(EDITORS NOTE: Story edited at 5pm EDT Monday with statement from NASCAR official)
Keith Rocco knows what it takes to win a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship. He was the 2010 National Champion with 21 wins across three Connecticut tracks. He's also finished second or third in the national standings every year since his title season.
He's in contention for this year's NWAAS championship as well, entering this past weekend's events 43 points behind leader Anthony Anders, a regular in the Late Model division at South Carolina's Greenville-Pickens Speedway.
Rocco knows the drama of a tight point battle. Whether it was with four-time NWAAS champ Philip Morris, two-time titlist Lee Pulliam, who sits second in this year's standings, or with Anders in 2014, Rocco has been a part of some close title chases. But this year's battle for the NWAAS Championship, according to Rocco, is different because of Anders' point total being aided by the use of start-and-park cars to make full fields and a peculiar disqualification that led to Anders' sweep of the Late Model races at Greenville this past Saturday.
All of the shenanigans at Greenville, as first reported by Race22.com, have the Wallingford, Connecticut driver up in arms.
“I have been talking to Lee (Pulliam) this morning and this is all f------ bulls----," Rocco told Speed51.com powered by JEGS Monday morning. "When (Pulliam) went down there a month ago to race he called me on Monday and filled me in on all of the stuff that went on down there. It’s pretty disgusting to hear what he told me. You just hear it every Monday or Tuesday. You hear what happened down there. It’s an absolute joke and a disgrace to the whole point system. To see the amount of cars that they’re starting and parking is ridiculous."
But it is not just the start and parks that are frustrating Rocco. More questionable occurrences Saturday night at Greenville have Rocco none too happy with what's going on with Anders' quest for the title.
According to Race22.com and a race report posted to the Greenville Pickens Speedway website, Anders won the first of two 40-lap Late Model races on Saturday with a last-lap pass of fellow former track champion Randy Porter. After the checkered flag, Porter made contact with Anders' car. Porter did not make the start in the second 40-lapper and Anders finished second to Jeremy Burns. After the race, Anders protested Burns' car, but Burns refused the enhanced technical inspection, which handed the win to Anders.
Rocco, who won Saturday night's NWAAS SK Modified race at Waterford Speedbowl in Connecticut and became the all-time wins leader in the division, doesn't believe it's as cut and dry as a last-lap pass and a disqualification being instances of luck for Anders.
"His kid or one of his start and park cars spins out with two laps to go because Porter is leading," said Rocco. One of the cars stops on the backstretch and brings a caution out. Anders moves him out of the way and takes the lead from Porter, then Porter goes after him after the race and mysteriously they tell Porter that he can’t race. That’s bad.
“(Anders) finishes second the second race and then all of a sudden, mysteriously, he protests the winner. Come on, you’re that much of a sore loser that you have to protest the winner and then get away with it? Chances are, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just paid the guy that won the money just so that he could get the win.”
According to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series point structure, 18 cars must start an event in order for maximum points to be awarded in its Division I series, which Anders, Rocco and Pulliam are all in contention for. In 2014, winners with starting positions in the single digits receive three bonus points, while winning from 10th or deeper earns another two bonus points.
The addition of the extra bonus points for starting deeper was evolved to recognize competitors who compete at tracks that handicap the fastest drivers in the division. Heat races set the field at tracks like those that Rocco competes at regularly and a handicap system puts the most successful drivers in recent races deeper in the starting field for the main event, whereas many tracks in the Southeast start their fields straight-up or with a slight invert based on time trial results.
The Greenville race report indicates that Anders elected to start 10th Saturday night in hopes of adding those additional points.
"He was winning so many races he wasn’t worried about it at first and now that me and Lee are catching him it’s another story," said Rocco. "He wants to start in the back every week.”
"I went on their website (Greenville Pickens) and there were 18 cars in the first race, right? Porter didn't start the second race, so what do they do? They find another start and park to add. If you look at the roster, they put in another car, the 41x, just so they could get 18. Why wouldn't that car start in the first race? I was curious to see if they put Porter’s number in the lineup, but they didn’t. They just added another start and park.”
Rocco earned his 2010 National Championship and his subsequent near-titles at Stafford, Thompson and Waterford, three distinctly different tracks that Rocco competed at in different cars. Rocco didn't play by the start and park mentality in those years, nor does he believe the tracks helped him gain the points he needed to earn the title - a tactic he claims Anders is being aided by this year.
"It’s all a team effort between the track and him," said Rocco. "Every race track wants to work with somebody at their facility to get them on the map. A national championship is good recognition for the race track. When I won it, it was never like that. The track is letting him get away with murder. They’re just as guilty as he is, it’s bad.”
"I race to race. I race because I love the sport and it’s what we live for. We don’t bring start and park cars to the race track. If I brought a second car to the race track it was because it was double features. The competition in the Northeast is second to none.
“They’re racing against trucks and cars with treaded tires on them. It’s an absolute joke down there and they’re not policing anything. Basically, the race track down there is doing whatever they have to do. By the looks of it, NASCAR doesn’t even care.”
Speed51.com has left messages with Anthony Anders and Lee Pulliam seeking comment on the National Championship drama, which as of Monday afternoon have not been returned.
A Daytona Beach, Florida-based NASCAR official, who wished for his name to be withheld, gave Speed51.com the following statement on the sanctioning body's stance on the situation at Greenville Monday afternoon.
“NASCAR sanctions the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series tracks that feature weekly programs, providing track operators a NWAAS rulebook as a guideline to help maintain the orderly conduct of an event at a sanctioned facility," the official told 51. "NASCAR rules are intended to ensure that NASCAR-sanctioned events are conducted in a manner that is as fair as possible for all competitors.
"All tracks have the option of publishing and enacting rules developed by their local Race and/or Competition Director. Such 'Local Track Rules' take precedent over any conflicts with the NASCAR-issued NWAAS rulebook, unless otherwise required by NASCAR. Local Track Rules are enacted and enforced at the sole discretion of the track operator or its authorized representative and Track Officials. NASCAR and each NWAAS-sanctioned track have independent authority to issue penalties in accordance with the NASCAR Rules and/or Local Track Rules. Tracks may consult with NASCAR when issuing a track penalty, but NASCAR approval of a track-issued penalty is not required.”
Rocco has also reached out to NASCAR, but to this point has not gotten the answers he is seeking.
"I haven’t spoken to anyone directly yet, but I’ve left Bob Duvall (NASCAR senior director, business development) a message. I know Lee Pulliam has talked with him and they say he’s doing nothing wrong, which I don’t see how that can be."
- By Matt Kentfield and Brandon Paul, Speed51.com. Photo credit: Speed51.com