Wheeler Wins Third of the Season, Recaptures O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series Points Lead BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 3, 2005) -- Racing can certainly be an up-and-down sport that plays havoc with a driver's emotions. Chad Wheeler, a former NCRA...
Wheeler Wins Third of the Season, Recaptures O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series Points Lead
BELLEVILLE, Kan. (July 3, 2005) -- Racing can certainly be an up-and-down sport that plays havoc with a driver's emotions.
Chad Wheeler, a former NCRA Modified rookie of the year, had been the points leader since winning the first race of the season. After losing that lead on Saturday to Brian Franz, the two-time defending series champion, Chad Wheeler was definitely down -- but not out.
Wheeler was much more upbeat heading into Sunday's show on the famous Belleville High Banks, having put things into perspective.
"I got a good night's sleep Saturday and when I woke up I realized today was another day with another race to run," he said.
As dramatic as was his mood change, so was his performance. Wheeler charged to the front early and never looked back until he took the checker, leap-frogging over Franz to recapture the points lead in the O'Reilly/NCRA Modified Series presented by Hoosier Racing Tires.
A big part of Saturday's dismal performance was Wheeler's starting position in the feature. He was second in Saturday's B and started the A in 16th. He just couldn't get untracked and only moved up a couple of spots at the finish.
But Sunday was a much different story all the way around. Wheeler easily won his heat from the outside of row two and started the A feature on the outside of the second row, right behind Franz.
Drivers say the key to winning at Belleville is getting out front quickly. Because it's such a high-speed track -- arguably the fastest half-mile track in the world -- it's tough to pass.
With 24 drivers wanting to get out front quickly, pole sitter Jason Friesen led the field to the green and stayed low going into turn one. Franz, who had successfully run a middle groove Saturday at 81 Speedway in moving from fourth to first, stayed to Friesen's outside.
Wheeler gassed his racecar and made a banzai move to the outside, passing both Franz and Friesen to take the lead coming out of turn two.
"I've watched Franz a lot and I know right before he's about to take off," Wheeler said. "I knew if I timed it right I could get up above him. I just hit it right."
Once in front, Wheeler and built a comfortable margin. Friesen stayed with him for a couple of laps but Wheeler was too much for everyone tonight.
Friesen settled into second with Franz third, while Marc Robe and Dave Hardesty rounded out the early top five. They ran in that order for most of the race.
The only caution came on lap 14 for a spinning Scott Green. On that same lap Franz retired to the infield with engine problems, ending his chance of maintaining the points lead he had taken for the first time this year just the night before.
Wheeler easily pulled away on the restart and coasted the final six laps to victory, with Friesen finishing second.
"We both had good racecars," Friesen said. "It would have been interesting if I had been in front of him because this place is so fast it's tough to pass when you've got two fast cars.
Wheeler agreed, saying, "You got to be way, way faster than anybody to get around them here."
Behind the leaders a battle was shaping up for third place. Robe inherited that position when Franz retired on lap 14, with Jon Thompson right behind in fourth. On the restart Thompson turned up the pressure on Robe and took third from him on lap 15.
Thompson held Robe at bay the final few laps and finished third, after starting the feature ninth. Robe came home fourth with Shannon Gilchrist in fifth.
Although there were a lot of fast racecars here tonight, the key to Wheeler's win was the move he made to start the race.
"There was a 20% chance the car would stick above the cushion and I wanted to take that chance, because you're going to have to get out front fast," he said. "It's so hard to race with people at Belleville because of the speeds."
After the race, Friesen was still trying to figure out how Wheeler got around him so quickly.
"I thought I was going to get by Franz (for the lead) but when I went into the corner, here's Wheeler going by like a rocket," he said. "He had something more than we did, that's for sure."
Friesen has had a rocky season so far but this was a good weekend for him. He finished sixth at 81 Speedway and second tonight. Jason entered the weekend standing 17th in season points but goes home in the top 10.
"We've done nothing but struggle this year," he said. "To get out of here with a second place finish we're not going to complain."
Franz had won the last two races and was feeling better about his program before his night ended prematurely with a seized cylinder.
"This is the same thing that happened before," said a dejected Franz. "It's particularly frustrating because we don't know what causes it."
At the opposite end of the pits -- and the emotional spectrum -- an exuberant Wheeler was just enjoying the moment. It was his third win of the season but because it's Belleville, it was special. He's been coming to this track for several years from his home in Muskogee, Okla., to race and to watch the NCRA modifieds.
"It's hard to keep your emotions underneath," he said. "I've always wanted to win Belleville more than any dirt modified race I've ever been to because of the atmosphere and how the town is. And when you first roll in here and see the racetrack, it's unbelievable."
"It was just a great night; I couldn't ask for anything more."
Cherokee Casino & Resort Heat #1 (6 laps):
1. Jason Friesen, Sutton, Neb.; 2. Joe Cleveland, Bennington, Kan.; 3. Conner Ward, Wichita, Kan.; 4. Troy Johnson; 5. Brian McGowen, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Darren Moses, Valley Center, Kan.; 7. Jason Schniepp, Wichita, Kan.; 8. Sam Brittendahl, Salina, Kan.
Cherokee Casino & Resort Heat #2 (6 laps):
1. Brian Franz, Newton, Kan.; 2. Jon Thompson, Superior, Neb.; 3. Shannon Gilchrist, Derby, Kan.; 4. Greg Stephens, Wichita, Kan.; 5. Jason Roe, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Dustin Briley, Goddard, Kan.; 7. Brian Powers, Wichita, Kan.; 8. Jarrod Johnston, Concordia, Kan.
Cherokee Casino & Resort Heat #3 (6 laps):
1. Marc Robe, Wichita, Kan.; 2. Dave Hardesty, Minneapolis, Kan.; 3. Alan Dix, Stockton, Kan.; 4. Kurt Johnston, Concordia, Kan.; 5. Steve Burch, Junction City, Kan.; 6. Marty Curry, Haysville, Kan.; 7. Robert Shepard, ; 8. Don Densberger.
Cherokee Casino & Resort Heat #4 (6 laps):
1. Chad Wheeler, Muskogee, Okla.; 2. Scott Green, Derby, Kan.; 3. Brent Burkhart, Hutchinson, Kan.; 4. Brandon Blochlinger, Concordia, Kan.; 5. Marc Hurd, Wichita, Kan.; 6. Dustin Huehl, Salina, Kan.; 7. Travis Govern, Wichita, Kan.
B feature (12 laps -- top 10 transfer):
1. Troy Johnson; 2. Kurt Johnston; 3. Marc Hurd; 4. Steve Burch; 5. Dustin Briley; 6. Brian McGowen; 7. Darren Moses; 8. Jason Schniepp; 9. Jason Roe; 10. Justin Huehl; 11. Robert Shepard; 12. Marty Curry; 13. Don Densberger; 14. Sam Brittendahl; 15. Brian Powers; 16. Travis Govern.
A feature (25 laps):
1. Chad Wheeler; 2. Jason Friesen; 3. Jon Thompson; 4. Marc Robe; 5. Shannon Gilchrist; 6. Greg Stephens; 7. Brent Burkhart; 8. Joe Cleveland; 9. Brandon Blochlinger; 10. Kurt Johnston; 11. Conner Ward; 12. Brian McGowen; 13. Dustin Briley; 14. Jason Schniepp; 15. Troy Johnson; 16. Scott Green; 17. Marc Hurd; 18. Darren Moses; 19. Dustin Huehl; 20. Alan Dix; 21. Brian Franz; 22. Dave Hardesty; 23. Jason Roe; 24. Steve Burch.