Twenty drivers can breathe easier now that they have punched their ticket to the 26th Annual Montana 200 after Friday night’s festivities. Perhaps no family was more pleased with the results than one of the hottest surnames in the Northwest as of late.
Defending event winner at Montana Raceway Park, Owen Riddle, edged out his younger brother, recent Summer Showdown winner Tayler Riddle, for the pole. With their impressive qualifying runs, both drivers from the small town of Naches, Washington are locked in to the front row starting positions for Saturday night’s 200-lap main event.
Fourth Career Montana 200 Pole a Surprise? – Owen Riddle told Speed51.com powered by JEGS following practice that he may not have the car capable for the pole, but it will race well on Saturday. Although coming up shy of the track record with only sparse clouds in the Big Sky slowing the track down slightly during qualifying, even Owen was a bit surprised with the run besting out several heavy hitters including his younger brother, who was fastest in afternoon practice.
Going the Conservative Route – There were bonuses up for grabs for trophy dash and heat race victories on Friday night, but the Riddle brothers decided to play the conservative game. They elected to start from the rear in the ‘Fast 14’ races and hung in the back, trying some different options in race conditions to see how they would shake out in preparation for the next day.
Tayler has yet to win a Montana 200, but mentioned earlier in the day that with his success at home track Yakima Speedway (WA) they can translate it to a good baseline setup for just about any track they travel to. Both racers plan to take things one step at a time in the main event, making it to the lap 100 break and be in the running for the final 25 laps.
‘Fast 14’ Heats Allow for Position Advancement – The Montana 200 features one of the more interesting qualifying formats. While the fastest 14 qualifiers lock themselves into the show, the exact third through 14th positions are decided upon by a combination of qualifying position, heat race finishes, and passing points.
Taking the biggest advantage of the two 25-lap races was NASCAR K&N Pro Series West regular Gracin Raz. The Lake Oswego, Oregon teenager started third after a full invert of qualifiers for the first heat, but found his way to the front via an outside pass on Shelby Thompson on the final lap.
In the next one, which featured a full invert of the first heat finishing order, Raz and crew chose to put on a fresh set of sticker tires. Teams were permitted to use any tires in their inventory for Friday night’s races, but will need to start Saturday’s features on the set they qualified on.
Raz moved from the back of the field to fifth, showing that the second groove was working for him on both new and used tires. The performances netted him a row three starting position, despite qualifying 12th.
Others Shine in Heats – There may be some additional forces for the Montana 200 after witnessing Friday’s heat races. Zack Beaman showed his muscle in the second heat, jumping out to a comfortable lead from the outside front row starting position.
The Yakima, Washington driver missed the field a couple years back after blowing a motor prior to the preliminary races, so an outside of row two starting position is a huge turnaround for the group. It hasn’t been entirely easy for the team as they battled issues such as with the starter and u-joints, but have persevered to a good start for the weekend.
Last year’s third place finisher Jeremy Doss showed that he could be a major factor in race conditions after moving up four spots in each heat race. The Upper Lake, California driver pointed out that they picked used tires while others stickered up, which could mean that his racecar has the potential to be even better for 200 laps.
Local Favorite’s Day Has Positive Finish – Defending Montana Raceway Park Super Late Model track champion Brock Denney’s day did not start on a very positive note. After getting the tires set in the first practice, the hometown Kalispell, Montana driver broke a lower control arm while backing out of his pit stall.
Luckily, being a local team, Denney’s father ran into town to get replacement parts and was able to get the issue fixed. Unfortunately, it limited their practice. Nevertheless, they qualified an impressive and lucky, in his words, 10th. They will line up 13th for Saturday night’s race after battling a free condition with the car in the heat race.
Denney is also the only Montana 200 starter to pull double duty during the weekend. He finished third in the Legends car feature on Friday night.
Heavy Hitters in B-Main – Drivers qualifying 15th or worse were forced to start in a 40-lap B-Main, in which the top six finishers would also know the night before that they will be competing in the Montana 200. Some big names with huge résumés did not turn in a strong enough qualifying effort and had to race their way in.
2013 World Crown winner Preston Peltier and Northwest racing legend Garrett Evans made up the front row and would finish in that order at the checkered flag. Peltier mentioned that his qualifying result was no indication of how good the car is, admitting that he failed to drive it hard enough on his qualifying run and attempted to emulate some of the top competitor’s lines to no avail.
The Mooresville, North Carolina resident was satisfied with the performance, but did show concern about the motor feeling a little on the rough side during the course of the preliminary race. Peltier ensured that they will be fine come Saturday night, but wanted to make certain that there would not be a repeat of the Summer Showdown a few weeks back when their domination evolved into mechanical problems in the closing laps.
Northwest Super Late Model Series regular Mitch Kleyn climbed from the 10th starting position to get the sixth and final transfer spot.
Home State Drivers Sidelined – It is unlikely that two Montana drivers will be making a return on Saturday after running into issues on Friday. Nearby Missoula driver Mike Keogh was done before qualifying after motor problems. Kalispell’s Alex Lessor was quick all day long, but discovered gremlins with the rocker arm following the first ‘Fast 14’ heat.
If Lessor is unable to return, the top five finishers in Saturday’s last chance qualifier will transfer in to fill the remaining spots in the 24 car field.
On Deck for Saturday – Four hours of practice will be available to any Super Late Model competitors to begin the day on Saturday. A 40-lap last chance qualifier will kick off the evening of racing. Driver “meet and greet” for fans on the frontstretch will follow, with driver introductions taking place after that. The 26th Annual Montana 200 is scheduled to go green at approximately 8:15 p.m. MT.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
26th Annual Montana 200 Lineup (as of Friday night)
1 10 Owen Riddle
2 15 Tayler Riddle
3 75 Jeremy Doss
4 25 Zack Beaman
5 09 B.J. Tidrick
6 27 Gracin Raz
7 83 Braeden Havens
8 09H Clint Habart
9 1 Agni Howell
10 97 Jason Jefferson
11 20 Shelby Thompson
12 16 Blake Williams
13 64 Brock Denney
14 53 Alex Lessor
15 48 Preston Peltier
16 64E Garrett Evans
17 33 Nicole Behar
18 99 Shane Mitchell
19 93 Dave Garber
20 1K Mitch Kleyn
21 Saturday LCQ
22 Saturday LCQ
23 Saturday LCQ
24 Saturday LCQ