The 2014 regular season comes to end this weekend at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. The final chapters to write this season are the local class titles and the Pro Late Model Championship which will be decided in a 100-lap slugfest on Whataburger Night of Champions.
The Championship Battle
Johanna Long knows what Garrett Jones in going through right now. Long won her Pro Late Model championship at Five Flags Speedway back in 2008 at the age of 16. Now Long will look to maintain her four point lead over Garrett Jones, who is going for his second consecutive PLM title at Five Flags at the age of 15.
“I was there,” said Long. “It feels like it was yesterday when I was the younger driver who didn’t have the experience like the veterans drivers. Now I am one of those veterans. I know what he’s thinking when we head into that final weekend.”
Both Long and Jones were track champions before the legal voting age, before the age to see an R-rated movie and before the age to gamble. Neither one is going to take a gamble on Saturday night as they are first seeking a win then a championship.
“I think we have a really good shot,” said Jones. “Johanna is going to be tough to beat, but last year we were down big at the final race after we messed up in qualifying. We were able to come back and win the championship that night. So coming from behind is not so much the challenge as it is to beat her on the track.”
Last year Jones was docked at lap in time trials and started 28th in the feature. Jones worked his way to eighth to win the title. He hopes that the game plan of qualifying up front and staying up front will aid him to a victory or a championship.
“I’d rather be ahead,” said Jones. “We lost an engine early this year and that got us behind. Last year we were consistent and this year we have three wins, but we’re not as consistent. It’s how you want to play the game. Either way we have been right there.”
While Jones has the wins, Long has the consistency, but she hopes to trade that in this weekend.
“We’ve had a lot of good runs this year and come up short a couple of times,” added Long. ” I’ve made a few mistakes and I hate that for my car owner Tommy Rollins and the guys who work on the car. To tell you the truth we don’t want to think about the points. Winning the race is our goal this Saturday.”
Wayne Niedecken, Jr. is third in the points and also has a chance at the track title. If he could win the championship it would be his first at Five Flags Speedway since 1993.
What will 100 Laps Mean for the Regulars?
“It’s going to be a little different because we are racing 100 laps on Saturday,” added Long. “We have to get the car dialed in for a lengthy run like that. We have been running 30’s and 20’s normally with the Pro Late Models and that’s been great racing and great for the fans.”
The 20 and 30 lap events have become very popular at Five Flags as the field is inverted after one feature to set the lineup for the second feature. With averages in the 14-18 range this season the racing has produced some great action and some unique winners.
The Ringers Are Coming
“I love running here (at Five Flags) in the Pro car,” said Mike Garvey, who will be looking to score the victory Saturday night. “It seems that we run better here in the pro car. I am not sure why that is. We have been working on our Super Late Model program and we’ve been second at each of the last two Blizzard races.”
Garvey has a good track record in the year end tune up to the Snowflake 100. As a driver he has two wins from the cockpit of his race cars. As a crew chief he has another with Ryan Crane driving a Garvey prepared car.
“We always run well in this event,” said Garvey who won the 2012 Pro Late Model track championship at Five Flags. “We have a few wins this season and we hope to add another one this weekend.”
Another heavy hitter coming into this race is Bubba Pollard who has not lost a Pro Late Model race since January. Pollard won this show back in 2009 and looks to add a second this year.
– Johanna Long and her race car will be at the 6129 Mobile Hwy location of Whataburger in Pensacola, FL on Thursday from 11am to 1pm.
– Bryce Dulahban, Kurt Guillot and Ronnie Osmer are ninth, tenth, and eleventh in the points as they look to look into the top 10 for a possible Snowflake Provisional if needed.
– Michael Nelson & Robert Balkum enter the final night tied for the Bomber Standings
– Okie Mason enters the final night leading both the Trucks and Modified points
Past Winners in PLM Season Finale at Five Flags
2013 Chase Elliott
2012 Mike Garvey
2011 Brandon Bendele
2010 Mike Garvey
2009 Bubba Pollard
2008 Ryan Crane
-By Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com Operations Manager – Twitter: @ElginTraylor – Speed51.com photo