driver being eliminated, no matter what, it should come down to the final laps in the Bandolero Outlaws. Will you be there on Friday night at 7PM to see it?
The fellow youth racers in the Seekonk Grand Prix Bandolero Bandits have been exciting to watch all year. In the final six you will find Nick Uhrig Jr., Sam Macedo, Parker Davis, Mike Hanafin and Mason Silva. The only of the remaining five that has not won this season is Mason Silva - but he has shown the speed to do it from time to time. Will he make his mark with a big first career win to advance to the Final Four? Davis leads everyone with five feature wins, including the first two races of the playoffs, and has put himself as the favorite for the title. But, Uhrig is a multiple-time winner, and how can you forget Macedo - who won the title last year in this format - without even winning a race all season. He got that out of the way earlier in the year, but still would love to make it back-to-back. And then you have Mike Hanafin, the son of former track Sportsman champion John Hanafin, who is going to do everything he can to make sure he advances.
Crystal Murray and Jarrod Freitas won the first two races of the Sport 4 playoffs and both have to be considered favorites heading for the round of six. Murray is the defending champion with two wins this season and Freitas has dominated much of this year and enters this weekend as the top seed remaining, with Murray second. They are joined by former Thrill Show standout Richie Johnson, who picked up his first career Sport 4 win during the summer. Mikey LeFort, a former division champion, drives the Helger’s Racing No. 13 and is going to be a threat. They are joined by Christine Cavallaro and Daniel Hayes - certainly the two dark-horses to contend for the crown. But, they have made it this far, and have a chance to make their force felt this week. Who advances in the Sport 4’s?
The Helger’s Pure Stock division is down to the final two weeks with six contenders ready to go. Scott Cestodio won four times early in the year and has been fast through the summer, entering as the top seed into the round of six. Ethan Souza won last week, and if you look at the overall standings for the entire season, he is out front. Danny Massa won the first race of the playoffs and is no stranger to the front, while Mike Henriques struggled in the first playoff race, but blasted his way into this round with a chance. Jared Cordeira and Greg Perry are the two lowest seeds entering the round of six, but that doesn’t matter to them - they are going for the gold. Even at this point, picking a Pure Stock champion is extremely difficult. All six of them are worthy of hoisting the crown.
The Nick’s Pit Stop Legends Cars Final Six drivers include Jacob “Rowdy” Burns, Isaiah Newcomb, Richie Helger Jr., Nicholaus Bulkeley, Brendan LaBelle and Josh Parsons. Like the Pure Stocks, all six of them have shown they are worthy to get to this point - all winning at least one race this season. Burns has a chance to make the Final Four in both the Late Models and the Legends Cars. Newcomb is coming off a sizzling hot stretch of victories in recent weeks, including the first two of the playoff races. Helger grabbed his first Legends Cars win a few weeks ago, while Bulkeley, Parsons and LaBelle have also all been right at the front of the pack. With how close they all are on speed, it may come right down to the final third-mile - literally - before the Final Four is decided.
Fast Friday racing begins at 7 p.m., while NASCAR Saturday action is set to begin at 6 p.m. Tickets for both nights and all remaining 2023 events are available online now at SeekonkSpeedway.com.
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