Chris Johnson celebrating his victory at Dominion Raceway Sept. 24, 2016. (Justin Kern/TheWeeklyRacer.com)
Thornburg, VA – It was an all out blitz to say this least this past weekend at Dominion Speedway for veteran driver Chris Johnson. Entering the weekend just ten points behind Chris Humblet, Johnson needed everything to play in his favor; a win, some bonus points, and a slip up from Humblet. Fifty laps later, Chris Johnson found himself one factor short of clinching Dominion’s first ever Modified championship.
Johnson, trying to use the NASCAR points system to his advantage in gaining two additional bonus points from winning from tenth or worse, was actually able to go out and set the tenth fastest time of the sixteen car field. Jimmy Humblet was the nights pole award winner clocking a lap in at 15.690 (91.778 MPH). Jimmy, however, would actually hand the pole position over to his son and points leader by virtue of Dominion’s invert – Chris Humblet qualified sixth with a time of 15.898.
That seemed like it was just what Chris Humblet needed once the green flag was displayed in what ended up being a race of attrition. A few early cautions put an interesting spin on things as the field worked multiple restarts. One that saw Jimmy Humblet almost shoves Johnson into next week. The contact between the two ended up cutting a tire down on Humblet’s car – he had to go down pit road to the attention of his crew. To make matters worse for the #11 race control decided to penalize the driver one lap for aggressive driving.
When the race went back green Chris Humblet resumed the lead while Chris Johnson worked his way through the field. Making his way around the #48 of Balluzzo as well as Mike Johnson’s #38 machine before setting his sites on the second place car of Andrew Fortin. His efforts would be halted briefly after two engines expire within jut a few laps of each other. Balluzzo, who after the race learned a piston was the issue, was able to get his car down on the apron and off the track. Robert Conner on the other hand had his motor blow entering turn three which shot him to the outside wall.
The race was only slowed one more time from the spinning car of Wayne Hartley – not what Chris Humblet wanted to see but was exactly what Chris Johnson needed. With car restarts in effect at Dominion this set up a Humblet/Johnson front row with less than ten laps to go. When the green flag dropped the two sailed it off into turn one, Johnson looking to take the lead away on the outside and did within the lap and never looked back to take home the win in the season finale. Humblet was able to hold off a hard charging Andrew Fortin – who ended up having break issues on the final lap – there at the end to finish in the second position. Even with the extra bonus points Johnson earned it was not enough to take the championship. Great way to finish the season right? First and second place in points finishing one and two on the night in a tight points battle.
“We knew we had to start tenth or worse to get those two extra bonus points if we won the race tonight,” Johnson said in victory lane. “We felt our chances to win the championship was the best if we did start tenth or worse so that is why we did that. Had a little incident there on the first lap, it was a little scary there but its apart of racing.”
Johnson did have a bit of a moment as mentioned above with Jimmy Humblet during the race that could have potentially taken him out of the hunt they he calls just good hard racing.
“We got with the eleven there, he did everything he could to help his son do what he had to do,” Johnson said. “We got up underneath him clean and it was just racing. Hard racing you know. We had a couple cautions there that worked out in my favor.”
A few cautions late in the race might have been what helped with the victory tonight as it bunched the field up for one final restart where Johnson used the high banks and the outside to his advantage.
“I was just trying to save my car there for the end, 50-laps here with these cars is a fairly decent race,” Johnson explained “Chris was doing everything he could to stay in front of me and I was just trying to ride there and save my tires till we got that restart with eight to go. I knew it was time to put the hammer down and was glad we could come home with another win.”
2016 Dominion Raceway Modified Track Champion – Chris Humblet dives into turn three during practice just before the rains came in to cancel the evenings races. (Justin Kern/TheWeeklyRacer.com)
Though he may not have won the battle but Chris Humblet ended up winning the war. His second place finish on the night was just enough to hold of even the extra bonus points awarded to Chris Johnson to win his very first ever track championship.
“This has been a year of trials,” Humblet said about his championship season. “We showed up to the first two races and won those, ran a lot of seconds and thirds. We had some battles in the tech shed, cutting hairs, just little things. The team I got just drove me harder. Every time we changed something to get what they wanted it seemed like we were faster.”
Humblet, who just completed his fourth season in Modifieds, and anything with wheels as we told us, was also humble in admitting there were plenty of driver errors through out the season that made things difficult on the team but was very happy with the ability of the team to pick things back up.
“A lot of driver error seemed to hurt us in qualifying,” Humblet admitted. “Just mental errors on my part that would put us deep in the field like last race where we ended up getting taken out on the first lap. Its just a testament to the team, keeping up with two cars and being competitive all season, it was a lot of work.”
Chris Humblet, who spent the better portion of his Modified career running at Langley Speedway, a flat .395 mile oval, had to look else where this season when the track was unable to open over a land/lease dispute. Being able to travel to not only a new track and be completive, to also run a completely different tire we had to ask what adjustments, if any, were needed for this season.
“There wasn’t a big adjustment from Langley,” said Humblet. “I was able to be a little more consistent here. I feel it suited my driving style a little better. We didn’t really notice a difference in the tires. We tested back here in December with a Hoosier and I couldn’t really tell a difference. This track has just been a learning curve in general. Its just crazy fast and you have to drive it like no where else.”
Humblet eluded to bringing both cars back for the 2017 season as well as maybe looking to get some funding together to run Southern National’s annual Thanksgiving race as well as looking at some of the bigger races into the winter including the Snowball Derby down at Five Flags Speedway.
1.#36 Chris Johnson; 50
2. #20 Chris Humblet; 50
3. #51 Bubba Johnston; 50
4. #15 Andrew Fortin; 50
5. #38 Michael Johnson; 50
6. #5 Tony Folwer; 50
7. #1 Donnie Holston; 50
8. #00 Tyler Davis; 50
9. #37 Wayne Hartley; 50
10. #8 Mike Rudy; 50
11. #73 Paul Ellis: 50
12. #2 Eric Fowlkes; 49
13. #11 Jimmy Humblet; 48
14. #12 Robert Conner; 20
15. #48 Shawn Balluzzo; 18
16. #66 Tanner Aman; 1