The championship points and the Triple Crown points are both all tied atop the standings after Wednesday night’s MRolfeDesigns Pro Late Model Series 85-lap feature event at Phoenix.
The night got started with Scott Schrader picking up his second straight pole in the division, setting a new track record at 29.315 seconds. The track record was the 11th new PLM record set this season. The top ten cars from Time Trials advanced into the Qualifying Dash, and a full 10 car invert sent Schrader back in the field while Daniel Potts was inverted to the front. Potts led the first few laps, but it was Josh Hart that took the lead with a couple laps to go and picked up the Dash win.
In the feature event, Potts led the field to the green flag and led the first 8 laps before getting loose out of turn two and loosing control. This gave the lead over to Darrell Hamlin, who looked to have the car to beat and controlled things up front for most of the race as he held off the pack during the first few runs. A lap 34 caution brought the first couple of cars down pit road as the pit strategy began to take place. After the restart, the field set off on a 40-lap green flag run which introduced a lot of comers and goers as the race went on.
By lap 65, Windell Stratton began to pose the first real threat to Hamlin’s lead out front, and he was able to get by for the top spot just a few laps later. But as those two cars battled, it allowed Tom Wetmore and a couple of the drivers that had taken tires on the early pit stop like TJ Hays and Josh Hart, to catch up to the leaders as the laps wound down. Hamlin was able to retake the lead from Stratton on lap 75, but coming out of turn two the next lap, Hamlin clipped the wall, forcing Stratton to check up, and allowed Wetmore to get the run on both of them. As they entered turn three, Wetmore had nosed ahead into the lead, but contact between Stratton and Hamlin ended up collecting all three cars, and ending Wetmore’s night early.
After the scuffle, the lead was handed over to Hays and Hart on the front row, but the caution also allowed most of the field that hadn’t pitted yet, the opportunity to get new rubber with just a handful of laps to go. Hays brought the field around to the green flag, but it was Hart that got the momentum on the high side to take the lead out of turn two. But right behind them was Hamlin as he was quickly charging to take the lead. As the pack exited turn four, Hamlin attempted to make his move as Hart protected his line, but the fight ended early as a caution came out behind the leaders. The timely yellow allowed Hart to hang onto the lead, and he brought the field around to the checkered flag under caution to pick up his first career SARA victory, leading only the final 6 laps of the race.
Behind Hart, Hamlin had to settle for a 2nd place finish after coming up just short on his charge back to the front on the final shootout. Hays ended up rounding out the podium in 3rd, as he and Hart both used the early pit strategy to get track position late, which worked out for both drivers. Marc Gammack had a solid car all night long, running steadily inside the top five for most of the race and ended up taking the 4th position. Bill Martin rounded out the top five after charging his way up to 2nd early in the race, but wasn’t able to make that ground back up after the late caution ended things early, forcing Martin to settle for 5th.
Matt Rolfe ended up just outside the top five after running up-and-down the top during the race, and was involved in the final caution as a couple cars ran out of room battling for spots but was able to hang onto 6th. Scott Dunlap had a quiet night, running outside the top ten for most of the race before the late caution allowed him to get new tires which helped him move up into a 7th place finish. Matt Eddy quickly made his way into the top ten before spinning in the early stages of the race, but was able to rebound and also used the late caution to move up to an 8th place finish. Stratton, the points leader entering the night, had a strong car as he ran up front and battled for the lead before his late race incident up front, but was able to rebound in the final laps to take 9th. Dale Owen made a strong run inside the top five during the long green flag stretch, but was forced to pit early as his gas calculations were off, but used the help of a lucky dog to get back on the lead lap to take 10th.
With Stratton entering the night as the points leader by just 7 points, the lead shrunk down to nothing as Bill Martin evened up the score with his 5th place finish. The two drivers will enter next week’s race at South Boston tied for the title, and it will all come down to the final race to crown the champion. Martin also finds himself tied for the Triple Crown title with Josh Hart as well.