4.23: Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown
South Boston, VA – So I waited around on purpose to write this story on our trip to the 2015 Denny Hamlin Short Short Track Showdown. Waiting to see if NASCAR would make a statement or access any penalties to teams/drivers after what happened well after the checkered flag. With Tuesday is usually penalty day in our sport, but I have not seen any so the show must go on.
For the second year in a row the star-studded race was held at one of America’s premier short track on the east coast if not in the country, South Boston Speedway. Just over 40 Late Model drivers took the trip for the 8th annual charity race raising money for cystic fibrosis. Charity race or not, this was no walk in the park boy let me tell ya what!
Throughout the heat of the day William Byron – coming off of a K&N Pro Series East win at Greenville Pickens – kept his #91 Liberty University machine at the top of the speed charts beating out names like Denny Hamlin, Timothy Peters, Lee Pulliam! Not saying those names were not fast in practice, every one of those drivers posted a time at least in the top ten between first and second practice.
Byron was able to carry some of that speed over during the euro style qualifying session has he posted the third fastest time behind the likes of Timothy Peters (15.752 – 91.417 MPH) and Denny Hamlin. Josh Berry & Peyton Sellers would round out the most meaningless top five ever as the heat races were what set your starting position for the feature. I know I’m just the little guy here but I feel the front two positions, if you are going to run qualifying races, should be locked in on time, they deserve it! Peters, Sellers and Thaxton (all SoBo regulars if I may point out) won their heat races, which granted them the right to the top three starting positions. William Byron would start ninth while Josh Berry rolled off thirty-third, after running into issues with Lee Pulliam in their heat race.
It did not take long for things to heat up on the track, shoot things got pretty wild in the heat races to set the feature. What do you expect though when you have some of the best driver on the east coast, all going after $10,000 and a trophy presented to you by Denny Hamlin… I would expect things to get pretty crazy.
To adapt a quote from a famous philosopher “with great responsibility comes great power,” the same goes true on the race track I’m going to put it out there – “With great car counts come great big wrecks!” It did not take long to wad some cars, unfortunately either some drivers get to excited for the green or figure they need to hurry up on through the field because 200 laps isn’t enough time to methodically work there way through the field! Either way Kyle Plott, Travis Swaim, and Brayton Haws were the unfortunate ones to find trouble first.
Minus the ten cautions and two red flag periods the whole race saw racing from the front to the back! Don’t get me wrong it was pretty clear the #17 car was the dominant ride once the sun set and the race went green. Peters lead 171 of the 200 scheduled laps. Lee Pulliam and Matt Bowling – last year’s winner, were the only two other drivers to get a crack at the lead. However, don’t let the lack of lead changes make you think there was not enough fighting for position. Of course there were times when the leader got in clean air they were gone, but really that can be expected at any level of racing.
Some disappointing moments through out the race in my opinion, first when Hamlin had to pull his machine down pit road and ultimately behind the wall. You never want to see the one putting on the race run into troubles but the team did cite having some electrical issues under the hood. Moments before Hamlin pulled down pit road you could certainly hear that the motor just wasn’t right.
Second disappointing moment for us was when the #0 of Matt Waltz was pinched down out of four and sent nose first into the inside wall. Earning a solid starting position after the heat race Waltz took the green flag just shy of the top ten and was a man on a mission. Passing NASCAR stars like Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliot on the outside like they were standing still. Dropping down to the line to pick off two more cars on the bottom… all within a lap and a half. The steering wheel holder for the #0 Waltz Engineered machine was making moves for sure; I feel he could have had something for the leaders at the end.
Add in a few more wrecks and some more torn up race cars we some how made it to lap 150 where the teams were given a fifteen minute break to refuel – both driver and car, make adjustments, and change up to four tires! Yes that’s right you could change out all four of your Hoosier racing slick for brand new ones, essentially creating a brand new, 50-lap dash for the cash! Looking up and down pit road from the press box it looked as if every team did just that!
When it was time to go back racing the field was again presented with the difficult choice… Take the cone? Or not? Peters was first up to bat as he was scored as your leader, he would choice to stay on the bottom half of the track. Pulliam would elect the high side, as I believe he was just doing the opposite of what the seventeen car would do.
Either way it did not help the #5 car – Peters would clear the field and begin his journey into a whole new zip code it seemed! With Pulliam having to settle for second, and I say settle very lightly as Bowling, Berry and Sellers (who spun his car out prior to the break and caught back up) were all applying pressure for that second spot on the track. That high speed shoot out would have to be put on hold however as the yellow flag waved with about thirty laps to go, Austin Thaxton’s machine would be sent spinning off the nose of Josh Berry – mind you this is the second time Berry’s nose has found a quarter panel of another driver.
After a quick caution Peters again was able to get a great restart and leave the rest of the field to fight it out for themselves. Bowling and Peters would go door-to-door for a bit but the #83 car would hold onto the second spot leaving Pulliam to third. As the laps wound down the top three… eventually the top four would group for some of the best racing you will see all year in my opinion. Bowling made the pass on Peters first to take over the top spot until Pulliam could mount a run to take credit for a few laps himself. All of that would come to a screeching halt when the yellow flag waved again, the culprit – heavy smoke from the #9 of Chase Elliot.
Of course this late in the race the old saying proves to be pretty damn true – cautions breed cautions and that they did. After quite a few attempts to restart the race we just could not do it, Bowling had a hand in calling off the green flag when his car came to a stop out of no where. When the field did get the green flag, which should have been the last restart, we had another huge wreck into three! Several cars were taken out of competition here causing yet another restart.
After cleanup was complete the field was given one more shot at a green-white-checkered finish. With Pulliam your control car at this juncture he would choose the lower line, forcing Peters to the high side. The green flag was displayed to the field and it was as if the gloves had come off. Pulliam had just the slightest advantage coming to the white flag but that would all be wiped away off four coming the checkered. Trying to make a little something out of a lot of nothing Josh Berry dove his #88 Speedco machine way to deep into three running into the left rear quarter panel of Pulliam sending him around, creating a complete mess out of four and allowing for Peters to driver by on the outside to grab the win! Because of the cars sliding all over the place this allowed for William Byron and Mark Wertz – who were slated for sixth place or worse finish – to move into the second and third spots as they crossed the line!
Wertz Battles Back To Grab Podium Finish In The Denny Hamlin Showdown
Poquoson, VA – Better late than never is a saying that my mother always used to tell me growing up, and its something that I can relate to Mark Wertz’s performance at this years edition of the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. Not to mention growing up I heard a lot of “never say never” or “don’t give up on something so easy.” Something that goes hand in hand with on of our awards we like to honor a hand-selected drive during our Touring Series events. The Weekly Racer Hard Charger Award is given to a driver who decided to not give up when the odds were not in their favor. Its given to the driver who gives it their all no matter what. A driver who essentially makes something out of nothing.
After running into some, well lets call it issues, during the first heat race, Mark Wertz was presented with the awesome job of starting shotgun on the field. Yup, that’s right Mark Wertz had to start thirty-sixth out of a thirty-six car field. Certainty not what he and his crew were expecting. During the test session the day before Wertz hung around the top ten all day in practice where more than thirty cars took time. “When we took off in that heat race there was a wreck in front of us that we just couldn’t miss,” Wertz told The Weekly Racer. “Luckily we were able to make the field and were able to make some adjustments when we could and when the green flag finally dropped the car was steadily moving forward.”
Come to find out the pitman arm ended up getting bent during after Wertz cars collided with the other. Not being able to change any hard parts on the car after qualifying the only other option was to adjust the toe to compensate. Wertz was able to steadily pick off positions while working his way to the lap 150 break where teams would be able to not only make more adjustments to the car, and change all four tires. “By half way we were like fifteenth or sixteenth just picking our battles,” Wertz said. “We just had to be patient and pick our battles and it worked out, we had a little luck and a lot of good things happen!”
With a little bit of luck and a whole lot of perseverance, Wertz was able to put himself in a position to be there in the end. After a few late race yellow flags, you could all but guarantee a top ten finish for Wertz until we had the big one! As the field was coming out of four to the checkered flag the leaders went wrecking. Wertz was able to work his way through the carnage and come home with a third place finish! “I saw a bunch of cars and a bunch of smoke but we were coming to the checkers,” Wertz told me. “I gassed her up and just tried to get through there, and here we are with a third place finish.”
After gaining thirty-three spots on the night in a field stacked with some of the best late model drivers, not to mention the cup drivers in attendance, you can see why Mark Wertz is the hands down winner of the Hard Charger. Wertz will be focusing on a track championship this year at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, with the occasional trip out of town to hunt for some trophies.