DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With the summer months well and truly upon us, the stage is beginning to be set in the battle for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I national championship.
With a little more than two months of racing left before the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season comes to a close on Sept. 18, Virginia’s Matt Bowling and Connecticut’s Keith Rocco find themselves at the front of the line in the battle for the championship.
Bowling currently sits atop the rankings thanks in large part to his consistent approach. In 20 starts in the Late Model division at five different asphalt tracks in the Southeast (South Boston Speedway, Motor Mile Speedway, East Carolina Motor Speedway, Caraway Speedway and Dominion Speedway), Bowling has finished inside the top five an impressive 17 times and has five victories.
“It is hard to go race against some of these guys who run there every weekend at some of these places,” Bowling said. “I feel like I have a home field advantage at South Boston, but other guys have home field advantages at their tracks. It is hard to go somewhere and beat somebody when they’re familiar with the track.
“The season has gone pretty well. We’ve got five wins and a bunch of good runs at a bunch of different tracks. We’ve definitely had a good year so far. Nothing to complain about. We’ve just got to keep it up and get some more wins.
Bowling knows that it’s going to take more visits to Victory Lane if he is going to win his first national championship. Five wins simply isn’t going to be good enough, especially if he is going to beat someone like Rocco.
“I definitely think if we’re going to win this thing we’ve got to have more wins, no doubt,” Bowling said. “We’ve just got to start turning some of these second and thirds into wins.”
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Bowling and Rocco aren’t the only drivers in championship contention. Rookie Chase Purdy continues to keep his name in the mix, as do California drivers Trevor Huddleston and Christian McGhee. There is also a possibility that other drivers could make a charge up the standings as drivers with fewer starts than the leader reach and surpass the 18-race mark.
For example, Matt Sheppard is averaging 33.5 points per race with three wins in six starts at New York's Utica-Rome Speedway, while Nick Smith has six wins in 10 starts at Virginia's Dominion Speedway for a 32.8 average. Bowling is averaging 32.2 points per race. Taylor Holdaway, who finished third in the national standings last year, has a 29.7 average in 10 starts at Ontario's Sunset Speedway.
Rocco has also gotten off to a strong start this year. He has seven victories to Bowling’s five, but doesn’t have as many top-five finishes as Bowling does, having only 12 top-five finishes to Bowling’s 17.
The 2010 national champion is running his usual schedule, which includes competing in his asphalt modified regularly at a trifecta of Connecticut tracks – New London-Waterford Speedbowl, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
“The season has actually been going pretty good,” said Rocco. “We ran four races at Thompson and won all four of those. At Waterford we’re the only repeat winner there. We’ve run three out of probably eight races. Things have been going pretty good between those two tracks. Stafford we haven’t been able to get a win at yet. We had a handful of top threes and we’re getting close to getting that win. The competition level at Stafford is very fierce.”
Despite trailing Bowling right now, Rocco believes that winning the championship is going to come down to winning as many full-field races as possible by the time the season wraps up in September.
“I think the guy with the most wins at the end of the day is going to win it,” Rocco said. “We’re just going to keep aiming to win races.
“We usually don’t look at the national standings until the end of the year. We basically we know we have to go out and win every week no matter where we’re racing. That’s the way we go about things. If we jeopardize a third-place finish because we’re trying to win the race, oh well.”
Rocco said it would mean everything for him to win a second national championship, but he also said he knows what it feels like to win his first and because of that, he isn’t going to count out Bowling.
“If Matt Bowling where to win it, that’d be great for him. It’s always cool to get the first one. Some people don’t even get the opportunity to compete for a national championship,” said Rocco. “As many times as I’ve been in contention for the national championship, it’s pretty awesome just to be in contention.”
With two months left in the season anything can – and likely will – happen.
-NASCAR Home Tracks Press Release
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen