Civali led lap 99 and was running side-by-side with Blewett when the caution came out. When the cars crossed the finish line, the scoring pylon went blank. Nobody in the stands knew who won. Nobody is the garage area did either.
And neither did the two drivers involved in the “finish”.
ABBOTT & COSTELLO ROUTINE FOR MODS AT NHIS by Mike Twist
Blewett Awarded Win After Civali is Told to Go to Victory Lane
The New England 100 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at New Hampshire International Speedway was all about potential unrealized.
With two NASCAR Nextel Cup stars in the field, there was the potential for some hard, but clean, world class racing with a talented group of Tour regulars. With a blinding number of lead changes late in the race, there was the potential for an amazing finish. Rookie James Civali had the potential to score his first Tour victory on the biggest track on the schedule. John Blewett, III had the potential to celebrate big-time with his family-owned team in victory lane after taking a long path to return there.
Sadly, none of those things happened. Mod-Whackers Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards raised the ire of many Modified regulars by maybe racing a little too hard for the win, Civali went to victory lane but did not win the race and Blewett won the race but never visited victory lane. The winner was not decided by a photo finish, but rather through a 10-minute review of scoring tapes and data from electronic transponders.
We’ll have more on the battle of the Cup and Mod drivers later this week. The other issues were all the result of a caution flag that waved on the final lap that froze the field before the start-finish line.
...John Blewett, III actually won the race in his #66. (Howie Hodge Photo)
James Civali celebrated in victory lane at NHIS, but... (51 Photo)
After a few moments, the #28 King Racing machine of Civali was directed to victory lane. He celebrated, he posed for photos and he went to the media center for winner interviews.
But Civali did not win the race. A review of the scoring loops showed that Blewett had a nose on him when the caution actually came out.
“Blewett won the race,” said NASCAR’s Vice President of Regional Touring Jim Hunter. “When the white flag had been displayed the race is official and is over. The leaders had received the white flag. When the caution came out he [Blewett] was clearly the leader. We went back to the tape and looked at when the caution came and it was pretty cut and dry. We also looked at the loop data. Somehow they already sent the #28 [Civali] to victory lane. Unfortunately Blewett had left to go run a Mod race at Wall Stadium tonight. We couldn’t get him back here to turn it around.”
“I didn’t see the initial yellow come out,” said Civali. “The #66 [Blewett] had a run and dove underneath me in turn one. When I was alongside him, maybe his wheel was alongside of me. I don’t know. When we got into turn two, the lights were on. I’m not sure exactly when they came on. He could have been next to me, behind me or in front of me. I don’t know when they split the track.
“If they took it from the start-finish line, I was ahead, but I don’t know how they do that. I’m not positive what the rule is.”
“I knew that I was ahead because I could see the lights,” said Blewett. “But, I didn’t know if I made it to the next trap or if he did. You don’t know those things. I don’t know where they scored it or how they scored it, but I figured that we were at a track where they probably have the best scoring system that you could possibly have. So if they tell me that I was second, then I must have been second. I wasn’t going to make a stink about it.”
The scoring monitor was the first clue that things might not be what they seemed after the race. It showed Blewett's #66 ahead after the advertised 100 lap distance. (51 Photo)
Blewett was declared the winner just as he was hopping on a golf cart to catch a flight to New Jersey, in order to race at Wall Stadium later in the day. Meanwhile, Civali and car owner Don King were called to the NASCAR trailer to review the tape.
The confusion put a damper on what had been a classic NHIS Modified race.
“I think it was a great race,” said Hunter. “The fans got what they wanted to see. Unfortunately the yellow flag came out on the final lap. Up until that point there were more than six to eight drivers that could win the race. Tony Stewart certainly proved what kind of driver he is. The guys that finished one-two-three, you have to give
them credit. It was beat, bang, bump and a typical Mod
race at New Hampshire. It was probably as good of a Modified race as I have ever seen.”
But after it was over even the official winner of the race wasn’t celebrating.
“For me it was aggravating,” said Blewett. “They could have waited 10 minutes to have figured it out before they went and took all of the pictures with the kid and then rip his f-----g heart out. Here’s this poor kid who thought that he had just won the race and he didn’t and it makes me look like an asshole because now I’ve got to go over there and take the trophy from the guy.”
“Then again, they needed a winner then and there, so how do you do it? It’s not easy for the officials to make a decision at that point and time and what is the right one? Hindsight is always 20/20.”
Meanwhile, Civali was as gracious in defeat as he was in victory.
“I’m happy either way,” said Civali when he was told that he was not the winner. “If we win, finish second or third, it doesn’t matter. We finished in the top five. That’s fantastic for this team to do with me coming here for the first time. I’m definitely still proud. This team did what they could and a top three is big for us. Maybe we’ll get a win later this year at Stafford or Thompson.”
When that does happen, he’ll always have some victory lane experience to help him out.
The victory at NHIS was Blewett’s third in his career. In 2000 and 2003, he won for car owner Curt Chase. This victory was his first at the track as an owner/driver.
As lap 100 began, Civali (#28) led Blewett (#66) and Reggie Ruggiero (#41) by the closest of margins. (51 Photo)
“For me I didn’t care [about going to victory lane], but I hate it for my guys,” said Blewett. “They worked hard [to win the race] and they didn’t get anything out of it. They didn’t get pictures, they didn’t get anything. But what do you do? You just have to grin and bear it.
“This has been a long time coming for us. If you look at when I started racing again at the end of last year, there were probably three or four races where I could have won in the [#00] Brady Bomb. Then as soon as I started running my own stuff, we were running good. It takes a few races to get yourself a notebook of what to run. You don’t just go on the Tour and win. It’s not an easy deal.”
And that Modified race at Wall, the Garden State Classic? Well, Blewett won that too. He managed to end up in victory lane before Saturday was over after all.
Speed51.com will have more on Blewett at Wall, Stewart and Edwards taking on the Modified field and much more from the event later this week. Stay tuned.