ALEX YONTZ MANAGES NEW BRISTOL’S NEW SURFACE THE BEST
Late Pass Of Jake Crum Makes for Another Career Highlight for Young Racer
Jake Crum (#92) and Alex Yontz (#55) battled side-by-side on the new surface for the lead at Bristol. (51 Photos)
A total resurfacing project at Bristol was completed just in time for the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Car series. Saturday night’s 150-lap race was the first of three-straight short track series events at the track, all events that were scheduled to gain exposure for the series and also lay down rubber for when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series returns to Bristol for an event in late August.
While the old guard of the UARA series may have had an advantage on the old Bristol surface, all the previous notes went out the window with the new surface Saturday night. With a green racetrack on a completely re-configured banking schematic in the corners, neither UARA veterans nor the youngsters were the pre-race favorites.
Plus, throw in the fact that there was an all-star caliber roster entered for the Bristol event, there were more question marks about who would be in victory lane than usual in the competitive UARA ranks. LMSC drivers from weekly racing tracks and the UARA regulars all converged on Bristol in hopes of taking the win at the historic racetrack.
Fittingly, while the old guard of UARA may have had the upper hand on the old surface, it came down to two youngsters for the victory Saturday night on the new concrete. Sixteen-year-old Jake Crum and 21-year-old Alex Yontz had the two most potent cars of all. But it was Yontz, the winner of another major LMSC event at a historic track, last year’s Bailey’s 300 at Martinsville, that had the most consistently fast car throughout the 150-lap event.
Yontz made the move around the once-dominant Crum on lap 188, held on through several late-race restarts and scored his second UARA victory of the season.
Maybe the UARA cars were “guinea pigs” for the new surface in preparation for the upcoming NASCAR events there. Maybe it was a mutually beneficial race for the series and the track, with UARA being able to race at a place like Bristol and the track having the series’ tires pounding the new surface. Whatever the consequences, Alex Yontz wasn’t concerned with them. He was standing in Bristol Motor Speedway’s victory lane, something that no one will ever be able to take away from him.
Bristol Motor Speedway. The mere name alone makes race fans everywhere relive memorable races, crashes to the checkered flag and stock car racing heroes that have used Bristol as a showcase of their talent.
Bristol was a notoriously tricky, one-groove racetrack that took some seasoning before a driver could truly master it.
Notice the key word in that sentence – was.
“I’m just happy to be able to run on this track; if we’re guinea pigs, then that’s fine,” said Yontz. “I’m just happy to be here at Bristol. It was great. It’s got two grooves. They changed the banking so they could have a high groove now. You can definitely run side-by-side. The place is really smooth now.”
The once-one-groove racetrack was anything but Saturday night. Even though the veterans of the series were chasing the young guard like Crum and Yontz, throughout the field there were side-by-side battles never-before seen at Bristol.
B.J. Mackey started on the pole after qualifying was rained out earlier in the afternoon. The field was set by points and entry dates, leaving several big names out of the show, including former UARA Champion Matt McCall, former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Deborah Renshaw and ASA Late Model standout Travis Wilson.
It didn’t take long for Crum and Yontz to make their way to the front, however, as Crum took the lead on lap 28 and Yontz followed to second. The two rode bumper-to-bumper throughout the middle stages of the race and emerged as the only two cars that seemed to have a shot at the victory – a victory that would’ve meant plenty for the early leader Crum.
“As soon as I took the lead, I was just yelling on the radio,” said Crum. “I was real happy and I was ready to win me one, especially at Bristol.”
The excitement wasn’t to last forever for Crum, however. Yontz had been peeking low around the leader for several laps inside of 50 to go, but every time Crum would use the new-found upper groove at Bristol to pull back ahead down the straightaways. Caution flags would also slow Yontz’s progress seemingly every time he pulled even, but finally on lap 118, Crum washed up just enough for Yontz to pull even and make the pass that would earn him the victory.
“I could run him down, but he had that high groove working and we’d kind of meet coming off. I didn’t want to touch him because I knew he wouldn’t do me that way. I worked on him for a while and the cautions coming out. We finally got that break we needed when he got a little loose and I took advantage.”
If losing the lead was a buzzkill for Crum, what happened on lap 132, just 18 laps short of the checkered flag, ruined his night.
“I had it going and I thought we could hold him off,” said Crum. “I came off the corner a little too deep and I got into the wall a little bit. I went off into turn three and the wheel broke and I spun out. Then I came into the pits and fell of the jack and from there it was no good.”
While Crum’s night went from bad to worse, Yontz’s was getting increasingly better. Once he took the lead, he checked out from the rest of the field. Even though several late-race cautions, including one that set up a green-white-checkered restart, closed Setzer, Mackey and Ross Furr close up behind Yontz, nothing was going to keep Yontz from another career-highlight victory to go along with the Martinsville win last fall after a season’s worth of struggles earlier in the year.
“The season started off really rocky. It was rough, but I think now we’ve finally gotten back on track. Hopefully we can just keep it rolling. That’s what I say week after week and I don’t want to jinx myself. The car’s come together now and I just hope we can keep it that way. There’s so many good cars and good drivers in this series that you’ve just got to be on your toes every week. I hope it can stay this way, I sure like it.”
But with a win at Martinsville and now Bristol, which means more to the young driver?
“Martinsville probably means more just because of the clock,” said Yontz. “You can only get a clock for winning at Martinsville. This one’s right there with Martinsville, though. These two short tracks here are probably the most famed in NASCAR racing and it’s great to win at both of them.”
Yontz took his second UARA win of the year at Bristol.
Jake Crum had a strong car up until a late spin.