“Awesome AJ” Takes Oswego Small Block Super Season Opener

By – Chris Porter
Photos – Jim Feeney

AJ Bernys took the checkered flag at the Oswego Speedway Saturday evening in the Pathfinder Bank SBS 35-lap feature on opening night. Bernys used lapped traffic to his advantage in the late stages of the race, pinning Rob Pullen’s No. 2 behind a slower car and diving underneath both machines in turn No. 1 to take the lead away. Once atop the field, the third-year driver coasted the final 7 laps unchallenged en route to the win.

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“I’m pretty exited about it,” the Oswego native said of his second career feature victory.” I’ve got to thank Rob Pullen for running me pretty clean. He was really tough to get around. Finally, we got into some lapped traffic and lapped traffic kind of played out to my advantage. I had to wait for the right time to strike. Going down the front stretch, everyone kind of scrambled … I didn’t even know where I was going until half a second before (the pass)”

Entering his third season in the division, Bernys said that he had decided during the off-season that he would start trusting his instincts more in 2013.

“I’ve been telling myself all winter that this season I’m driving more aggressive,” he said. “I can’t be so shy about making decisions out on the track. I’ve just got to stick to what I think is right.”

Listen to more fromAJ Bernys

Once relinquishing the top spot, Pullen settled in behind Bernys’ yellow No. 24, staving off challenges from Russ Brown to finish in the runner-up position.

“That lapped car … he was rookie,” Pullen said. “I don’t know. I heisted, because he was a rookie and AJ took advantage of it. He outsmarted me there, I guess. I was being cautious.”

Listen to more fromRob Pullen

Pullen took the initial lead at the drop of the green flag, but a complete restart following a mid-pack jingle allowed Fulton’s Dalton Doyle to claim the opening lap. Pullen, Bernys, Jon Tesoriero and Andrew Schartner filled out the top five. A caution for debris slowed the action one lap later.

Doyle held his own on the restart, but as he lead the leaders towards lapped traffic on the 11th lap, Pullen took advantage of Doyle’s slight hesitation and took the lead away. Trapped up and out of the racing groove, Doyle quickly faded, giving way to Bernys, Tesoriero, Schartner and Brown bounced him out of the top five.

Pullen and Bernys were dancing five lengths ahead of third-place running Tesoriero when the caution flag flew on the 17th lap for the stalled Jason Simmons No. 98 machine. With 16 rounds in the books, Brown and Schartner filled out the front five behind the lead trio. Cameron Rowe, Mike Bond and JJ Andrews ran sixth through eighth.

Bernys hounded Pullen on the restart, but the five-time feature winner continued to set the pace. Multiple peeks down low heading into turn No. 3 proved fruitless for Bernys and laps began to wind down.

As the lead duo headed into the first turn on the 28th circuit, Pullen had set up to put a slower car down a lap on the outside. However, the slower machine drifted up and into his lane. Pullen could only watch the Bernys No. 24 dart past his left side and take command.

With contact between the two, Brown’s No. 13 was able to muscle its way under Tesoriero’s No. 47 for third one lap earlier. Pullen was able to drop to the inside before Brown could follow Bernys into second. The two would tango the rest of the way behind the new leader.

Tim Gareau tagged the wall between turns one and two to bring out the caution flag on the 33rd lap. With just three trips remaining, Bernys led Pullen, Brown, Tesoriero and Schartner. Bond, Rowe, Andrews, Doyle and 2012 track champ, Kreig Heroth filled out the top 10. Separate one-car incidents booted Rowe and Doyle from the top 10 in the closing laps.

Bernys took the white flag with a fine five-car advantage over his nearest chasers, taking the checkered with an edge.

Mirroring his qualifying heat race earlier in the evening, Brown was unable to get around Pullen’s No. 2. He settled for the final podium spot.

“It went well,” Brown said. “We started 10th or wherever we started. It’s going to be a tough year. We’ve got a bunch of good cars, a bunch of good drivers. It’s going to be a tough year.”

Listen to more fromRuss Brown

Racking up the first top-five finish of his young small block supermodified career, Tesoriero landed his No. 47 in fourth.

Listen toJon Tesoriero

Having a quiet, but solid top-five run, Schartner claimed a fifth-place finish.

Listen toAndrew Schartner

Having set the fast time in both, last week’s practice session and this week’s time-trial run, Bond piloted the Denise Merrill-owned No. 74 to a sixth-place run.

Listen toMike Bond

Taking the first step towards defending his 2012 Pathfinder Bank Small Block Supermodified track title, Heroth raced his No. 04 to a eighth-place finish.

Listen toKreig Heroth

Following a bizarre heat race incident, Jack Patrick bounced back to land his No. 9 in ninth.

Listen toJack Patrick

Jeremy Pitcher’s 10th-place finish was tops among the eight rookie drivers taking the green flag on Saturday night. Of the 40+ cars on the small block supermodified roster for 2013, roughly a dozen of them qualify as rookies in the division.

Pathfinder Bank SBS Series 35-Lap Feature: 1. AJ Bernys (24), 2. Rob Pullen (2), 3. Russ Brown (13), 4. Jon Tesoriero (47), 5. Andrew Schartner (18), 6. Mike Bond (74), 7. JJ Andrews (93), 8. Kreig Heroth (04), 9. Jack Patrick (9), 10. Jeremy Pitcher (14), 11. Josh Kerr (8), 12. Cameron Rowe (77) 13. Dan Abt (57), 14. Justin Connell (07), 15. Dennis Rupert (99), 16. Zach Amo (44), 17. Dalton Doyle (01), 18. Tim Gareau (17), 19. Mike Bruce (22), 20. Anthony Losurdo (1), 21. Jason Simmons (98), 22. Mark Castiglia (67), 23. Greg O’Connor (90), 24. Nate Noto (19), 25. Scott Shafer (76)

Heat race wins were collected by Pullen, Schartner and Simmons.