Eight drivers arrived at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York with a mathematical shot at winning the Indoor Auto Racing Series championship this past weekend. When the dust settled, it was one driver rising above them all to win Saturday's season finale and the overall championship.
Series favorites Erick Rudolph, Justin Bonsignore and Andy Jankowiak led the charge of drivers going into the weekend. After Friday night's portion of the event, Rudolph led defending champion Bonsignore by only six points after Bonsignore scored the A-Main victory. As the fans kept their eyes on the championship battle, the drivers were keeping their eyes on the TC Cup trophy.
After an interesting redraw that saw five drivers have a foot race to draw their positions, it was Rudolph going slow and steady to take the pole for the 40-lap main event. Outside of him was championship hopeful and fellow Western New Yorker Andy Jankowiak. Bonsignore took the third starting spot, setting up a dramatic starting grid for the championship race.
When the green flag waved in front of a capacity crowd, it was Rudolph charging to the lead with Jankowiak hot in his tracks. As the early laps clicked off, Jankowiak continued to run on, and even occasionally over, the rear bumper of Rudolph's yellow No. 22 machine. As they weaved their way through traffic, Rudolph and Jankowiak put some distance on Bonsignore in third, making for a wild race for the lead. As the leaders made their way through the back of the field, an incident occurred on lap 20, changing the race for the win and championship.
Bonsignore and the fourth-place car of Matt Janish made contact, sending Janish over the nose of Bonsignore, through the air into the catch fence, and flipping onto his lid at the start/finish line, bringing out the red flag. Bonsignore visited the work area as his crew worked feverishly to repair broken parts in the front suspension. He returned to the track for five more laps before pulling off, ending his hopes of winning back to back series championships.
While under the red flag, Jankowiak was plagued with a flat left rear tire, sending him to the pit area as well. A host of other cars would also get attention from their crews, changing up much of the field for the restart. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour star Timmy Solomito was be the biggest beneficiary of the craziness as he skipped ahead from the sixth spot to the second position on the restart.
When the field finally went back to green flag conditions, it was be Rudolph once again jumping out to the lead, but this time with Solomito following in his tire tracks. Solomito challenged for the top spot, but a flat left rear in his machine as well took away his opportunity at an indoor victory.
After a few late-race caution flag periods, the field began to thin out, bringing some unlikely suspects to the front of the field. In the closing laps, Rudolph received challenges from numerous drivers, but he would be the first one to cross under the checkered flag, securing his fourth series title.
"We had a lot of silvers and bronzes throughout the indoor season. We started the dirt one (at Trenton, NJ) on a high note, we won, and then after that it was all silver and bronze. Top fives, had a lot of consistency, had good cars, but luck was never really on our side. Today everything just kind of fell into place," Rudolph told Speed51.com. "The car was set up just perfect. The power plant was just stellar, it was launching off the corner like nobody's business. It made my job really easy as a driver."
The win at Syracuse was Rudolph's eighth career Indoor TQ Midget victory, breaking a tie with the late Ted Christopher as the winningest driver in series history.
"I will say that it does mean something to me," Rudolph mentioned. "When we first started he was the G.O.A.T. of the indoors. He was whooping on us when we first started and then eventually we were giving him the whoppings. Unfortunately life happens and stuff happens that we can't control. But to pass him on the all-time wins list does mean something."
Following Rudolph across the line was Indoor Auto Racing rookie Mike Bednar. After a solid fifth place finish on Friday night, Bednar was able to charge from his ninth place starting position to get his first TQ podium.
"I'll tell you what, from running dirt I don't do this TQ stuff, so obviously my mentality is just to stay out of trouble. Always look far, far ahead, be aggressive when you can be aggressive, lay back when you can't. It seems like that really payed off for me the last couple of nights," Bednar stated. "Earl Paules gave me a great car. Couldn't ask for a better car, it really came around halfway through that run. I think I'll be doing a few more of these next year."
Rounding out the podium was asphalt modified driver Tommy Catalano. After missing the A-Main on Friday night, he was able to run in the top five throughout Saturday night and battle for the win.
"I don't know if we had a car to win necessarily, especially on the long run. I definitely think we had a top five car, so we finished right where we should have I think," Catalano said. "For a little bit there I was thinking that we might end up with it. They were battling pretty hard up in front of us. But we ended up finishing right where we should have I think. Definitely happy with it, build the momentum after the indoor season we had. It was kind of a rollercoaster but to top it off on a high note is definitely huge."
After the final checkered flag of the season dropped, Rudolph claimed the championship over Jankowiak by 70 points, with Bonsignore, Eddie Strada and Matt Janish rounding out the top five.
-Story by Evan Canfield, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51Photos.com