Shortly after the Legends finished up their event, the NEO Racing News SK Shootout Series also hit the track last Monday night at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. With the first four races of the season complete, and a 100-lap event on tap for the night, Bill Martin would look to hold onto his points lead in the division, and thats just what he would do.
Martin started off his night by picking up the pole, and would lead the field to the green flag, with James Linkiewicz starting alongside him on the front row. Martin got the jump from the bottom lane into the lead, with Linkiewicz staying in line behind him. Cody Kelley started 3rd on the inside row but would have to fall back to 4th as Parker Traves would use the outside lane to get by him. A common theme at Thompson, the outside lane would be the preferred line throughout the race, which made the inside lane tough to pass on.
After a pair of early cautions, Martin would lead the field back to the lap 13 where he quickly pulled out in front again. Linkiewicz would hold onto the 2nd spot, with Kelley sliding up in behind him for 3rd. It would take a few laps for Kelley to close the gap but he would pull back up to the bumper of Linkiewicz for the 2nd spot, before Linkiewicz decided to let him by on lap 20 by moving to the inside down the backstretch. By that time, Martin’s lead out front had grown out to over a second, and he would continue to pull away as the run went on.
Just outside the top three, TJ Graves found himself running up in the 4th spot and was trying to track down the cars in front of him, with Colin Allman running not too far behind him in 5th. Keeping pace with the cars in front of him, Matt Rolfe was running in the 6th position. Over a second behind Rolfe, Ryan Beagle had settled into 7th after just picking up the Legends win earlier in the evening, with newcomer Raymond Emmons running in 8th. Cody Leland began to fall back a little bit but held the 9th position during the course of the run, while Anthony Celentano closed in on him while running in the 10th spot. Emmons would eventually get by Beagle for 7th, and Celetano would get by Leland for 9th, and thats where the top ten would run until the next caution would come out on lap 41 for a single car spin.
During the caution, Graves would be the first driver to being his car down pit road, while most of the field from 6th on back would join him. But Martin, Kelley, Linkiewicz, and Allman would stay out, joined by Emmons in the top five for the restart.
Martin jumped ahead into the lead once more, and the outside lane was the place to be in for the restart, as both Linkiewicz and Emmons would have trouble getting going on the inside as they both dropped outside of the top five by the time they fell back in line. Kelley was able to hang onto 2nd with Allman following him up the outside, with Traves and Graves joining them in the top five as the looked to track down Martin in the lead.
Martin was able to pull out to a sizable lead once more over Kelley, but both drivers were able to separate themselves from the pack as the rest of the top ten looked content to ride where they were. The field remained single file during the course of the run, with none daring to attempt a pass on the inside groove with the fear of getting shuffled back on the bottom. But the next caution would come out on lap 61 and would bunch the field back up once more.
The way things had gone up to this point, if anyone was going to have a shot at Martin, they were going to need to get a good restart along side him to hold him down. But Martin would get a good restart once more and was clear into the lead heading into turn one on the lap 65 restart.
The field set out on another lengthy run with Martin continuing to extend the gap for the lead out front. Kelley held pace for a few laps before falling back a little bit, with Traves not too far behind holding pace in 3rd. Allman was able to get back in line in 4th, while Linkiewicz was able to move back up into the top five on the restart. That was until lap 71 when Linkiewicz got loose, and had to save his car towards the infield. He was able to get things under control, but would fall back outside of the top ten, before having more issues on lap 84 when his car would get loose once more. This time he couldn’t save it which brought out the next caution.
With about 10 laps remaining in the race on the restart, things would get dicey throughout the field as drivers looked to gain positions. Martin would take the green on the lap 90 restart, but an incident just outside the top five collected a couple of cars, taking them out of contention. Then the field had one more shot at the restart, and one more shot at Martin, but he would jump out into the lead on lap 96, and with just two laps to go, the final caution of the race would come out further back in the pack, which sealed the victory for Martin out front.
Martin would bring the field around under the checkered and yellow flags, and would take the victory after dominating the event and leading all 100 laps. The win would be Martin’s 21st career SARA victory. Kelley was able to hang onto the 2nd spot, with Traves, Allman, and Graves all securing their top five runs at the finish.
With the victory, Bill Martin extends his points lead out to 77 points in the standings with just three races remaining in the season. This upcoming week the SK Mods will be off, but will return in two weeks with their next event at Lucas Oil Raceway.