Anthony Campi Racing notched another Late Model victory Friday night, but it didn't come without a little bit of added drama. Colby Howard bounced back from a late-race aggressive driving penalty to win the Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model season opener at Five Flags Speedway.
Ryan Paul dominated the first 27 laps of the race, until a red flag was displayed for a hard crash involving Blaise Rutherford and JoJo Wilkinson on the front stretch. This set up an opportunity for Casey Roderick to pounce, taking the lead on the ensuing restart. Roderick ran away from the field for the next 40 laps before another red flag for a multi-car pileup grouped the field up for a restart.
The red flag allowed Howard to catch up to Roderick, reeling him and challenging for the lead after the restart. Howard drove low into turn three but made contact with Roderick, pushing up into him and causing him to spin. Both cars would go to the rear due to the incident, with the damage eventually ending Roderick’s race.
“I’d really like to say sorry to Casey, that was really my fault,” Howard stated, “I went in there and tried to give him too much room. I just got down on the bottom and shoved up and got into him. I hate it ended up like that. Casey is a really good guy, he raced me nothing but clean at Montgomery and I really owe it to him. I just hate it ended up like that."
Roderick acknowledged Howard's explanation and apology, but still wished the young South Carolina driver had shown a little more patience at that stage of the race.
“It’s just an unfortunate deal, man,” Roderick stated. “These up-and-comers have really fast race cars and they’re pushing them hard. I’ve done the same thing. It’s just very unfortunate. If he had been just a little bit more patient, we’d all be out there still running without tore-up race cars.”
Roderick and Howard discussed the incident in victory lane, shaking hands before parting.
“I just told him, ‘You’ve got a really fast race car.’ We still had 35 laps to go," Roderick said. "Could have been a little bit more patient instead of pushing the issue. He just hit the corner a little too hard and slid up into me, that's all it was."
Howard used the last 30 laps of the race to work his way from the back of the pack, eventually catching the leaders, Chris Davidson and Connor Okrzesik. Howard eventually was able to power by the leaders and hold off a late charge from Okrzesik and Jake Garcia to win the first Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model feature of 2019.
Howard explained in Victory Lane that for Campi, one win just wasn’t enough.
“I had a lot of pressure my first race but then we got that win. Oh okay, pressure is off. But then all these articles start coming out with 'Campi on fire,' all kind of stuff so I’m like, pressure is back on to win.
“There’s nothing else I want to be in here out here tonight. These boys are on point this year, they have a really hot streak going right now, really proud to be a part of that right now.”
Okrzesik had a late chance to challenge Howard for the win, but his car became very loose, foiling his attempt. For Okzresik and his team, second was not enough.
“This Anthony Campi bunch just has good cars every time they come out to the race track, they’re the car to beat every week, no matter who is driving," Okrzesik said. "Any of those guys could be driving, they would be the car to beat. Second place is a good finish but it’s not what we wanted.”
Okrzesik continued, stating his frustration with a second-place finish.
“Everyone has high expectations, a fifth-place finish is a bad finish, a third place for us is a bad finish. We’re out here to get wins, and when we don’t win it’s a little bit disappointing.”
The Allen Turner Hyundai Pro Late Model series continues on June 7 at Five Flags Speedway, joined by the track’s Sportsman and Pure Stock divisions. Super Late Models return to the home of the Snowball Derby on June 21 with Outlaws, Pro Trucks, and Pure Stocks. Both divisions lead up to the 52nd Annual Snowball Derby on December 8, 2019.
-Story by: Patrick Hahe, Speed51.com Great Lakes Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo