In one of the most exciting, hotly-contested touring series races in years, former Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North champion Ben Rowe edged 2014 champion DJ Shaw by mere inches to claim the Speedway Homes 150 Sunday evening at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Rowe finally ended a long dry spell at his home track, yet drew more boos than a bad comedian as he celebrated in Victory Lane. The large crowd on hand for Oxford’s opening day weren’t at all pleased with the second-generation driver’s aggressive moves, and they let him know.
A series of two late-race incidents set up the dramatic three-wide finish in a race where the fastest car didn’t win. Bryan Kruczek, of Newmarket, NH, drove around the outside of Dan McKeage to take over the top spot on lap 145. The two cars battled side-by-side for several laps before Kruczek finally gained control, yet his time on the point was brief.
As the leaders roared into Turn one with three laps remaining, contact was made between McKeage and Kruczek, allowing Rowe to dive low and grab the lead coming off Turn two. It was the opportunity the two-time Oxford 250 winner needed, and he was able to capitalize.
The big finish came when Rowe, Shaw and eventual third-place driver Johnny Clark all went for broke on the final circuit. As the lead trio exited Turn four, Shaw went low, Rowe launched up the middle, while Clark drifted wide and a wild sprint to the stripe was on. Rowe’s margin of victory was .023 seconds.
“Everybody knows I’ve struggled at Oxford and Beech Ridge the last four or five years,” Rowe explained as the crowd prepared to execute him. “I can’t thank Mitch Green and everybody at Crazy Horse Racing enough for getting my program turned around. This team worked hard to find some speed and it paid off. I saw an opening and went for it; I wasn’t going to back off that late in the race. It feels great to finally be back where we belong at Oxford.”
Shaw was pleased with his results following the dramatic conclusion, and admitted he didn’t think his car was a threat to win by any stretch.
“After Bryan (Kruczek) got spun the first time, I felt we had a fifth-place car at best,” Shaw said. “I was surprised the way it unfolded late in the race. I told the crew on the radio I couldn’t believe we had a shot to win it. It was a wild dash to the stripe, and we came up just a little short. I’m happy with our finish and will get ready for Beech Ridge.”
Clark was easily the most animated of all three contenders after the race. The six-time PASS North champion started deep in the field, worked his way into contention and almost pulled it off late.
“I actually thought we had the lead at one point on the backstretch,” Clark said. “We ran way out in the marbles off Turn four coming to the finish; I had to lift off the throttle briefly to preserve my race car and we ended up third. It was a wild one, but the car was hooked up and we came away unscathed.”
Vermont veteran Brent Dragon powered his way to a solid fourth-place finish, while Mike Rowe, the undisputed King of Oxford, completed the top five. Finishing sixth through 10th in the Speedway Homes 150 was Mike Hopkins, Adam Polvinen, Glen Luce, Dave Farrington Jr. and McKeage. Eight cautions slowed the pace, while 19 of the 35 starters finished on the lead lap.
-By Phil Whipple, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent – Twitter: @PhilWhipple
-Photo Credit: Alan Ward