By – Chris Porter
First and foremost, congratulations to Stan Gates on his first small block supermodified victory. Not only was it the first top-five finish for the No. 28 car in 2009, it was StanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first top 10 of the year! Bleeding Ford blue, Gates is also the only driver other than Lou LeVea to have won an SBS feature driving a Big Dog Chassis. It was multi-facet win – a win for Stan Gates the driver, a win for Ford, a win for Big Dog Chassis and a win for the underdogs who try to at least put themselves in position at the end. It was a refreshing positive in an evening filled with on and off-the-track negatives.
Congratulations to Guard Nearbin on his fourth-place feature finish. Nearbin mentioned that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d forgotten that heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d once scored a top-five a few years ago, but was reminded in the midst of his celebration on Saturday night. Nearbin has landed four top-10Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s this season. Perseverance, perseverance! It was another perfect example of putting yourself in the right position Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ week in and week out. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also another testament to how competitive the SBS division continues to be. 18 different drivers have scored a top-10 finish in 2009. With race nights only averaging between 20 to 22 cars, there arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t very many freebies anymore.
The championship points lead is not the only category that Dave Gruel is leading the SBS division in this season. His six heat victories and three feature wins put him atop the field there as well. In addition to that, Gruel has led 129 feature laps this season – thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just over half of every lap run. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also tied with Brian Sobus with being one of only two drivers to have finished in the top 10 every night.
The only main category Gruel isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t on top of is with top-five finishes. Russ Brown has racked up seven this season. If not for a hiccup on June 6, Brown could very well have scored a podium finish in every race this year. Of the eight races to date, Brown has finished in third place SIX TIMES. His other top-five run came a few weeks ago, finishing second to David Cliff. Yet, Brown sits third in the title hunt, 51 points out of the lead.
Is the points championship out of reach? After speaking with many drivers after the feature event a few weeks ago, the answer to that question had started to favor the current points leader. However, none of the top three are ready to hand out the award just yet. Gruel has never held back about gunning for his first track championship for many seasons now. He holds a 37-point lead in the standings and with experienced, decorated SBS vets Mike Bond and Brown running second and third, it will be anything but a cake walk.
So how has Gruel been able to hold on to his points lead for so long? HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s knocked down heat race wins night after night. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re often overlooked as many drivers will tend to lay back a bit, saving their car and tires for the feature. Gruel is not one to hold anything back. If Bond, Brown and perhaps Cliff, want to run down Gruel, with out some bad luck for the No. 50 car in the feature, heat races will play a key role.
Andrew Schartner has made great improvements since the beginning of the season. Schartner was well on his way to a solid top-five run until a distributor went sour mid-way through the feature. Schartner has all but taken the official honors of receiving the 2009 Oswego Speedway SBS Rookie of the Year (ROY) award, holding a 200-point lead over his nearest challenger.
Other than making steady improvements each week, something else the Crow Motorsports team should gun for is to defeat Steve Abt in the points race. Due to a technicality issue early in the season, Abt lost his rookie status, thus opening the door for Schartner. However, in all fairness, 2009 is AbtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first full season. If he were to have started at the tail-end of the field the first few weeks of the season rather than have been given a regular handicap, he would be considered a ROY candidate.
Currently, Abt holds a slim 10-point lead over his fellow rookie racer. He too, has shown great improvement over the season. Both drivers have often found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – each getting caught up in the mishaps of others. It should be a fun, Ã¢â‚¬Å“off the recordÃ¢â‚¬Â battle to the end.
Come on out and support the NORA small block supers on Thursday night at the Oswego Speedway. It’s been dubbed the “Andrews Auto Sales & Lakeside Racing News SBS 30.” A big thanks goes out to USAC, Oswego management and NORA’s top brass for putting this together in such short time. It’s a very impressive purse for the small blocks. A good show might make for a good building block for something even bigger in 2010?
WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll go with Jack PatrickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s CAR for Thursday nightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s NORA show. So impressed with how shiny PatrickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mopar-powered No. 9 is, Kasey Kahne will hop into the cockpit of the small block super and bring Jack his second win Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ as a car OWNER.
As for Saturday night, your top five will be Bond, Knopp, Brown, Cliff and Schartner.