Ryan Partridge completed his march to the Lucas Oil Late Model Twins championship with his eighth victory of the season Saturday before a crowd of 2,188 at the Irwindale Event Center.
The 26-year-old driver from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., started ninth and drove impressively into the lead by the fourth lap on the half-mile track. He led the final 47 circuits and finished .904 of a second ahead of runner-up Trevor Huddleston of Agoura Hills, Calif.
It was the second straight Late Model title at Irwindale for Partridge. The series ran a two-feature 30-lap format for its initial nine events and closed with a single 50-lapper worth double points. Partridge didn’t need them. He secured the championship by starting the race. In addition to the eight victories, Partridge had three second places and four thirds—a total of 15 top-threes in 19 races.
“I’m glad to end the season like this, strong,” Partridge said. “Our car was probably the best car we had all season long. We tried some stuff outside our normal scope of setup because we had the points lead and we were able to dabble with some engineering we don’t normally try and for sure we found some speed and had a better car. It was a fun race.
“We started ninth, way back in the field. The fun part about racing with the invert (Partridge was second fastest in qualifying and an inversion rule put him ninth on the grid) is they take first through 10th, so there’s going to be a natural crossover where the people in front are going to move back. Our strategy was to go through the slower cars first before any of the faster cars. I wanted to get it done right away.’
Partridge jumped to sixth in the opening two laps before a caution. On the restart, he rocketed into contention for the lead in turns one and two. Partridge emerged in between leader Kyle McGrady of Hesperia, Calif., and Ryan Cansdale of Laguna Beach, Calif., on the back straight. They went three-wide into turn three and Partridge went inside both cars exiting turn four. They raced together around the track and Partridge took the lead coming out of turn four on the fourth lap.
Partridge began stretching his lead over McGrady. Huddleston moved into second on the seventh lap and Partridge maintained a five-to-seven car length advantage to the race’s second caution with 11 laps completed. Partridge charged into the lead on the restart and stayed in front comfortably until the third caution with four laps remaining.
“We got into the lead fairly early and if I’d been running it hard, we wouldn’t have had anything left for that four-to-go caution,” Partridge said. “We’d have been going backwards after that. We got out ahead and kind of settled into a five-car lead.”
Partridge drove sharply away from Huddleston on the restart with four to go and wasn’t threatened to the checkered flag.
“It played out perfectly,” Partridge said. “We were able to conserve and save our tires with the five-car lead.”
Huddleston’s second place was his fifth in the last 11 races. He won his first Late Model race at Irwindale during the same period on Sept. 27.
“It was an awesome way to finish the season,” he said. “Ryan was the best all year and we got our first win and had a lot of seconds.”
Zane Smith of Huntington Beach, Calif., finished third in his fifth Late Model race at Irwindale. He’s been in the top-five in all of them.
Partridge was challenged at mid-season for the championship by Toni McCray of Highland, Calif., who had five wins in seven races. But a disastrous event on Sept. 13 in which her car had massive engine failure on the first of the Late Model Twins and kept her from the second race took her out of contention and she didn’t compete in Saturday’s finale.
Partridge led from start to finish in taking his second Late Model championship.
“It feels really good,” Partridge said. “You go through that mid-season stretch of biting your nails and keeping your head down racing. It’s nice to look up at the end of the year and we’ve got the championship behind us.
Partridge made it clear that he’d like to move into NASCAR’s K & N West touring series next year.
“If anybody wants to go K & N West racing next year, come see me in my trailer,” he told the crowd in his post-race trackside interview.
Results, Irwindale Event Center, Oct. 4, 2014
Lucas Oil Late Models (50 laps): 1. Ryan Partridge (Rancho Cucamonga), 2. Trevor Huddleston (Agoura Hills), 3. Zane Smith (Huntington Beach), 4. Andrew Porter (La Verne), 5. Kyle McGrady (Hesperia), 6. Blaine Perkins (Bakersfield), 7. Christian McGhee (Claremont), 8. Ryan Cansdale (Laguna Beach), 9. Ricky Schlick (Claremont), 10. Billy Helgeson (Riverside), 11. Val Cummings (Victorville), 12. Jeff Williams (Newbury Park), 13. Curtis Burns (San Bernardino), 14. Glenn Schwenger (Redondo Beach), 15. Rodney Peacher (North Hills).
Margin of victory: .904 sec. Lap leaders: McGrady 1-3, Partridge 4-50. Average speed: 87.100 mph. Cautions: 3.
Irwindale Race Trucks (40 laps): 1. Joey Licata Jr.(Lake Balboa), 2. Christian McGhee (Claremont), 3. Ryan Partridge (Rancho Cucamonga).
Southwest Tour Trucks (30 laps): 1. Neil Conrad (Arcadia), 2. Zack Green (Long Beach), 3. Ed Cutler (Ventura).
Super Stocks (30 laps): 1. Gary Frankovich (Apple Valley), 2. Jimmy Sloan (Indio), 3. Gary Read (La Verne).
Legends (35 laps): 1. Ricky Schlick (Claremont), 2. Brent Scheidemantle (Alta Loma), 3. Chad Schug (Oak Hills).
Skid plates (20 laps): 1. Sean Brennan (Yorba Linda), 2. Mike Digregorio (Temple City), 3. Jim Smith (Orange).
Note: All drivers from California.