Last year at Illinois’ Rockford Speedway, Alex Papini felt like everybody was pulling for him.
He got his first NASCAR win. He won the Stanley Steemer Late Model Division championship at the high-banked quarter-mile, and earned the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Illinois championship.
Which means this year, everybody’s gunning for him.
“We’ve got a target on our backs, that’s for sure,” said the 25-year-old from Machesney Park, Ill. “It happened that fast – within a year. A guy that’s done this for 20 years and won a bunch of championships, he’s used to it. All of it’s still new to me, having this much success. It’s a little different.
“But we don’t get real cocky. We just go out there and do our job every week.”
Papini certainly hasn’t slowed down. He adopted quickly to a new Hoosier tire compound introduced before this season and rattled off six straight wins. He bounced back from flat tires in his previous outing to win this past weekend and improve his record to seven wins, nine top fives and 11 top 10s in 11 starts. He leads the track and state standings once again with a month and half remaining on the season.
Illinois is one of 23 U.S. state and three Canadian province championships to be crowned in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Anthony Anders of Easley, South Carolina, has won four straight South Carolina titles and maintained the No. 1 position in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series with a pair of asphalt Late Model wins at Greenville Pickens Speedway Saturday night. Anders has 21 wins, 32 top fives and 35 top 10s in 37 starts at Greenville, South Carolina’s Greenville, Anderson Speedway and Myrtle Beach Speedway, as well as Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina.
Two-time defending national champion Lee Pulliam of Semora, North Carolina, just missed a sweep by inches of the Bull & Bones Late Model Stock Car Division twin features at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Virginia, Friday. Pulliam won the first race by .03-seconds over former national champion Peyton Sellers, but then lost the second in similar photo-finish fashion to 16-year-old Payton Ryan.
Pulliam has 15 wins, 27 top fives and 28 top 10s in 32 races at Virginia’s South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile, North Carolina’s Caraway Speedway in Sophia and Southern National Raceway Park in Lucama, and Greenville for 691 points.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Division I drivers are ranked by their best 18 NASCAR points finishes in series-sanctioned events. Drivers receive two points for every car they finish ahead of – up to 18 cars – and three points for a win, with an additional two points available if the driver starts 10th or lower.
Anders has two wins that netted him 41 points, 15 worth 39 apiece and one worth 37. Which means, there are only two ways Ander can improve his points total: With one win, he will be able to drop the 37; after that, he will need to win from a starting position of 10th or lower.
Pulliam is in a nearly similar situation. He has two 41s, 13 39s and three 34s. Once he has enough wins to erase the 34s, he will also need to win from a starting position of 10th or lower to increase his points total.
The driver who can make the biggest gains is Connecticut’s Keith Rocco, who sits in third with 661 points on the strength of nine wins, 32 top fives and 24 top 10s in 26 starts in the pavement modified divisions at Connecticut’s three ovals: Waterford Speedbowl, Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. The 2010 national champion has six wins that have produced the maximum 41 points, including a victory Saturday at Waterford that tied him with seven-time track champion Dennis Gada for most wins in the track’s history.
Peyton Sellers is fourth with 627 points. He was fourth in the Hampton Heat 200 Saturday night, which was won by CE Falk. Sellers was also second and third at Motor Mile the night before. Dillon Bassett remains in fifth with 612 points. Sellers and Bassett both run Late Models at multiple pavement tracks throughout the southeast.
Ryan Preece (Stafford, Waterford and New York’s Riverhead Raceway) is sixth, followed by Tommy Lemons Jr. (South Boston, Southern National, Caraway and Motor Mile), Kres Van Dyke (Virginia’s Lonesome Pine and Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway), Matt Bowling (South Boston, Motor Mile, Southern National and Caraway), and Randy Porter (Anderson and Greenville).
The top three in the national standings, as well as state and province champions, track champions, top finishers in the Div. II-V and special award winners, will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards in December at the NASCAR Hall of Fame / Charlotte Convention Center on Friday, Dec. 12.
For drivers who accomplished that feat last year, like Papini, getting back is a driving motivation.
Papini said those hopes were nearly sidelined before the season got under full swing. When they tested before the season, they discovered the tire compound change rendered their winning formula from 2013. Undaunted, they went to work.
“We almost had to rebuild and figure everything back out,” said Papini. “It was like a totally different car. We put our heads down and went to work. It took us a couple weeks, but we got it figured out.”
After opening the season with a seventh-place run, Papini reeled off his six-race win streak.
Despite his success, Papini only leads Jon Reynolds Jr. by 19 points and seven-time champion Ricky Bilderback by 36. Rockford awards points in qualifying, which has forced Papini to make up ground in the feature. While the crate engine doesn’t allow him to qualify as well, it works well in the 30-lap main event. Saturday, the race went caution free and Papini out-distanced runner-up Reynolds by a full straightaway.
“We kind of know what to expect now and we’re a little experienced doing this,” said Papini. “I think we hit on something early on this new tire. What you’re running at the beginning of the season is totally diff than you’re running in the middle of the season, and that’s different than what you’re running on championship night.”
Established in 1982, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series is NASCAR’s national championship program for weekly short track auto racing. In all, 58 paved and dirt tracks throughout the United States and Canada participate.
Connecticut-based Whelen Engineering is the series’ title sponsor. Whelen Engineering is a leading manufacturer of automotive, aviation, industrial and emergency vehicle lighting. NASCAR tracks and pace cars across North America are among the many showcases for Whelen products.
NASCAR IMC – James L. Ambruoso/Finish Line Photos
|7||Tommy Lemons, Jr||32||4||19||25||590|
|37||Craig Von Dohren||16||3||9||12||411|
|47||Toni Marie Mccray||12||5||12||12||387|
|54||Rob Janovic, Jr||15||0||10||10||368|
|57||Tom Rogers, Jr||15||3||10||13||357|
|67||Bill Leighton, Jr||15||1||10||15||333|
|73||R A Brown||12||3||8||9||325|
|87||Bruce Anderson, Jr||17||1||5||11||307|