Nick Sweet did what he knows how to do best on Monday afternoon at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. The Barre, Vermont native added another big win to his already impressive resume at his home track by winning his second career Labor Day Classic 200.
For Sweet, the win was bittersweet.
He entered this weekend’s Labor Day Classic event trailing fellow competitor Derrick O’Donnell by 22 points in the Late Model championship standings. Following qualifying heat races, he had narrowed that gap down to 16 points. The two-time “King of the Road” champion needed to win the race and O’Donnell, the defending champion, needed to finish seventh or worse in the 32-car field.
Unfortunately for Sweet, when he crossed under the checkered flag after 200 laps on Monday afternoon he had a rear view mirror full of O’Donnell’s No. 60.
He had won the battle, but had lost the war.
“We did everything we could do today,” Sweet told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “This year, I wish we could have been just a little bit better during those weekly shows. We had consistency. We ran in the top-10 most of the year. Derrick was just a little bit better than us this year.
“Next year I’m going to have to come back and try to put on a show again. It’s really starting to hit home not winning these things.”
After starting from the 14th spot on Monday, Sweet charged through the field early and took the lead from Brett Gervais following a lap 91 restart; however, he would not go unchallenged.
Throughout the race, Sweet would need to fight off challenges from Dave Pembroke, Jason Corliss, and eventually O’Donnell. He gave up the lead on two different occasions, once to Pembroke and once to Corliss, but was able to battle back on both occasions to retake the lead.
A restart with 13 laps to go set up a front row featuring the two championship contenders, Sweet and O’Donnell. Sweet gave it everything he had to hold off O’Donnell and eventually pulled away while O’Donnell battled Cody Blake for the runner-up spot.
“I pulled out everything I knew behind the wheel on those restarts there,” said Sweet. “I tried everything I could and it worked. There were a couple restarts where they caught me sleeping I guess. I wasn’t sleeping, but they got me. I knew that last restart was going to be a big key.”
Those who read the box score from Monday’s race would probably think that O’Donnell’s championship-clinching performance came easy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
O’Donnell, who started in the 18th spot, rode in the 10th position at the halfway mark and didn’t move into a championship-clinching position until lap 144 when Dave Pembroke went over the turn two banking while leading. The now two-time defending King of the Road would use a number of restarts to work his way towards the front before taking over the second spot on lap 182.
“There was a stretch there where the car really wasn’t that good on the long run,” O’Donnell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We just fell off there a little bit, but it definitely came to us there at the end. I think partially we came into it and partially everyone else fell back a little bit. It was tough to do that, but I’d rather have a car at the end of the thing.”
O’Donnell’s second-place finish on Labor Day continued a string of seven straight podium finishes at the historic Barre, Vermont oval. One year after walking away with the championship unchallenged, O’Donnell’s second career King of the Road title didn’t come as easy.
He had to earn this one by racing to the front in the division’s longest event of the 2014 campaign.
“It’s crazy and I’m just so glad it’s over with,” an exhausted O’Donnell said after the race. “What a long year and a long race to end it with. We definitely had a pretty good car so I’m grateful that we ended up here.”
Blake, the 2013 Vermont Governor’s Cup winner, charged from the back of the field to grab the final podium spot after a tough late race battle with O’Donnell for the runner-up position. Trampas Demers and Brooks Clark battled within the top-10 for the majority of the race before finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Thunder Road will return to competition for the final time in 2014 on October 5 for the 52nd running of the prestigious Milk Bowl event.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
Labor Day Classic Unofficial Results
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl – September 1, 2014
|8||51vt||Joey M. Laquerre|
|31||13vt||Jim “Boomer” Morris|