Wild UARA Finale Leaves Some Tickled, Others Ticked  by Matt Kentfield
DiBenedetto DQ’ed from Win, Crum Earns Title With Battered Car
If it can happen at a racetrack, chances are it happened in the UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Car tour’s season finale at Concord Motorsport Park (NC) Saturday night.  Let’s take it from the top, shall we?

The polesitter, former USAR Pro Cup and Concord LMSC regular Clay Rogers, blew a motor in his brand new Billy Hess house car early in the race.  Matt DiBenedetto took the lead from there, never looking back until former UARA and Concord regular Chad Mullis shoved him out of the way late in the race, only to have the caution ruin the run before Mullis could complete the pass.

Jake Crum, who had a 35-point lead going into the Concord finale, was involved in several on-track incidents, leaving him with body panels flapping in the wind as the laps clicked away.  Alex Yontz, who came into Concord second in points, ran in the top-five all night, hoping for the points to shake out the right way for him to steal the title from the struggling Crum. 
There were, of course, the silly moments, such as when Roger Lee Newton was punted by Thomas Hartensveld on the frontstretch, making Newton climb from his torn-up racecar and wait to gesture not once, but twice, at Hartensveld. 

But, once DiBenedetto crossed beneath the checkered flag as the winner of the UARA finale, things seemed to be calmed down.  He celebrated his second-career UARA victory, coming off a win at Bristol earlier this year, while Crum’s car held together just strong enough to make it to the finish line 10th, earning his first series title.  Like Crum, Darrell Wallace, Jr. was involved in several incidents and had a battered car, but was still able to win Rookie of the Year.

Yes, after a long and chilly night, all was well in UARA land.

At least until post-race tech hit a snag.

UARA-Stars officials found something they didn’t like under the hood of DiBenedetto’s #44 Dodge.  After several hours of deliberations Saturday night and Sunday morning,
the word came down.  DiBenedetto had been disqualified, giving Chad Mullis his second-career UARA victory, coming two years after his first win at Coastal Plains.

It was a fitting ending that seemed to have just about everything that could be seen in a short track race.  DiBenedetto, however, could’ve done without that last little piece of craziness.

“They unbelievably ripped us down to the bone,” said DiBenedetto on Monday morning following the announcement of his disqualification.  “They were going through it and they got to the block.  They said it was illegal because there was some machine work done to it.  It was just de-burred.   It’s of no performance enhancement at all, like none whatsoever.”

UARA President Kerry Bodenhamer agreed, in a sense, that the machining work was not a performance-enhancing tactic, but that did not make it any more legal, however.

“There was some un-permitted machine work done to the cylinder block, which we consider a weight reduction,” said Bodenhamer Monday.  “We don’t know how much, but that’s irrelevant.  It’s like being pregnant – you either are or you’re not.  We felt like it was a violation of a rule because our rule states that it has to be dimensionally the same and their material in the block wasn’t dimensionally the same. 

Matt DiBenedetto celebrated his victory...if only for a few hours.  (51 Sports photo)
“It’s unfortunate.  I think it was an honest mistake, but that still doesn’t make it right.”

The disqualification handed down on Sunday took away what was otherwise a dominant performance by DiBenedetto.  DiBenedetto qualified on the outside pole and was riding in the tire tracks of pole-sitter Clay Rogers early on before the engine blew in Rogers’ brand-new Billy Hess house car and checked out from the field thereafter, leading all the way to the checkered flag.

“It was awesome,” said DiBenedetto following the race.  "The thing was a little bit snug at the beginning of the race but it kept getting better and better as the race went on. They were kind of staying with me at the beginning of the race, then at the end I just let loose and it worked. 

“It was one of those nights where everything just works out for you and it was just your night to win.  Then you have ones that work completely against you and ones that just work for you and tonight it was just awesome.”

Just like what happened in post-race tech, however, what could have happened on lap 134 wasn’t all that awesome as DiBenedetto’s car.  That lap brought about a restart, where Mullis got a run on DiBenedetto and knocked DiBenedetto up the track in the first turn.  Just as Mullis got beside DiBenedetto, the caution flag flew for the 11th time of the night, eliminating Mullis’ only chance during the race for the victory as he could never get as close on the subsequent restart nor in the final laps.
With DiBendetto (top, #44) DQ'ed, Chad Mullis (bottom, #9) was credited the victory. 
“We got a run on him going down into turn one and I gave him a little shot getting into the corner,” said Mullis.  “We were the only ones to get that close to him all night.  I knew I only had one shot to get him and that was going to probably be it. 

“He eased off of me there on that second restart and he did what he had to do to get away from us on that last restart there.  We got up beside him though.  I would’ve liked to see it stay green for a couple of laps.  We might of both wrecked, but it probably would have been pretty exciting.”

DiBenedetto wasn’t super excited with the move.

“I have no idea what happened over there honestly. I was just running my line going into one and it just seemed like he punted me and it was a little uncalled for, but I won the race so I’m not going to complain too much. It was a heck of a save though, that’s for sure. It got my attention.

“Oh, I never looked in the mirror. Honestly he kind of made me mad in the racecar and made me drive better because I sure drove the heck out of the racecar at the end and never let up until the checkered flag.”

But the checkered flag only got DiBenedetto so far, as the DQ put Mullis, who had just the one shot to get by DiBenedetto on the track, made the winning move hours after the fall of the checkered flag.

“The Charlie Long motor underneath the hood of this thing and the Billy Hess racecar was pretty awesome tonight, I’m real pleased with that,” said Mullis.  “I won a UARA race two years ago down in Coastal Plains driving for another person and I like this series.  This is the first race we’ve run since then and this is my home track and we’ve got a bunch of fans here so we felt pretty good coming in here.  We’re real pleased.  What more could you ask for?”

With Mullis now credited with the victory, Brandon McReynolds was moved up to second, which despite Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s 17th-place finish, was not quite enough to earn the UARA Rookie of the Year title.  Similarly, Alex Yontz’s third place finish was not enough to overcome the 35-point deficit to Jake Crum in the championship battle, giving Crum his first UARA title.

Corey LaJoie and Jamey Caudill rounded out the top-five.

Concord winner Chad Mullis.

UARA-Stars Officials have earned a reputation for running one of the tightest ships in short track racing.  Calls like Matt DiBenedetto’s disqualification is one example of this, no matter if the infraction improves a driver’s performance or not.

“To reduce weight, it is a performance advantage,” said Bodenhamer.  “The amount of weight that they had taken out of the block probably was not performance enhancing.  But, it’s still a violation of the rule.  As far as a total weight of the car goes, we have cars that come through all the time that wind up being heavy on the right side because they can’t get them light enough, especially on the Dodges and Fords, because they’re so heavy to begin with.  The Ford and the Dodge motors are heavy, we allow them a set-back because of the extra weight.  But, when you remove weight from an engine block, then it’s not fair to have the motor moved back and have weight removed from the block.”
DiBenedetto and his Dewalt Performance team are appealing the disqualification.

“Yeah, we’re appealing it and trying to get it right because my dad talked to Lynn Carroll (noted LMSC tech man) about it and asked and even he said there is no performance difference.  That had nothing to do with me winning the race or not.

“So it’s kind of sad that (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion) Phillip Morris had it and that’s cool.  They let it go because it’s no performance difference.  And then our team didn’t even know about it and we get torn down the first time and they go ahead and throw us out.  It was even our first win in the UARA with that team and everything.  But we’re still talking with them and trying to get it sorted out because it’s no performance deal and our car was 25 pounds over anyway regardless, so it’s kind of a bad deal.”

According to Bodenhamer, NASCAR Officials deemed Phillip Morris' engine block to be against their rules, as well, but Morris' home track of Motor Mile Speedway in Virginia had the final right to allow the engine or not.  Motor Mile officials decided to allow Morris to continue to use his engine en route to the National Championship.
Before the bad news came, DiBenedetto got a victory kiss from his girlfriend at Concord.
“Did that win or lose the race?  I don’t think so,” added Bodenhamer about DiBenedetto's engine.  “They weren’t toting any extra weight because we penalized them.  We weren’t aware of the issue until we took the intake manifold off of it and we saw the tool marks in it from where it had been machined on.”

All Jake Crum needed to do to score the UARA-Stars championship was keep Alex Yontz within sight.  The two title contenders qualified sixth and seventh and rode within a car or two of one another during the first half of the race.

But, while Yontz was running fourth mid-race, Crum’s title chances nearly crumbled.  Crum was involved in an incident with Ross Furr that caused cosmetic and some internal damage to the Team Crum Racing #1 car.  A stop on pit road brought Crum back out 19th and out of the championship lead.  As he came back through the field, he was caught up in an other incident, when Paddy Rodenbeck spun off the fourth turn, leaving Crum with nowhere to go but to clip Rodenbeck’s car with the left-front fender.

Crum soldiered on the rest of the night with the fender flapping in the breeze as he cautiously picked his way through the field to 10th at the checkered flag and ninth after DiBenedetto’s DQ.  That was just enough to keep Yontz at bay for the title.
“Yeah, we went out there and we were pretty good at the beginning then we got real, real tight,” said Crum.  “When Ross Furr took us out, we decided to come down pit road and fix it and the car was real, real good. 

“Nick Hutchins, my Crew Chief, we had his mom up there calculating stuff so I could have gotten back up to at least seventh because the car was real, real good at the end.  But I wasn’t trying to push anything because I didn’t want to wreck anything.  We already had some tore up stuff and we didn’t want anything to fall off.”

Speed51.com will have more on Crum’s rough night and Championship season later in the week.

In 2006, Alex Yontz fell just 26 points of the UARA-Stars Championship to Brandon Ward.  After a limited schedule on the tour in 2007, Yontz focused on the title in 2008.  A win at Bristol and a slew of top-five finishes made him a contender, but in the end it all was not enough to overtake Crum for the series’ title.

Jake Crum celebrated as the UARA Champion.
“We had a pretty good night, but we came up a little bit short of the championship,” said Yontz.  “We came down here 35 points out and knew it was going to take a pretty big shot to come out of here the champion.  All we could do was do the best we could do – qualify on the pole and lead some laps.  We ran in the top-five all night and were just hoping he’d have some problems.  Well, we weren’t really hoping he’d have bad luck, but we knew that was our only chance.  That was our only option at that point. 

“We weren’t quite good enough to win, but we were good enough to stay in the top five and came up a few points short.”

Darrell Wallace, Jr. didn’t mind having a torn-up racecar at the end of the UARA finale at Concord.  With more body panels lying by his trailer than actually on his car, Wallace smiled just as wide as he would’ve with an in-tact car afterwards, having earned the Rookie of the Year title.

“It has just been a hectic night, but we still came home with the Rookie of the Year and I’m just happy about that. I don’t even care about the car,” said Wallace. 

“This year has definitely exceeded my expectations.  My first UARA win was last weekend.  My first win in UARA and I’m the youngest one to do that, which is awesome. And we broke a whole lot of other things this season and I’m just happy.  All of my crew has been there for me and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Brandon McReynolds crossed beneath the checkered flag third, then got bumped to second after tech.  That wasn’t quite enough to overtake Wallace for the Rookie title, but that’s just fine with McReynolds.  After all, he accomplished his goals for the year already.

“I’m happy for Darrell Wallace,” said McReynolds.  “I kind of convinced myself that no one really looks at the Rookie of the Year.  It’s all about coming out here and getting wins finish in the top-five.  To finish third in our last race and my first year too and to get a win (at Franklin County), I think that’s awesome.”

2008 UARA Rookie of the Year Darrell Wallace, Jr.
While the rumble of full-fendered Late Models filled the Concord air Saturday night, it won’t be long before the ground beneath the half-mile track shakes with the thunder of the open-wheeled Modifieds. 

The sixth-annual North-South Shootout will feature the best of the best Tour-Type and SK Modified and Supermodified drivers from all along the East Coast.  The Hoosier tire truck is already parked outside the CMP half-mile in preparation for the event.

Any time Clay Rogers is at Concord Motorsport Park, he’s instantly the favorite for victory.  He was a frontrunner in Late Model Stock Car races at CMP in his early career, then he was the man at CMP in Hooters Pro Cup competition.  Rogers returned to Concord behind the wheel of noted chassis builder Billy Hess’ house #52 car and proved he still knew the way around the fast half-mile tri-oval.
Clay Rogers climbs from the #52 after blowing the engine.
Rogers set a blistering time in qualifying, touring CMP at an average speed of better than 111 mph.  That speed carried over into the feature, where Rogers was walking away from the field before bringing out the second caution of the night with a blown motor.

Richard Boswell entered the Concord finale with a mathematical shot at the championship, down 49 to Crum at the start of the race.  It would’ve taken a lot of work to win the title, but all chances of that happening were dashed when Boswell’s #72 did not come up to speed on the initial start of the race.  After several trips to pit road, Boswell retired from the event with a broken axle.