By – Chris Porter
NEWS FLASH! Dave Gruel did NOT win his heat race. Why? My best guess is that it was because he was running in heat race No. 2. Gruel had yet to even start in the second heat race this season. He probably didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what to do. His second-place finish to Steve Abt (AbtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first win, by the way) broke a five-race winning streak.
Having held the points lead all season, Gruel finds himself stumbling into the final weekend. Are the nerves of him closing in on his first track championship beginning to take their toll? Probably not. Having a little more patience to make the pass couldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve helped avoid the backstretch accident two weeks ago, but having the motor go while leading last weekÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s feature had nothing to do with being nervous. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just been an unfortunate streak of bad luck Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ at the wrong time.
Having posted his worst finishes of the year these last two weeks (15th & 17th), Gruel holds a slim 1 point advantage over Ã¢â‚¬Å“Mr. Third Place,Ã¢â‚¬Â Russ Brown.
Gruel may have won the first three races of the season, but since then, Brown has finished better than him in every single feature event. Brown has scored a podium finish in nine of the 10 races this season. Why then has Brown not overtaken Gruel in the points chase? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simple – while Brown scored his first heat race win last weekend, Gruel has racked up five since week No. 4, for a season-total of seven. I said it earlier in the season – heat races are extremely important when running for a track championship.
BrownÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finishes – 3rd, 3rd, 21st, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd and 3rd. GruelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finishes – 1st, 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd, 4th, 3rd, 8th, 15th & 17th.
If Brown wants the title, heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to have to pass Gruel. Gruel will have the better of the two handicaps for the first feature and passing the No. 50 car has been a rarity this season. Though, it would be interesting to see both drivers racing in the same qualifier, the chances of it happening are pretty slim. Brown will need to push the limits in his heat race because chances are, Gruel will win his.
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget about Mike Bond this weekend. Bond sits just 33 points in back of the leader and has captured two checkered flags this season. BondÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest challenge isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t gaining points on Gruel, but gaining points on Gruel AND Brown. A best-case scenario for him would be for the two points leaders to let their desire to beat one another overtake their abilities if dueling for position. The best things Bond has going for him is that he should be the most relaxed of all three drivers. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been in this situation before, but sits just far enough back in points to where he shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel as pressured. Bond can just do his thing and see where it takes him.
If there would be one good thing about either Gruel or Brown running into problems this weekend, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s that both drivers have highly skilled crews that know what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re doing as much as they know whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s at stake. Both have prepped outstanding cars for their drivers all season.
How will the other drivers react when seeing the bumpers of the title-contending cars this weekend? Will they see them as any other driver and race them just as hard? Or, will they drive a little differently, either taking the route of being more aggressive or the route of avoidance. Nobody wants to be Ã¢â‚¬Å“the guyÃ¢â‚¬Â that cost someone the track championship.
Regardless of who earns the title this weekend, let it be known and well respected that the small block supermodified division is very fortunate to have two absolutely phenomenal chassis building operations. Both have only made the other better by their weekly quests to be the very best. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve built race cars that their drivers have been proud to compete with. Their pilots are some of the most loyal shoes in any division. Congratulations to both Ray Hedger and the entire FFB Racing Chassis gang. YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve both done the series a great service.