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Another Roller Coaster Season For Cliff Sees Him in Victory Lane

By – Chris Porter
Victory Lane Photo – Jim Feeney

One week after missing their qualifying heat race and having trouble just getting the car started, David Cliff and the Gnomey Racing crew put their No. 06 back in victory lane at Oswego Speedway Saturday night. It was Cliff’s first small block supermodified win of the 2009 season – a yearly high for a team that’s experiencing another seesaw of a season.

With three top-five finishes to start out the year, the “Gnomey Nation” was poised to make a run for the track championship. However, things began to fall apart during the June 13th main event. They had the fastest car that evening, but their involvement in a few jingles led to a frustrating night.

The following race, the No. 06 car found both the inside and outside walls in turn two, resulting in a 17th-place finish. That led up to last week’s engine troubles that kept them out of contention all evening.

If anything good came out of their stretch of bad luck, it was being handed a decent handicap for Saturday night’s 30-lap feature event. Cliff took full advantage of it in just three laps – jumping into the third position on the first trip around, powering underneath Dave Danzer down the backstretch to take over second on lap No. 2 and bettering Jason Simmons on the outside of turn No. 3 to take the lead on the field’s third time around Oswego’s 5/8 mile.

Cliff later held off challenges by Dave Gruel and Russ Brown to earn the win.

Listen toDavid Cliff on earning his second feature of 2009

After a spin by Danzer on the fourth lap, Cliff was able to lead the field around the speedway one time before the caution lights flashed, once again.

With Brown beginning to pass him on the outside down the front stretch, Rob Pullen tried to beat Brown’s No. 60 car to the first turn by slipping underneath Steve Abt’s No. 85. However, Pullen’s efforts were a bit too late as he ran out of room and into the No. 85.

The contact sent the field scattering. Nearly a dozen small block supers gathered in the first turn. A few cars received some bent equipment, but miraculously, everyone was able to drive away. It was a testament to the experience the SBS field possesses compared to how the outcome would have likely been a decade or so ago.

Again, Cliff brought the field back to racing. Having come from the ninth starting spot, Gruel moved underneath his car owner, Tim Barbeau, to take over third. Just two laps were recorded before Shawn Walker’s No. 68 and Mark Castiglia’s No. 90 came together in turn No. 1.

With six laps now in the books, Cliff led Simmons, Gruel, Barbeau and Andrew Schartner. Kevin Knopp, Brian Sobus, Jack Patrick, Stan Gates and Brown completed the top 10.

Quickly, Gruel put his No. 50 on the outside of the Simmons No. 91 on the restart. Simmons fought hard and by the time Gruel was able to take away the position, Cliff had leapt out to an 8-car length andvantage.

Simmons saw the beginning to his top-five run come to an end on the 10th lap. After Barbeau bested him down low, Schartner and Knopp followed the No. 58’s tracks, bumping the No. 91 back to sixth place. Sobus, Brown and Patrick freight-trained Simmons the following lap.

However, one lap later, Knopp and Sobus tangled in turn No. 1 after the powerplant on the No. 04 expired. Sliding into the scene, Schartner made heavy contact with Knopp, launching one of Knopp’s tires up and over the fence – though out of harm’s way.

Schartner was shaken up, but otherwise OK. Both cars suffered extensive damage. Sobus was able to escape the worst of it, rejoining the field at the rear.

Cliff’s lead was erased, putting Gruel, Barbeau, Brown and Patrick right behind him. Simmons, Mike Bond, Castiglia, Gates and Guard Nearbin completed the top 10.

Unable to pull away on the restart, Cliff fended off a challenge for the lead by Gruel as they took the green. Again, Gruel looked low on the leader as the two raced down the backstretch. This time, Gruel’s No. 50 was able to move solidly aside the No. 06.

The two raced side-by-side for a complete lap, but Cliff was able to make the outside groove work. He inched back ahead of Gruel, regaining full possession of the lead.

As Gruel fell back behind Cliff, he soon saw Brown pounce up top. Brown made the move stick, taking over second.

The top four had pulled away. Having cleared the main pack, Bond began to close the gap in fifth.

Brown became Cliff’s new threat to the top spot. Glued to the leader’s rear bumper, Brown hounded the No. 06 both high and low.

The 26th lap saw the final caution of the race. Danzer pegged the already spun No. 90 car of Castiglia in the side between turns one and two. Both SBS racers were done for the night.

Brown took another shot at Cliff on the restart, but the No. 06 held its ground. Another look on the outside on the 27th lap proved similar results, but opened up the door for Gruel’s No. 50 to challenge Brown for second.

Cliff raced unchallenged the final two trips, as Brown, Gruel, Barbeau and Bond followed him to the checkered flag.

Listen toRuss Brown on his second-place finish

Only allowing Brown to gain one point on him in the title chase, Gruel finished the feature in third. It was his sixth top-five finish in seven races.

Listen toDave Gruel on his third-place run

Barbeau recorded his third top-five finish of the season, crossing the line in fourth.

Listen toTim Barbeau on his fourth-place feature run

Bond brought the Terry Solazzo-owned No. 26 home in fifth.

Listen toMike Bond on knocking down another top-five finish

After picking up a long overdue win last week, Sobus was fast again, bringing his No. 79 home in sixth. Other than Gruel, Sobus is the only other driver who’s yet to finish outside the top 10.

Listen toBrian Sobus on his feature run and season to date

Patrick collected his fourth top 10-finish of the year, taking the checkered flag in eighth place.

Listen toJack Patrick on his top-10 finish and first half of the season

Nearbin finished the race in 10th. It was his third top-10 finish of the season. He’s led a few laps this year and currently sits 14th in points.

Listen toGuard Nearbin on his 10th-place finish and 2009 season

Gruel, Cliff and Sobus took home checkered flags after winning their qualifying heats. Gruel’s fifth heat race win helped him maintain a stealthy lead in the title chase. He now leads Bond by 52 points. Brown sits in third, 62 points behind. Cliff is fourth, 86 points behind Gruel. Knopp’s expired motor cost him dearly. He’s now fifth in points, 101 behind the leader. Sobus, Barbeau, Pullen, Danzer and Simmons round out the top 10.

Heat Race Photos:

Oswego Bagelry/Days Inn & Scottish Inn 30:

1. David Cliff (06), 2. Russ Brown (60), 3. Dave Gruel (50), 4. Tim Barbeau (58), 5. Mike Bond (26), 6. Brian Sobus (79), 7. Jason Simmons (91), 8. Jack Patrick (9), 9. Shawn Walker (68), 10. Guard Nearbin (78), 11. Stan Gates (28), 12. Barry Kingsley (23), 13. Brian Haynes (86), 14. Chip Wood (2), 15. Mark Castiglia (90), 16. Dave Danzer (52), 17. Steve Abt (85), 18. Kevin Knopp (04), 19. Andrew Schartner (18), 20. Rob Pullen (25)