Tuesday Top Ten -- The O'Reilly ASCoT Contenders TULSA, Okla. (February 27, 2007) -- With the O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National season opener logged into the books a month ago at Tampa's East Bay Raceway Park and a...
Tuesday Top Ten -- The O'Reilly ASCoT Contenders
TULSA, Okla. (February 27, 2007) -- With the O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour National season opener logged into the books a month ago at Tampa's East Bay Raceway Park and a pair of Spring Nationals showcases coming up at Devil's Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, TX, on March 16-17 and Oklahoma City's State Fair Speedway on March 23-24, it's time to take a look at the series championship contenders.
And what better way than pulling Tuesday's Top Ten off the respirators, back in action after a federally mandated hiatus.
Changing things up, in order after the East Bay opener, an early look at the O'Reilly ASCoT championship contenders is as follows...
1. Gary Wright (147 points) -- "The Texan" reversed a lackluster East Bay outing in 2006 by posting a dominant Florida performance in 2007, snaring a January 25 prelim win and then wiring the field in the $10,000 to win January 27 40-lap finale after a third-place podium showing on January 26.
And it was all done with the aid of a three-man crew, of which the youngest member was a spry 70-year-old. The other two were 74 and 84. These ol' chaps calculated everything to perfection, putting just enough fuel in the bladder to get Gary across the line on fumes and still make weight. Gary's father, Grady Wright, had quipped earlier in the week that, "Over the years I've crew chiefed this kid (48-year-old Gary) to more wins than the rest of the crew chiefs here combined." And even with 74 other entries, who could really argue?
With the win, Wright escaped Florida with 147 points, a 37-point improvement over last year as he shunned the notion of retirement in search of a fourth consecutive ASCS National championship and that $50,000 Happy Gilmore check (and the real one) that goes along with it.
2. Wayne Johnson (118 points) -- The ASCS National champion in 2000 that has spent the better part of the last several seasons giving fits to the Knoxville, Iowa, contingent made the trek to Florida with no certain plans for 2007.
But, enticed by a $150,000 point fund that includes $10,000 or more for fifth or better ($50,000, $25,000, $17,500, $12,500 and $10,000) and encouraged by a strong performance aboard the H&H Enterprises No. 94 entry, the Mustang, OK, native will now make a bid for a second ASCS National Title this year with Mississippi car owners Mike and Tim Hammers.
Wayne finished a close second in the opener before finishing ninth in the second prelim. Credited with a 16th place showing in the finale, Wayne left Florida just 30 markers behind Wright and tacked on a close runner-up showing to Marshall Skinner in the February 10 Rebel vs. Coastal Region debut at Deep South Speedway in Loxley, AL, just for good measure.
3. Darren Stewart (115 points) -- Honeymoonin' on the Highway in 2007 after getting hitched in the off-season, the talented younger Stewart brother is anxious to shake off a 2006 season plagued by misfortune of all variety.
This campaign got off to a shaky start though, when a late-night highway accident in Georgia left the Bobby Sparks-owned team with a totaled tow truck en route to Florida. After getting another truck to finish the journey, Darren finished 14th in the opener then claimed fifth in the Friday prelim to lock into Saturday's finale.
The 24-year-old was moving forward in the early stages of the $10,000-to-win finale before the engine started going south. Stewart was eventually credited with 17th after a rod exited out the side of the engine block just four laps shy of the checkered flag.
4. Travis Rilat (111 points) -- Making the Florida trek on a shoestring budget, when Rilat missed the opening night feature event it ended a streak of 30 consecutive feature starts in ASCS National Tour action, which was the series' second-longest active streak. Gary Wright holds the current mark of 122 consecutive feature starts, a series record that extends with each new feature start. Now, the second-longest active streak is shared by Darren Stewart and Jesse Hockett (both with six consecutive starts), although Hockett used three consecutive Florida provisionals to keep the six-race "streak" alive.
Rilat, the 2003 ASCS National Tour king, bounced back in strong fashion, seemingly on the way to victory lane in the Friday prelim only to finish second as a result of Terry McCarl's late-race heroics. Rilat wrapped up the weekend with a seventh-place showing in the finale.
Obtaining a truck and trailer to get down the road since Florida, Travis is still scrambling to put together the rest of the pieces to take on the full 2007 Tour.
5. Foster Landon (88 points) -- The 2006 COMP Cams ASCS National Tour Newcomer of the Year, the 23-year-old made the cut for both Thursday and Friday night features and has since opted to throw his hat into the ring for Brodix Rookie of the Year honors in 2007.
Posting a pair of top-ten American Bank of Oklahoma Sooner Region points finishes over the past several years, the hard-chargin' Okie has spread 61 career ASCS National Tour starts over the past seven years with a fourth-place run in last October's Devil's Bowl Winter Nationals preliminary feature event his best to date.
6. Jason Johnson (87 points) -- His Florida experience wasn't what the "Ragin' Cajun" was hoping for, but he still exited with 87 more points than he did last year when an extended Australian Tour forced his East Bay absence.
Determined to snare ASCS National honors in 2007 aboard Lanny Row's No. 41 machine after a stellar 2006 campaign that came up just 30 points short of the title, Johnson returned to Florida only to battle mechanical woes over the opening two nights that left him as a spectator by feature time.
Johnson bounced back with a strong run in the East Bay finale, putting the wraps on the weekend by racing from eighth to snare the show position.
To put things in perspective, Johnson spotted Gary Wright 110 points last year. This year, he only spotted "The Texan" 60 markers. But, it's a long road and there are some different players in the mix, so it's hard to say how that mix will come out in 2007.
7. Nick Smith (86 points) -- The 2006 Brodix Rookie of the Year, Smith started strong in Florida with a fourth-place showing in the opener. But, the 23-year-old was unable to overcome a pair of poor pill draws the next two nights and missed the cut both times.
Smith, who won a pair of ASCS National Tour events in 2006 including a precursor to this year's inaugural East Coast Nationals at Virginia Motor Speedway, did opt for a provisional in the Saturday night finale and responded with a strong drive from 26th to 12th. But, there were no 12th place points to go along with the finish, as in 2007 provisional starters earn only the extra finish money without getting the extra points.
8. Sean McClelland (71 points) -- Fighting bad draws the opening two nights, the 2005 ASCS Sooner Region champion made the cut for the $10,000-to-win finale and ultimately was credited with a 20th-place finish. Still a far cry better than last year's Tampa trip that sent the team home early after a wild crash with eventual Northern Plains champ Chuck Swenson (who charged from 20th to fifth this time around) left the team with a heap of junked parts.
9. Chris Schmelzle (60 points) -- The Canadian racer, set to vie for Rookie of the Year honors with the O'Reilly American Sprint Cars on Tour in 2007, showed some Florida flashes but couldn't quite make any Florida finales. An AST Pembina Cup Champ at Alberta's Rapidfire Motorsports Park last year, Schmelzle guns for his first ASCS National Tour feature start at Devil's Bowl Speedway.
10. The Wildcards -- At least three expected contenders were forced to miss the Florida opener, including Garry Lee Maier, Larry Neighbors and Trey Robb.
A virtually unmatched West Texas storm of ice and snow forced Maier's car owner Scott Brown, also the owner of Lubbock Wrecker Service, to stay home and tend to business. A death in the Leesekamp family kept Neighbors and car owner Roger Leesekamp at home. And family business matters kept 14-year-old Robb at home.
Each of these three, along with several other potential contenders, can still make their presence known when action fires back off in mid-March.
Three nights of O'Reilly ASCoT action down and another 47 or so to go.
Four overall nights of 2007 ASCS action in the books, with about another 235 events remaining. We've just barely broken through the ice....
That's it for Volume III, No. I, of TTT. As always, notes, comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.