Patrick Emerling has broken through to be quite the dominant force in the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series in 2016. Following a sixth-place finish on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon, the Orchard Park, New York driver and the L2 Autosport team headed back to their home state for Sunday’s 28th US Open at Lancaster National Speedway.
A number of factors that had to go just right presented Emerling, already a winner of the first three RoC events at the 5/8-mile during the season, the opportunity to be in the hunt for the victory on this day. Conservation at the beginning of the lengthy 125-lap distance, an impressive pit stop and track position allowed the current series points leader to persistently challenge teammate Mike Leaty before taking the top spot for good with only eight laps remaining.
“My guys did an awesome job on the stop and we had good car,” Emerling told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We just put ourselves in the right position with a pretty good car, and we were able to get the job done tonight.”
Leaty had cycled around to near the front of the field for much of the second half of the event due to an earlier and unplanned pit strategy that forced him to visit the inner oval to fasten a hanging air cleaner. He passed Tyler Rypkema, the only driver in the field who elected not to make a tire change during the race, for the lead nearing lap 100.
Emerling worked his way by Rypkema as well and began making numerous bids for first place, but Leaty was not going to let him easily take it.
“I want to finish first, so we’re going to race for it,” Leaty remarked. “It’s a bad situation because we’re good friends. We spent all of Saturday together at Loudon and drove home in the middle of the night. We don’t want to wreck each other. We want to have good hard racing.”
Despite some light contact between the two, Emerling’s numerous attempts finally paid off with a pass going down the backstretch.
“I definitely wasn’t going to do anything to Mike that I wouldn’t want to be done to me,” Emerling mentioned. “He was running really hard and he had a tighter race car and maybe lost a little bit of stagger as the run went on, and I was peeking a couple times where I was questionably there.
“The one time I actually slid up into him just a little bit there and luckily we both collected it up. I was just kind of biding my time a little bit waiting for the right opportunity and was able to get underneath him coming up off of two.”
A tight condition resulted in Leaty losing one more spot in the final finishing order.
“The tire didn’t size up very well,” the Williamson, New York driver said. “I didn’t have enough stagger. If I would have had that last little bit of stagger I think I would have been able to hold the bottom better. Pat was just kind of sneaking in on the inside of one and he was just able to get there, and I couldn’t keep the car down. We’ll take third again, I guess.”
Emerling was not necessarily home free once he made it to the lead. Quietly emerging into contention, as he is known to do, was defending US Open winner Matt Hirschman. While reaching within a few car lengths of the leader, the Northampton, Pennsylvania had to settle for second on this day in his first appearance at the Western New York track in 2016.
“We kind of maintained equal distance once I got into second, but being able to pass somebody first you have to catch him and we couldn’t do that,” Hirschman stated. “I don’t think we had the speed to win under normal circumstances, but for not being here all year I think we were a little behind all day just learning the track since they did more work to it last year. The same setup that used to work here does not work. In hindsight, looking back on the day, in the days to come I think we did really well.”
Chuck Hossfeld captured his 11th fast time of the season and took the lead early on from pole starter Daryl Lewis Jr., but after multiple visits to the pits the best Saturday night’s Sportsman winner could do was fourth. George Skora III had a top five run throughout the entire event and ended it in fifth, while Rypkema soldiered on for a sixth-place finish.
Emerling’s satisfaction carried over from the previous year event’s disappointment, which saw his afternoon conclude early following a strong run.
“We were really good here last year, strategy worked out perfect, put ourselves right where we wanted to be, and our alternator failed,” the 24-year-old driver, who moved into a tie for fifth on the all-time RoC win list, said. “We really wanted to make up for that. To get it this year and to sweep Lancaster is just awesome.”
Looking ahead, the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series has two more events. It was around this time a year ago where Emerling’s points lead evaporated. The team appears poised not to repeat the 2015 hard luck.
“We had a good lead last year too and we had car troubles, but we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen this year. I’ve never won any sort of championship before; it’s never what we went for, but this one we’re going for it.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
RoC Modified U.S. Open 125 Results
1 9 07 Patrick Emerling 125
2 12 60 Matt Hirschman 125
3 2 25 Mike Leaty 125
4 4 22 Chuck Hossfeld 125
5 8 65 George Skora III 125
6 6 32 Tyler Rypkema 125
7 18 40 Erick Rudolph 125
8 1 10 Daryl Lewis Jr. 125
9 5 3 Daren Scherer 125
10 16 51 T.J. Potrzebowski 125
11 3 01 Camden Barber 125
12 10 54 Tommy Catalano 125
13 13 64 Amy Catalano 125
14 19 65 Andy Lewis 125
15 15 72 Matt Alix 125
16 24 59 Karl Hehr 125
17 21 11 Kirk Totten 125
18 7 39 Calvin Carroll 117
19 25 40 Tommy Rought 102
20 17 8 Lee Sharpsteen 101
21 14 9 Jeff Hamman 101
22 11 95 Bryan Sherwood 101
23 20 1 Chris Ridsdale 101
24 23 37 Andy Jankowiak 100
25 22 34 Rusty Smith 74
DQ 26 99 Keith Flanigan