Ryan Cansdale dominated the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse at The Irwindale Event Center (CA) Saturday night. Cansdale took the lead from Parker Stephens on lap 3, and was never headed, despite a lap 98 caution that put two time series champion, Derek Thorn, on his back bumper. He took home $5,000 for the victory, his second career SPEARS Southwest Tour Series win in only 11 career starts.
“It feels so great to win on my home track,” Cansdale told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I almost don’t know what to say, it feels so right, it’s awesome! I’ve been racing here since I raced Bandoleros. To come back and win it against such big names, it feels so good.”
Derek Thorn led qualifying with a new track record of 17.440 seconds besting his own mark of 17.665 on the progressively banked half-mile paved oval. Twenty-one cars made qualifying attempts as Dennis Furden and Trevor Huddleston had problems before qualifying. Thorn pulled a seven for the invert putting his Campbell Motorsports teammate Carlos Vieira on the pole with Parker Stephens starting to his outside. Blaine Rocha started third followed by Cansdale, Toni McCray and Brandon White who moved up when second quick qualifier Christian McGhee had to replace a faulty ignition box and start at the rear or the field.
Stephens got the jump on the initial green and led laps one and two before Cansdale was able to use the low groove to sneak by for the lead on lap three. By lap four, Thorn had advanced to fourth.
The top two of Cansdale and Stephens had settled into place by lap 10, but the real action was coming from Christian McGhee who had advanced from 20th to 10th by lap 10. By lap 16 he cleared Bobby Hodges for eighth and had set his sights on Toni McCray for seventh.
In the meantime the trio of Vieira, Thorn and Gomes had closed on the rear bumper of Stephens for second. After a long side by side battle, Thorn was able to wrestle third from Vieira by lap 21 and was able to complete the pass on Stephens by lap 23 as the battle for second through fifth raged on.
By lap 31 Vieira was able to clear Stephens on the bottom with Gomes following through a lap later. By then Blaine Rocha had closed on that battle when the caution appeared on lap 35 for Matthew Meech, who had come to a stop exiting turn 4.
On the restart Cansdale selected the outside groove and got a great restart over Thorn. Gomes followed Cansdale in the outside groove and took over third from Vieira. Behind them Stephens and Rocha were in a furious battle for fifth with Rocha in the preferred outside groove. On lap 41 the two teammates made hard contact coming off of turn four with Stephens barely able to hang on, dropping him back to ninth.
By the half way mark, at lap 50, the top five had settled in and the top 10 consisted of Cansdale, Thorn, Gomes, Vieira, Rocha, McGhee, Stephens, Hodges, Keith Spangler and McCray.
Lap 70 found McGhee finally able to get under his NTS Motorsports teammate Rocha to break into the top five as Vieira, McGhee, Rocha and Stephens where battling hard for fourth. McGhee would fight his way by Vieira six laps later as Stephens was following him up past Rocha on the inside groove. Stephens would drop Vieira to sixth on lap 80 as the top three remained comfortable in their respective positions.
On lap 96, things changed when Rocha pulled off with an oil gauge reading zero, with new top 10 entrant Scott Sanchez spinning on lap 98. This set up a single file green-white-checkered finish as all restarts are single file in the final 10 laps.
When the green came back out, Cansdale got another good start. McGhee made a charge under Gomes and in turn Gomes dove under Thorn for second putting them three wide heading to the white flag. Contact between McGhee and Gomes saw Thorn pull ahead with McGhee also losing ground to Gomes. With the checkered waving, Cansdale was able to hold off Thorn as Gomes barely edged McGhee for third. Stephens followed closely for fifth with Vieira and Hodges the final lead lap cars. Spangler, Reed and John Nesmith completed the top 10 one lap down as only four cars failed to see the finish.
After the event, Cansdale was ecstatic about the victory.
“The car was perfect,” he said. “It started off great, and got better. It was awesome the whole race. Jeff (Schrader) and Tim (Huddleston) completely rebuilt this car over the off-season and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better car. Thank you so much to them and to MaC Steel for such a great car.”
Derek Thorn finished second, but was still upbeat.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” he said. “We got a new Victory Circle chassis and a new parts-built motor, built by (Brad) Peters, so we had some things we had to work out this weekend. We lost some practice time on the track, but we had a really fast car this week. We just didn’t have the grip off that we needed. We really didn’t want to see that last restart at the end. We were getting real free and it was harder to hang on to.
“Ryan was really good in front of us and I didn’t know what to expect because those guys behind us were good as well. I have to give a shout-out to Gomes (regarding the three-wide finish) because he kept off of me. I think the guy below him got onto him and he got washed-up the track, but was able to stay off of me, thankfully.”
Third-place finisher Jacob Gomes, the defending series champion, was pleased as well.
“We didn’t qualify as well as we hoped, but I drove the wheels off it and we were right there at the end,” said Gomes. “On the last restart it was pretty hairy. I thought we had Thorn and then my spotter said inside, outside, inside and I don’t know what happened. We kind of got hit there and I almost spun out on the front stretch, but we hung on and finished third.”
The next event for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series is at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California on May 21.
Finishing order: 1) Ryan Cansdale 2) Derek Thorn 3) Jacob Gomes 4) Christian McGhee* 5) Parker Stephens 6) Carlos Vieira 7) Bobby Hodges 8) Keith Spangler 9) Austin Reed* 10) John Nesmith 11) Toni McCray* 12) Ricky Schlick* 13) Scott Sanchez 14) Brandon White 15) Donnie St, Ours 16) Mike Mendenhall 17) Blaine Rocha 18) Bob Lyon 19) Rip Michels 20) Matthew Meech* DNS Andre Prescott*
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com