The 2014 point racing season came to an end at Rockford Speedway on Saturday night during Whelen Engineering NASCAR Championship Night. Close racing was the name of the game all night, making the final regular season race of the year events that kept fans entertained until the final checkered flag.
STANLEY STEEMER NASCAR LATE MODELS
Machesney Park’s Alex Papini finished the 30 lap Late Model feature event where he had more than anyone else this season, in victory lane. Last year’s track champion scored his division-leading ninth feature win of the year Saturday, passing three-time track champion Jerry Gille for the race lead on the race’s thirteenth lap. Papini looked for the right angle on Gille for several laps before being able to make the winning move. Even after falling back to second, Gille stayed on the bumper of Papini and presented a threat for the lead several times over the race’s final laps. Gille followed Papini across the line in second place, his best finish in a Late Model feature since early June.
Meanwhile, ‘Driver X’ Jon Reynolds Jr played it safe with his point lead during the 30 lap feature. Reynolds started sixth in the ten car race and got as high as third place in the caution-free race after passing seven-time track champion Ricky Bilderback for third. Reynolds held third place for the rest of the race, with that top three finish good enough to clinch the Rockford native’s first ever Rockford Speedway Late Model Track Championship. Reynolds’ season included a division high eleven fast times and three feature wins, including his unforgettable run from 20th place to 1st place in the mid-season ‘Star Spangled 76’ lap Late Model feature.
Wauconda’s Dana Czach finished the Late Model feature in fifth place and collected the Late Model Rookie of the Year award. Czach, who began the season unsure that he and his team would even run the full-time Saturday night schedule, notched multiple top-five finishes and almost stole a feature win in the month of July before being passed by Bilderback late in that race.
BARGAIN HUNTER SPORTSMAN
Count Howie Ware as one racer who is not ready to end the 2014 regular season.
Ware was the winner of the Sportsman division’s 25 lap feature event, a win that was Ware’s second straight in the division and third overall this season. Ware jumped to a big lead early on, but was stalked late by Matt Lundberg. Lundberg settled for second place in the race despite putting pressure on Ware over the final two laps. Daryl Gerke finished the race in third after another patented late-race charge.
Belvidere’s Brett McCoy did what he had to do throughout the night to ensure his first ever Sportsman title and fourth Rockford Speedway track title overall. McCoy entered the feature race with a comfy point lead on runner up Pat Featherston and raced most of the 25 lap feature in a very patient fashion. Meanwhile, Featherston charged to fourth position in the race’s first 15 laps, and challenged for third late in the going, but with under five laps to go, Featherston cut a tire and was forced pit side as the yellow flag waved. This sequence of events all but assured McCoy of the championship. During the final four lap scramble, McCoy was able to advance to the seventh position by the time the checkered flag waved. McCoy won a division high four feature races on the way to the Sportsman crown.
Nick Letsinger capped off a terrific rookie season in the Sportsman division, finishing sixth in the 25 lap feature and clinching the Rookie of the Year award. Letsinger ended his first Sportsman season fifth in the overall standings and finished multiple feature races in the top five.
MILLER LITE AMERICAN SHORT TRACKERS
The wait was worth it for Kelly Evink.
After seven years away from full-time racing, Evink captured his first ever American Short Tracker championship while also winning five feature races. The last of those five wins came on championship night, serving as a coronation of sorts for the veteran racer. Evink held off 2013 American Short Tracker champion Nick Cina Jr by half a car length for the win, with five-time track champion George Sparkman following closely behind. Cina and Evink ended the year with five feature wins a piece, while Sparkman picked up three feature wins in a limited schedule of racing.
Despite a tough championship night, Jason Halbrader was still able to call himself American Short Tracker Rookie of the Year. Halbrader, who was involved in a multi-car incident in his heat race, was able to make repairs to his vehicle in order to start the feature, but made just a few laps before retiring to the infield early in the race.
The race for the win on this night was just as close as the race for the championship most every other night. In the 20 lap main event, Adam Cartwright and Robert Myher battled fender-to-fender for the majority of the race, putting on a terrific display at the front of the 22-car starting field. When the dust settled on the feature race, it was Cartwright earning his first feature win of the year in the final feature, besting Myher by a carlength at the finish line. The second place run matched Myher’s best ever feature result.
All year long, the point battle between ‘Bullet’ Bobby Frisch and Dennis Smith Jr was very close. As the green flag waved on the final feature, Frisch held a 16 point lead on Smith and it appeared the two drivers would again settle it among themselves. The one-on-one battle never had a chance to develop however, as Smith fell by the wayside in the race’s second lap. This development allowed Frisch to run a pressure-free feature race and all but locked up the Roadrunner track championship. Frisch ended the season with a division-high six feature wins. The championship was Frisch’s third Roadrunner track championship, making him the most prolific champion in the division’s history.
– Rockford Speedway Press Release
Photo Credit: Jim Ambruoso