As the 2018 season begins to wind down on the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North Super Late Model tour, the battle to determine which of two drivers earns their third points championship is heating up.
New Hampshire native DJ Shaw holds a 51-point advantage over Travis Benjamin after the most recent race at White Mountain Motorsports Park (WMMP) in North Woodstock. The third-generation driver finished sixth last Saturday night at White Mountain and finished third last September at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway, the next stop on the PASS North schedule.
“We had a little damage early in this race last year but fought our way back up to earn a respectable finish,” Shaw said. “Our focus this weekend is to get back on top at Beech Ridge. I'd like to be able to dethrone Curtis (Gerry) down there, and we'll be going for the win.”
In 14 PASS North starts this year, Shaw has two wins, nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in his Precision JLM/HK Powersports Chevrolet. With only four races remaining on the schedule (Beech Ridge, Thunder Road, Oxford and Seekonk), the skilled driver is working hard to retake the crown.
“It was nice to expand our points lead a little after White Mountain,” Shaw added. “But we've had weeks where we won, and still only gained a single point on Travis. He keeps us honest and makes us earn every good finish we get. It could go either way, I just hope our race on Sunday goes smoothly.”
Benjamin has endured an up and down season in the Petit Motorsports No. 7 entry, yet kept himself in championship contention through shear determination and a rock-solid team. The two-time Oxford 250 winner has earned one win, seven top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 14 starts thus far in 2018.
Last September at Beech Ridge, Benjamin finished fourth en route to earning his second championship.
“I'm looking forward to going back there this weekend,” Benjamin said. “We've had success there in the past, but we've been kind of hit and miss this season. It's tough, if you're a tenth or two off the pace these days you're a 15th-place car. If you start back there, your run to the front becomes a challenge.”
Like his season-long points rival, the Maine short track ace says these next few races will play a big role in who's name goes on the championship trophy. It's a battle Benjamin says will keep fans happy.
“We're at a point now where we can focus on going for wins and let the points fall where they may. If we can overcome DJ's lead and secure the title, it would be awesome. If we can't, we'll be satisfied knowing we gave it our all and went for the checkered flag. I actually prefer that over points racing.”
As the series rolls into Beech Ridge on Sunday, Turner's Ben Rowe carries the big momentum into southern Maine after putting his new Senneker chassis in victory lane at White Mountain. The Richard Moody Racing/Toyota Camry driver ended a winless drought that dated back to April 17, 2016.
“It sure felt good to get back to victory lane last weekend,” Rowe said. “It had been a long time. Our new car from Senneker Performance got us turned around. That new technology is what it takes to be fast and compete these days, and we have it now. I'm hoping to carry some momentum into Sunday.”
Rowe tested with his friend and SLM superstar Bubba Pollard at Beech Ridge the Thursday before the Oxford 250. He says the test went well and feels the new car should be competitive on Sunday.
“We'll probably go down there on Saturday and run some practice, then call Mike Garvey and get some feedback on what to try to improve it for Sunday. The big benefit we have in running this new car is an alliance with Mike, Bubba and Terry Senneker. You need that to learn about any new chassis you buy.”
New Hampshire native Derek Griffith sits third in points as the series returns to Maine. While not on the hot streak he enjoyed last Spring, the pride of Hudson can't be counted out at Beech Ridge. Last September, he finished fifth in the PASS 150 and says he loves competing at the historic 1/3-mile oval.
“I'm excited to get back up to Beech Ridge,” Griffith said. “We're taking the car we call Old Faithful, and I think it should be fast. It's an older Lefthander chassis built in 2006 or 2007, but we've won and been on the podium with it a lot. That track is unique, and unlike any other oval we race on. Yet I love it.
“We've only had a couple of bad runs at The Ridge, and are usually competitive there once we turn some laps and see what the track will take on that day. We're hoping for a strong run on Sunday.”
-Story By: Phil Whipple, Speed51.com Northeast SLM Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / John A. Miller