If FultonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s David Gruel couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had it any way he wanted it, Saturday night wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been the night to have it his way. Gruel stumbled into Oswego SpeedwayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s regular season finale fresh off 15th and 17th-place feature finishes and a dwindled 1-point lead in the small block supermodified title hunt.
With no more room to spare, Gruel did everything he needed to do and more, sweeping both 20-lap features and earning his first track championship. Oh, and for proper credit, he won his qualifying heat race as well.
Leading the points chase the entire season, Gruel had knocked off three consecutive feature wins to begin the year. It had appeared to be a year of domination for the No. 50 team, but the well of checkered flags suddenly went dry, with no more visits to victory lane – until Saturday night.
Multi-time Track Champion Russ Brown nipped at GruelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s heels all year, week-by-week, hacking away at the No. 50 teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s generous points lead. Between the third week of the season and Saturday night, Brown never finished outside the top three and never finished behind GruelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 50. But, the Mannsville native was never able to put the Pike Bros. No. 60 into victory lane, either.
Saturday night, BrownÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s consistency had finally pushed Gruel into a corner. When push came to shove, Gruel responded with two feature wins and a track title to spare.
Listen to – Dave Gruel
It was also the first track championship for car owner, Barbeau. Barbeau didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fare too well himself on the track Saturday night, but that really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t matter. His mind was on the getting his driver the much coveted SBS crown.
Listen to – Tim Barbeau
A heads-up start saw heat race winnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Andrew Schartner and Gruel on the front row. Brown and Mike Bond (a third points chase contender), lined up in row No.2.
An even start saw SchartnerÃ‚Â inching around the outside of Gruel in search of his third straight SBS feature win. However, a mid-pack jingle negated the green. On the complete restart, GruelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s early jump put him solidly out in front.
Brown, Schartner, Bond and Brian Sobus followed Gruel across the stripe to complete lap No. 1.
Gruel and Brown began to ease away from the field as Schartner, Bond and Sobus fought for third.
Bond snuck under SchartnerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 18 on the fourth lap and Sobus mirrored the move one lap later to take over fourth.
Up front, Gruel and Brown continued to pace the field. Rob Pullen, Steve Abt, Shawn Walker, Barry Kingsley and Dave Danzer held positions six through 10 at the half-way mark.
While Gruel held his line, Brown feverishly tried to find a way around the No. 50. A strong outside bid on the 17th lap saw Brown draw even, but his No. 60 encountered the Ã¢â‚¬Å“marblesÃ¢â‚¬Â and skated back behind the leader. With little time to spare, Brown reeled the leader back in. He saw hope with heavy lapped traffic on the horizon, but simply ran out of time. Gruel successfully led every lap en route to earning his fourth feature win of the year.
Bond, Sobus and Schartner completed the top five. After the first of two 20-lappers, Gruel headed into the second feature with a seven-point lead. Bond would trail Gruel by 46 points.
Walker and Kingsley led the field to the green to begin 20-lap main No. 2. Kingsley faded quickly as Walker put his No. 68 out in front, bringing Pullen, Ken Pierce, Gruel and Bond with him.
Starting fifth, Gruel moved under Pierce on lap No. 2. One lap later, the No. 50 powered around Pullen for second. However, when taking on Walker, his car slid high, allowing Pullen to retake the position. In turn, Pullen then took a shot at the leader. But, instead of moving ahead of the No. 68, he saw GruelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 50 drive back around the outside of him to take back second place.
At the lap No. 5 mark, Walker led Gruel, Pullen, Bond and Brown. However, Gruel ended WalkerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s run atop the field one lap later, taking the lead away down the front stretch. Bond followed into the runner-up position the next time around.
10 lengths out ahead of the field, Gruel and Bond paced the field. Fighting behind Walker, the 11th lap saw Brown dispose of the No. 25 to take away fourth. Five laps later, Brown was finally able to move around Walker. By then, the lead duo were 15 lengths away.
Up front, Bond continued to press the race leader. Similar to the first race, Gruel was quickly moving in on lapped traffic in the closing trips of the race. This time, he hit it with two laps to spare. Gruel and Bond ventured into the rear of the pack, side-by-side.
The drama was the last thing Gruel wanted to see, but his chosen lanes proved to be the correct path to victory. Making his way through traffic, he took the checkered flag, earning the win and securing the track championship.
Bond, Brown, Schartner and Walker completed the top five. Pullen, Abt, Danzer, Barbeau and David Cliff rounded out the top 10.
For Brown, two more podium finishes werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough to earn him another title. Though statistically impressive, Brown says he races to win, not to finish second.
Listen to – Russ Brown
Bond racked up two more top fives, landing the Terry Solazzo-owned No. 26 third in the points chase.
Listen to – Mike Bond
Having been taken out in the opening lap jingle of race No. 2, Sobus says he would like to see more heads-up starts. He was pleased with fourth-place finish in the fist race and fairly content with his fourth-place finish in the final points standings.
Listen to – Brian Sobus
Having come on very strong in the final month of the season, Schartner racked up two more solid top-five finishes. The newly crowned SBS Rookie of the Year vaulted his way into fifth place in the final points standings.
Listen to – Andrew Schartner
Earning finishes of eighth and fifth, Shawn Walker seemed pretty pleased with his twin-30 runs.
Listen to – Shawn Walker
Ending his reign of Ã¢â‚¬Å“DefendingÃ¢â‚¬Â SBS Track Champion, Kevin Knopp kept a low profile Saturday night. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s looking forward to Classic Weekend and a whole lot of time away from racing come 2010.
Listen to – Kevin Knopp
Brown, Schartner and Gruel collected heat race wins.
20-Lap Oswego Quality Carpet/Chris Nelson Insurance Feature No. 1:
1. Dave Gruel (50), 2. Russ Brown (60), 3. Mike Bond (26), 4. Brian Sobus (79), 5. Andrew Schartner (18), 6. Rob Pullen (25), 7. Steve Abt (85), 8. Shawn Walker (68), 9. Tim Barbeau (58), 10. Barry Kingsley (23), 11. Dave Danzer (52), 12. Jack Patrick (9), 13. Ken Pierce (67), 14. Bryan Haynes (86), 15. Chip Wood (2), 16. Mark Regan (4), 17. David Cliff (06), 18. Nick Demling (36), 19. Stan Gates (28), 20. Sammy Reakes, IV (10), 21. Kevin Knopp (04), 22. Jason Simmons (91)
20-Lap Oswego Quality Carpet/Chris Nelson Insurance Feature No. 2:
1. Dave Gruel (50), 2. Mike Bond (26), 3. Russ Brown (60), 4. Andrew Schartner (18), 5. Shawn Walker (68), 6. Rob Pullen (25), 7. Steve Abt (85), 8. Dave Danzer (52), 9. Tim Barbeau (58), 10. David Cliff (36), 11. Stan Gates (28), 12. Barry Kingsley (23), 13. Mark Regan (4), 14. Nick Demling (06), 15. Bryan Haynes (86), 16. Chip Wood (2), 17. Sammy Reakes, IV (10), 18. Ken Pierce (67), 19. Kevin Knopp (04), 20. Brian Sobus (79), 21. Jack Patrick (9)
TOP 20 Hoosier/PowerAde/Pathfinder Bank SBS FINAL Points Standings:
1. Dave Gruel (1,195), 2. Russ Brown (1,178), 3. Mike Bond (1,143), 4. Brian Sobus (1,070), 5. Andrew Schartner (1,022), 6. Tim Barbeau (1,019), 7. David Cliff (1,015), 8. Kevin Knopp (1,013), 9. Rob Pullen (993), 10. Steve Abt (958), 11. Dave Danzer (942), 12. Jack Patrick (929), 13. Jason Simmons (895), 14. Barry Kingsley (894), 15. Stan Gates (831), 16. Chip Wood (815), 17. Shawn Walker (803), 18. Guard Nearbin (737), 19. Bryan Haynes (585), 20. Mark Castiglia (90)