Topeka, Kan. - - In the opening round of the Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., had an easy win light over John Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, who fell way off from his qualifying time. ...
Topeka, Kan. - - In the opening round of the Advance Auto Parts Nationals at Heartland Park Topeka, Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., had an easy win light over John Coughlin, from Columbus, Ohio, who fell way off from his qualifying time. Gracia had switched lanes just prior to the run. Teammate Bob Panella, from Stockton, Calif., took the measure of Brian Self, from Spring, Texas, by a .107 second margin of victory.
Team Panella continue to march forward in the quaterfinals, but not without some tense seconds. Against Taylor Lastor, from Austin, Texas, Panella's Chevy S-10 edged Lastor's Chevy S-10 by a scant .0023 seconds - - approximately 7 inches. Gracia advanced to the semifinals by virtue of a foul by Scott Perin, from Pen Argyle, Penn. Perin red-lighted away any chance at a win.
Fortunes for Team Panella turned sour in the semifinal round with both Panella and Gracia making an exit from the Advance Auto Parts Nationals. Panella lost to rival Randy Daniels, from Grantsboro, N.C.. Daniels takes over the Winston Pro Stock Truck lead, while Panella continues to hold onto second. Gracia was defeated by Don Smith, from Keller, Texas. Smith, 59, is the oldest driver on the Pro Stock Truck circuit. Gracia remains fourth in the point chase.
"We got rushed due to a lack of time between rounds. We had less time than we thought we had. As a result we failed to connect the gas overflow hoses (slosh tubes) on the carburetors. After the start it missed all the way through low gear. That's all she wrote," reflected Panella on his lost to Randy Daniels. "It made the motor miss, then cleaned itself up and then the Chevy S-10 ran fine. By then it was to late. We'll come back and get them next week."
Gracia added, "Don Smith had one of the fastest trucks, but if I would have done a better job on the starting line it might have been closer. The driver didn't do his job."
The next event for Team Panella is the Lucas Oil Products Nationals at Route 66 Raceway in Joliet, Ill., just outside Chicago. The event is being contested May 31 through June 3, with professional qualifying scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Final eliminations for all pro classes begin on Sunday, June 3.