A day full of ups and downs for a pair of championship contenders decided the 2019 Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North champion Saturday afternoon at Seekonk Speedway (MA).
Derek Griffith entered the season-ending race with an eight-point advantage over defending champion DJ Shaw. Ultimately, Shaw overcame that deficit to claim his fourth PASS North championship; however, the rollercoaster ride was anything but easy.
“This was about the worst day we could have possibly had and still pulled this off,” Shaw said after the race. “I don’t even know what to say. I can’t believe it, really. It was a bad day. We missed it on the setup and Griffith got caught up in wrecks all day. We were just fortunate to survive.”
The whirlwind day began at the start of the day during qualifying heats when Shaw started second and won his heat race. A few minutes later, Griffith pulled out for his heat race and made an early bid for the lead after starting third. As Griffith attempted to make a pass on Travis Benjamin, the two made contact and Griffith spun towards the infield. After restarting fourth, trouble continued when he was involved in another accident that forced him to retire from his heat race early.
At that point, Griffith’s eight-point advantage was trimmed to just three points entering the 150-lap feature. Shaw started the race in 11th, while Griffith started 24th. When the green flag waved, Shaw took over the points lead.
The next turn on the rollercoaster ride occurred before lap 24 when Shaw decided to bring his No. 60 to pit road for adjustments. That decision gave Griffith, who had raced up to 15th at the time, the lead in the championship battle.
“He got to the front so fast,” Shaw said of Griffith. “I came into this weekend content that I was second and that it was a long shot. After the heat, it became a reality and you had to go back into that mentality that you just had to beat one guy. On lap 20, after he starts 30th and I start 11th, if he’s already there I’m not going to beat him in a 150-lap race. We had to take a swing at it.”
A pair of incidents in the second half of the race collected Griffith, forcing him to pit road on two separate occasions. From there, the deficit was too large to make up. Shaw survived the chaos to finish seventh, while Griffith was credited with a 21st-place finish, unofficially.
“It all started with that heat race. We just got no respect from the people that we race with,” Griffith said. “He runs us like that all the time, I have no idea. It’s kind of mind boggling that we’re running for a championship and just have no respect at all.
“After that, it was just an incident,” he continued. “A guy got loose and cleaned us out, put us right into the frontstretch wall. He didn’t mean anything by that. Then we just kind of picked our way up throughout he field. We had a restart on the outside and I got clear to the bottom and someone just ran right through me. Then we got caught up in another wreck after that.”
For Griffith, a five-time PASS winner this season, his performance Saturday was not indicative of the season his LCM Motorsports team had. After escaping major carnage for much of the season, a full dose of bad luck and misfortune was handed to them in the season finale.
“We haven’t had body panels off this thing all year,” Griffith said. “Now we have a whole door tore off, fender, quarter panel is half gone. Just no respect at all. It’s a huge bummer because we had a good run this year. We were really close. It is what it is. Congrats to DJ and those guys, they did a good job this year.
“We’ve tried our hardest, had an awesome year and won a lot of races. We have to take second in points as what it is and move forward. We were real close. We beat everyone one in wins this year with PASS. Had a good year all year, just had one more bad day than he did.”
While the championship race took turn after turn, Maine native Mike Hopkins collected his first PASS North victory of the season in his first career start at Seekonk Speedway. Hopkins passed local racer Ryan Kuhn with less than 30 laps remaining to claim the win. Speed51.com will have more on that story in the coming days.
A full on-demand replay of Saturday’s PASS North finale will also be available later this evening on Speed51.com.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com