Ryan Cansdale continued his early season hot streak with a convincing win in the 51 Fifty Energy Drink 100 SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series event at Irwindale Speedway (CA) Saturday night. The Laguna Beach, California driver led the final 45 laps and held off series veteran Dan Holtz by 1.10 seconds to score his second victory of the season, at his home track, to vault him to the championship lead over two-time series champion Derek Thorn.
Cansdale entered the fourth race of the season having taken the checkered flag first in three of the last five main events. That included one of two mains in the last event at Kern County Raceway (CA) in a special split feature.
The day opened with Derek Thorn setting fast time for a series record 37th time with a 17.700. Twenty-five of the 26 cars on hand took time. Cansdale would qualify second, just 0.017 seconds off the pace with Trevor Huddleston, Toni McCray and Parker Stevens rounding out the top five. Thorn would pull a nine for the invert putting Dan Holtz on the pole with all-time NASCAR Southwest Tour Series winningest driver M.K. Kanke’s son Cale, on the outside front row. Rookie of the Year contender Ricky Schlick would start third with Blaine Rocha alongside. Cansdale and Thorn would start eighth and ninth.
The initial green saw Holtz jump out to a quick lead over Schlick as the field battled three wide behind them. The first, of only two cautions would appear on lap 18 as Andre Prescott got up into the turn three wall ending his night.
On the restart Holtz jumped back out to the lead with Trevor Huddleston now second. On lap 38 Huddleston was able work past Holtz in the bottom groove with Cansdale now up to fourth behind Parker Stephens. The yellow would fly for the last time on lap 46 when 2016 champion Jacob Gomes had his starter fall off with Scott Sanchez hitting it to bring out the caution.
The restart would prove to be pivotal with Huddleston missing a shift and Holtz reassuming the lead, allowing Cansdale to jump to second.
“With the restart I think it was just a no pressure involved mistake of missing the shift. It was just a simple driver error and I made a mistake and I’ve got to own up to it,” explained Huddleston. “It was cool to be up front, leading in a series I’ve always watched in my first full race. And being a rookie in front, with all these veterans behind me, put a lot of pressure on but it didn’t really phase me.”
It took Cansdale just seven more laps to dive below Holtz and emerge with the lead on lap 56. From there he would set sail to the finish, and hold off a slowly closing Holtz as the race concluded. Christian McGhee would methodically move to third from his 12th-place starting spot to trail by another two seconds. Trevor Huddleston would finish fourth followed by 2015 Rookie of the Year Parker Stephens.
The second five consisted of Derek Thorn, Lance Wilson, Toni McCray, Carlos Vieira and Bobby Hodges. Ricky Schlick and Keith Spangler were the final two drivers to complete all 100 laps with 18 cars still running at the finish.
For Cansdale, it was a sweep of the Irwindale Speedway races this season, but in all modesty, he felt fortunate to get the win.
“I guess everything just fell in place for us tonight,” said Cansdale. “I was really having my doubts about this race, but I guess home field advantage is a real thing. Everything just turned out perfect for us. It’s really not me, it’s my crew. They gave me the best car and I owe it all to them. Jeff Schrader and Tim Huddleston did an awesome job for me.”
When asked about the start, which gave him great track position over Thorn and Toni McCray, Cansdale again was humble.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I saw an opening, I shot for it, I saw Thorn on my inside and somebody on my outside and we came out on top. So was it luck? I don’t know, just everything fell into place for us”.
With the win, Cansdale takes a five point lead over Thorn in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series championship standings.
“I really can’t get full of myself. It’s still the beginning of the season. But it is really cool to be up there. You have to stay humble about it though because anything can happen in these races.”
Coming off of knee surgery, second place-driver Dan Holtz was pleased with how his former Jim Pettit II car ran and was thankful for a 50/50 decision that they made on Saturday morning.
“You know for us tonight, second was as good as a victory,” he said. “We unloaded with a pretty decent race car but I was complaining about being tight so the guys went to work and we just got farther and farther away. So this morning Duane (Sharp) and I talked and we decided to put it back to the way it was with just one minor adjustment to that package. We went out to qualify and I knew we had a darn good race car.”
When it came to the pass for the lead, Holtz was complimentary of the young 17-year-old driver.
“I knew we had a good car and it was going to be very tough for anyone to pass me. We were just a little tight in the center of one and two and he did a helluva job to get down there so low into that groove and do what he did. I knew then we had nothing for him after that, but we weren’t off far. He (Ryan) got it done and he did a heck of a job.”
Christian McGhee started 12th, but brought it home in third, running a consistent race.
“We raced pretty well. If the driver could learn to how to qualify we might win one of these races,” Christian joked. “Until that caution on lap 46 I was thinking we would be lucky to get a top 10. I dialed seven rounds of brake into it, under caution, and that seemed to light her up. I used and abused her and she started to run well after that. We used the right side up a little bit, but we came home with a top three finish and put her in the box with all the fenders on it so I can’t complain about that. I just need to start better at this track and maybe we can get a win.”
The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will have a four week break before heading to Madera Speedway (CA) on July 16 for a 125 lap affair. It will be the only appearance for the series there this year in a season that has seen the car count increase at each event to date.
Finishing Order: 1. Ryan Cansdale, 2. Dan Holtz, 3. Christian McGhee, 4. Trevor Huddleston, 5. Parker Stephens, 6. Derek Thorn, 7. Lance Wilson, 8. Toni McCray, 9. Carlos Vieira, 10. Bobby Hodges, 11. Ricky Schlick, 12. Keith Spangler, 13. Brandon White, 14. Cale Kanke, 15. Matthew Meech, 16. John Nesmith, 17. Mike Mendenhall, 18. Bob Lyon, 19. Blaine Rocha, 20. Colby Potts, 21. Scott Sanchez, 22. Jacob Gomes, 23. RJ Johnson, 24. Dennis Furden, 25. Andre Prescott, DNS. Chris Clyne
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com Midwest Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com