(EDITORS NOTE: Tim Quievryn is the founder and operator of 51′s Third Turn, a historical short track results and information database. The views expressed below do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Speed51.com as an entity.)
The 2015 World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing produced 25 different winners across nine nights of competition. But as often is the case in racing, especially a marathon event such as the World Series, a lot more factors went into deeming if someone had a “successful” Speedweeks or not. Here are some thoughts on who really “won” the World Series, who “lost” in more ways than just finishing position, and a surprising number of people who fell into both camps by week’s end.
Who shone in the Sunshine State.
Ryan Preece: 4-for-6 in Tour-Type Modifieds with one extra win being lost because of a weight infraction that his competitors said didn’t make a lick of difference in the race. It will go down as one of the all-time dominant World Series Mod Squad performances and any time your effort can be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Richie Evans’ or Greg Sacks’ dominant World Series runs, you’ve done something.
Dalton Armstrong: Armstrong is going to be a candidate for Most Improved Driver in 2015. His first trip down to Smyrna in 2014 was middling at best and he struggled through the first part of 2014 on the JEGS/CRA All-Star Tour. But Armstrong to his credit kept working at it and combining his natural racing talent with some experience led to some solid finishes at the end of 2014. He proved that was no fluke with his first two career Pro Late Model wins and the PLM championship.
Zane Smith: Not many people had heard of the Legends standout from the West Coast entering the World Series, but those days are long behind him. He began testing the Super Late Model waters in early 2014 and showed some promise. He upped his chances of a strong showing by signing with Crooks Racing for 2015 and made the most of it in Florida, winning one race and taking the championship. What’s as equally impressive is that for a driver who had only a handful of SLM starts, Smith made few if any mistakes. He won the championship on the strength of finishing every race in the top-ten.
Harrison Burton: The young driver that broke through with his first Pro Late Model victory in 2014 visited Victory Lane in a Super Late Model for the first time to kick off 2015. Burton was the only repeat winner in the ultra-tough division and may have made it three wins had it not been for some contact with Steve Wallace Wednesday night. But that scrape-up and the way he handled it won him a few more fans and when the chance came to race Wallace for the win Friday night, Burton showed his maturity beyond his years by putting the Wednesday drama behind him and made a veteran-like pass.
Dave Garbo, Natalie Decker & Sarah McKay: I’m lumping these three drastically different drivers together because they each did two things during Speedweeks. First and foremost, they raised their profile. Garbo went from a top-five contender to a winner. Decker went from a mid-pack driver to someone consistently competing for top-tens. McKay went from last year’s rookie who was badly off the pace to someone who kept it clean and competitive and cracked the top-ten once or twice. Secondly, all three improved as Speedweeks went on. That’s all you can ask for and as a driver that’s a big reason to go down to Florida for nine nights of racing. Not only can you shake off the winter’s rust, but continual racing allows you to learn some things and quickly apply them the very next day.
The whole ACT Late Model Tour crew: Obviously Eddie MacDonald has plenty of reasons to smile after going 3-for-3 in American Canadian Tour competition at New Smyrna. But the ACT drivers, teams, and officials have to feel proud after they put on three of the best races of the week. The plus/minus system set up plenty of passing during the feature, with most everyone managing to keep it clean through 300 laps of action. A likable Cinderella emerged in Aaron Fellows, a polarizing villain came forth in first-time ACT driver Keith Rocco, and Patrick Laperle managed to ride the gambit of emotions in the way fans have come to love about him. Tom Curley and his crew also made sure the races went off without a hitch and also made the best of the Tuesday rainout. Kudos to everyone as they head back north.
Parity: Only three drivers won three races or more during Speedweeks – Preece, MacDonald, and Doug Moff’s flying Florida Modified. 25 different winners across nine nights of racing is a record no other event can boast in short track racing. Seeing new names be able to visit the winner’s circle is part of the allure that attracts talent to come to central Florida every year.
Those are glad Speedweeks are over.
Stephen Nasse & Anthony Sergi: Nasse and Sergi left behind a bigger trail of twisted metal in Florida than Hurricane Andrew did. Let’s be clear: Both are talented drivers and it’s hard to recollect most of the incidents being their fault. But it’s tough to go that deep in the hole both in terms of money and equipment this early in the season. Their programs are going to be set back at least a little when regular season racing begins soon.
David Rogers: He went winless for the first time in the 1970s last season and after an awful Speedweeks at his home track, it’s hard to imagine Rogers’ prospects are any better this year. He simply didn’t qualify well, putting him behind the eight ball before the races began. Then starting back in the pack, he got caught up in way too many incidents. Just a single top-ten highlighted his 7 nights of racing. If Rogers can’t begin to shake off this slump in 2015, questions will begin be asked if it’s time to talk about the ‘R-word’.
Ronnie Bassett, Jr.: There’s no doubt Bassett is one talented young man with a knack for getting the most out of his equipment. But the one thing that has held him back has been his on-track temper. Multiple disagreements with fellow competitors and NASCAR itself have left him on the sideline on multiple occasions. Taking out J.J. Haley after a seemingly-routine battle for 5th in Sunday’s K&N Pro Series East event will only further that perception.
Steve Wallace: Wallace was the defending World Series champion and – with a well-sponsored, full-time SLM effort in 2015 versus last year’s upstart team – figured to have a very strong chance at repeating. Wallace won one race Wednesday night but managed to tick off about half a dozen drivers doing so. Other than another night when the inversion helped him start up front and finish 2nd, Wallace never really seemed to challenge for the lead, often having to dig out of a bad qualifying effort to finish in the 5th-7th range. His effort in the Saturday finale was disappointing as the crew never could get the handling right before the final stretch run of the race pushed him back forwards.
Chuck Hossfeld & Justin Bonsignore: Combining a driver of Preece’s talent with the defending World Series championship team made Preece the early favorite heading into the week but no one could have predicted what little resistance Hossfeld and Bonsignore would provide. Hossfeld is a former World Series champ who always seems to up his game and win a race or two at the World Series. He set fast time 5 of 6 nights but could never find the winner’s circle. Bonsignore’s effort may be even more disappointing. He won a race on the opening night DQ but in each and every race after that seemed to finish further and further back in the field. He scored an emphatic victory in the Richie Evans Memorial last year, but spun out after being lapped this year.
A LITTLE BIT OF BOTH
Those who both capitalized on some opportunities and missed others.
Garrett Jones Jones missed the top SLM points spot by just three markers and finished on the podium twice. Just as importantly, the 15-year-old ran a nice clean Speedweeks, preventing a repeat of a messy 2014 PLM Smyrna campaign that drew the ire of a number of drivers. The problem though is that Jones failed to crack Victory Lane. Jones sits at a precarious position in terms of career prospects. The kid clearly has speed and potential, but unless he can break through in a big way the next year or two, he’s going to miss his chance to climb the ladder. A 2015 Smyrna title or victory could have begun to change the conversation for him from “solid driver” to “potential superstar”.
Spencer Davis: It’s hard to list a guy who won a PLM race in this category (and would have won another had it not been for a weight infraction). But try to think of a second Davis highlight from this year. Okay, he led a lot of laps in the Richie Evans. But pit strategy ruined that dominant effort. Third best highlight? Not much to think of. After being a title contender in three divisions in 2014 (and a champion in one), Davis needed to lift at least one crown this year to consider this World Series a success.
Ty Majeski: Majeski’s general upward trajectory in the sport can not be questioned. The 2014 ARCA Midwest Tour champ became the first Midwest guy in a number of years to emerge as one of the dominant drivers during the World Series. He won a race, set fast time, led the points for a night or two, and genuinely contended in every race he competed in. He even showed some resilience, twice charging from the rear due to crashes not of his own making to claim solid finishes. But a mechanical gremlin sent his car firewall deep into the turn three wall on Friday night and destroyed a really solid piece. Majeski and crew chief Toby Nuttleman have stuff to feel good about heading home no doubt, but having the car in one piece would been a bonus.
New Smyrna Speedway’s Safety Crew: The Speedway took some flack after Jordan Ives’ car burned to the ground during Saturday’s practice session. From my perspective, there was very little any fire crew could have done, but some questions did have to be asked after this became only the latest fiery incident following Frank Kreyer and Brandon Lynn’s crashes at the track. But give credit where credit is due. Much like Daytona promising to immediately add SAFER barriers after Kyle Busch’s crash, New Smyrna ownership immediately invested in new fire suppression equipment. By the time the second week started, the speedway had completely revamped their response team with state of the art tools. Drivers should race at New Smyrna with an extra piece of mind in the coming months.
-By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @thethirdturn
-Photo credit: Speed51.com