From the season’s outset it appeared that Matt Hirschman was going to pick up where he left off with his 2013 Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour dominance, but it was clear that his competition was narrowing the gap. Former series champion Chuck Hossfeld ran a close second to Hirschman in each of the first three events and on Sunday turned in a performance strong enough to hold off the field at Shangri-La II Motor Speedway for his second win in the last three series events.
“I was telling people at the beginning of the year even though we had finished second a couple of races I knew we were going to be tough, so it’s kind of playing out now,” remarked Hossfeld who won his first feature at the southern New York facility since 2010.
To begin the afternoon, luck was on Hossfeld’s side starting on the pole in his heat race and then drawing the pole for the 75 lap feature. From there he was able to lengthen his lead at times on longer runs, but several competitors, including Andy Jankowiak through the middle stages and Hirschman near the conclusion, drew closer after the cautions flew at the right times for them. Despite the flag-to-flag victory, it was not a walk in the park for the Ransomville, New York driver.
“Once we got some laps together I could pull away a little bit and maintain, but we ran hard the whole race,” said Hossfeld. “There was nothing left on the table.”
Hirschman came into the race behind Hossfeld in the points chase after being forced to miss a race due to a rescheduling conflict with his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride. If it wasn’t for a mechanical failure for Jimmy Zacharias and a late-race pass he would have lost more ground.
“A caution helped us, one car broke, and we were better in a little short run there,” said Hirschman, who had won a 100 lapper at Mahoning Valley Speedway the night before in a different car. “Got (Jankowiak) and then closed on (Hossfeld) but he was better for the longer run. We should have finished fourth and got second so you can’t really complain about that.”
Jankowiak has steadily improved into a position where he has been contending for wins each race on the tour lately and solidified that with his first career win last time out at Holland Speedway. After running in Hossfeld’s tracks for a majority of the race, a late race restart and a daring move resulted in the last spot on the podium instead.
“I was moving around a little bit there trying to get Chucky and we were slinging it around and it might have cost me second,” analyzed Jankowiak. “I got a little high there trying to make a move, but I’ll give up a second and try for the win every time.”
Jankowiak’s tight-knit group is turning into the little team that could on the tour as he now finds himself third in the points behind heavy hitters Hossfeld and Hirschman.
“We make do with what we’ve got,” said Jankowiak. “We have a great group of guys. I wouldn’t trade our operation for anything. We’ve got a good little program.”
For a driver that has gone back and forth from racing different tours and schedules, Hossfeld is glad to be back in contention for wins and a championship again.
“It’s really gratifying and satisfying,” said Hossfeld. “It’s hard enough to a get a car to the track let alone win. There’s a lot that goes into that in a Modified or really any kind of race car. I knew we made gains over the winter time. There’s some competition in this series. (Jankowiak) is real good for a young guy. He loves racing and he really commits to racing. (Hirschman’s team) has two generations of racers and not to mention the rest of the field like (Mike) Leaty so it’s a lot of tough competition.”
The Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour races next at the site of their season opener from early May, Chemung Speedrome. The Saturday night feature takes place not far from the NASCAR festivities at nearby Watkins Glen International that weekend.
– By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent. Twitter: @Aaron_Creed