When CRA announced their new championship format before the 2017 season, they had the excitement of the NASCAR Playoffs in mind with the top-finishing eligible driver in the final race of the season being crowned champion. With the attrition of the Winchester 400, the ARCA/CRA Super Series championship had been all but decided by the last laps in its first two attempts at the format. However, the 2019 edition would be different, as the top two finished just one spot apart.
Defending series champion Josh Brock came back from a lap behind and caught a key caution late in the race to put him one spot behind race-long championship leader Greg Van Alst for the final 20-lap dash to the finish.
It would be the underdog story at the end as Van Alst held off Brock over the last laps to claim his first ARCA/CRA Super Series championship by mere car lengths with a seventh place finish.
How unprecedented was Van Alst’s championship? According to TheThirdTurn.com, the Anderson, IN native is the first driver to win a major asphalt Late Model championship with only one top five finish (minimum 10-race season), which came at Baer Field Motorsports Park in July. It was also his only top-five finish he’s had in the ARCA/CRA Super Series.
Van Alst saw it as a chance to shock the world and prove the doubters wrong after being all but written off as a championship contender.
“You’re lying to me, there’s no way I could be. Everybody had us just as the other guy,” Van Alst told Speed51.com. “I was bound and determined to kick every one of these m—–f—–‘s a–es and do everything it took because nobody believed in us. And we beat them on the track, flat out beat them.”
It is Van Alst’s second championship with CRA, having also won the CRA Late Model Sportsman title in 2014. He and his family-run team of volunteers never doubted their championship hopes through the weeks leading up to the Winchester 400.
“It fired off and it was really good in the beginning. I can’t believe we pulled this off, I don’t think anybody outside of our team believed we could do and I was bound and determined to beat them on the racetrack,” he said. “I know I can drive, I’ve got people around me who know I can drive.
“I kept saying all week that I could do it if it came down to a race. I just kept saying, ‘Give me the ball, coach’ and the ball came to me with ten to go, and I did it.”
After completing only a single lap in his maiden Winchester 400 one year ago, he played it smart and rode throughout the 400-laps. Van Alst is admittedly not a fan of the fast half-mile, and that played a role in how his team took on the race.
“I think we should’ve drove harder all day to be honest, I was just conservative,” he said. “If I said I like this place I’d be lying, I absolutely hate this place. I wake up every day thinking of this place and how bad I hate it because I’ve got a plate in my neck that hurts every day. And I think I beat it today.”
Josh Brock’s championship defense came up one position short with an eighth-place finish on Sunday afternoon. The Corbin, KY driver was dejected after a strong season ended short of their ultimate goal.
“It really stings, it hurts. It’s going to hurt for a while,” Brock said. “The best car by far all season, regular season, chase, it doesn’t matter, and we didn’t win.”
He went on to voice his opinion on the chase format used by CRA, which is similar to the one used in NASCAR.
“Maybe CRA needs to think about it. I probably shouldn’t say this but the last two or three years they haven’t produced champions like they should,” he stated. “The first year when I left when I got sick, VanDoorn or Armstrong should’ve won the championship. Last year the best car won, I’m not saying it because of me, but we fought hard all year. This year we had two wins, ran good all year long, and finished one spot behind and you hand a whole season championship away to somebody else.”
“We’re not NASCAR, their playoff system’s a little different. When they get to the final four, those are the best four in the world,” he continued. “They’ve won multiple times that year, ran good all year long. It’s something they need to think about. This isn’t NASCAR, this is short track racing. We work hard, we spend a lot of time and a lot of money. Everybody from first place to last place. Here we are, it comes down to one position and you lose a whole season in Late Model racing. I do agree, there could be some kind of a chase and something, but what happened is not right. Hopefully we didn’t make anyone upset but I’m speaking the truth.”
Hunter Jack ended the season third in points with an 11th-place finish, while Dossey finished one spot behind him in 12th after early-race mechanical issues, ending the season fourth in points and as the ARCA/CRA Super Series Rookie of the Year.
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NOTE: This story was updated on Monday evening with quotes from Josh Brock, the second-place finisher in the ARCA/CRA Super Series standings.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN/MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Evan Canfield