In one of the closest finishes in short track racing history, Anthony Nocella was declared the winner of a thrilling John Blewett III Memorial at New Smyrna Speedway on Wednesday night. After reviewing the photo finish, officials awarded Nocella the victory on Night #6 of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
Initially, Hirschman pulled his No. 60 into victory lane believing he was the winner of the race. However, officials initially declared Nocella the winner as the finish took place. After video review, officials found no conclusive evidence to declare a winner or to overturn their initial ruling. An official margin of victory was unavailable because Nocella’s transponder was not functioning for the majority of the race.
“We were swapping the lead those last five or six laps side by side. It was whoever got the best run out of turn four there,” Nocella said on the NBC Track Pass broadcast. “I definitely could’ve, going in there I was on the bottom and I could have used him up and run him up some, and easily probably win it; sort of how we lost the race last night. I grew up running Midgets and stuff like that that you can’t bang in. Matt runs me clean for the most part when he can and he ran me clean the whole rest of the race before that. I don’t like to win races that way, so I figured I’d give him my best shot at the bottom. I found a little something down there where my car was working. We were able to get just enough grip up off the bottom there and just beat him to the line. It was tough from where I was sitting, all you see is the bumpers side by side. It’s really tough to judge it then.”
For the third time in three nights, Hirschman spoke in victory lane as the runner-up finisher in the Tour-type Modified division. Despite being the bridesmaid every night thus far, Hirschman was excited to be involved a memorable finish that fans won’t forget for quite some time.
“I’m not really disappointed. That was a great race,” Hirschman said. “New Smyrna Speedway, I’ve seen some of the best Modified aces I’ve ever watched here, and now I’ve been a part of a few of them in the same week,” Hirschman said. “Just incredible, great race. I felt coming to the line that I had him by six inches to a foot. I just looked at a photo that shows that, but I can plead my case but at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to matter. I felt like I beat him, but don’t take anything away from that finish.”
After addressing the finish in victory lane, Hirschman addressed young racers that may have been watching at the track or at home on Wednesday night.
“That is a lesson right there for all you young racers out there,” he began. “Not just Modified racers but all racers. That’s how you race. However it is decided by scoring or a photo finish, that’s a lesson right there for circle track racing.”
Tuesday night’s winner Craig Lutz jumped out to the early lead and paced the field for the first 16 circuits of the 76-lap race. Eric Goodale, who had struggled during the early stages of the week, flexed his muscles early by powering into the top spot on lap 17. Jimmy Blewett took the lead for the first time on lap 20 before Goodale took it back one lap later on Lap 21. On lap 28, Blewett regained the lead and remained in control throughout the middle portion of the race.
Hirschman and Nocella both saved their equipment during the first two-thirds of the race before beginning their charge to the front. Nocella followed Hirschman back through the field with less than 25 laps to go and took advantage of a late restart to get by Hirschman for second.
From there, Nocella and Hirschman both worked their way by early leader Jimmy Blewett, setting up a thrilling battle to the finish. The two drivers battled side-by-side over the closing laps before a drag race to the finish lane that brought fans to their feet.
“It’s pretty awesome, especially to beat Matt,” Nocella said. “Everywhere we go, anytime we show up and he’s there, he’s a car to win and we know we’re going to have to beat him for the win, especially here and in these long-distance races. He’s probably the best I’ve seen at saving tires in these races. I kind of stayed right on his bumper there at the beginning of the race and saved as much as I could. I think he had a little quicker car but we were able to get a little jump; we got the fortunate line on that last restart and got out in front of him and hold it around the bottom. He was definitely a quicker, and that’s why I felt I should race him clear there at the end. He could’ve easily got to my bumper and knocked me up the track. All in all, a pretty good run and a pretty amazing win.”
Behind the photo finish, Blewett completed the podium in the race that honored his brother, the late John Blewett III. NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece charged through the field to finish fourth after pulling his car out of impound and starting at the rear of the field. Long Island native Dave Sapienza had his strongest run of the week and completed the top five.
Race fans can find updates and photos from Wednesday night’s John Blewett III Memorial by visiting Speed51’s Trackside Now coverage presented by Tilton Engineering.
All of Speed51’s coverage from the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing — including stories, videos, results and more — can be viewed by visiting Speedweeks Central.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51 / Tiffany Swisher
John Blewett III Memorial Unofficial Results
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