The ASA Late Model Series Challenge Division returned to historic Salem Speedway for the second consecutive year this weekend for The Trials 200. Peter Cozzolino led the first sixty six laps before Alabama native Josh Hamner passed him on the backstretch on lap sixty seven. Hamner would lead the final one hundred and thirty three laps in route to his first ASA Late Model Series Challenge Division win of 2009. “I really have to thank Chuck Barnes,” stated Hamner in victory lane. “I called Chuck and we came and tested. He helped me a lot.” The twenty two year old victor continued to express his feelings on Salem Speedway by saying, “This is an awesome track with awesome fans! I love Salem!”
Race teams were allowed to practice at Salem on Friday and it was clear that the WCIparts.com Ford Fusion of Josh Hamner would be a contender. Hamner was the fastest car in the first two sessions Friday and opted not to run his car in either practice session Saturday. “We have had fast race cars in the past and over adjusted them in practice,” continued Hamner in victory lane. “We decided not to practice today because we knew we had the car dialed in.”
Qualifying saw Josh Hamner make his first lap on the track Saturday. Hamner laid down a lap of 17.065 seconds, which was third fastest overall behind Drew Brannon and Brian Campbell. Brannon and Campbell both ran under the previous ASA Late Model Series track record at Salem (17.056) held by Peter Cozzolino. Campbell was second fastest with a lap of 17.044. Brannon, who was the fastest qualifier, blistered the .555 mile Salem Speedway in 16.925 seconds. After qualifying, Brannon drew an eight, inverting the top eight qualifiers for the start of the race.
With the field inverted, A.J. Frank and Peter Cozzolino made up the front row. As the green flag waved, Cozzolino jumped out over Frank to grab the lead. With clean racetrack in his windshield, Cozzolino proceeded to check out from the field. This left a ferocious battle for the second spot between A.J. Frank, Tommy Joe Martins, Josh Hamner, Brent Downey, and Drew Brannon. The drivers raced nose to tail for several laps, looking for the perfect opportunity to pass. Hamner was able to race past Frank on lap eighteen for the third spot, and set his sights on Martins, who was beginning to close in on Cozzolino.
As Cozzolino slowed to get past lapped cars, Martins and Hamner were able to close the gap rapidly on the race leader. Hamner ducked to the inside of Martins to take possession of the second spot on lap sixty two, and got underneath Cozzolino for the lead down the backstretch on lap sixty seven. Ten laps prior to the halfway break, Brent Downey and Drew Brannon raced by Cozzolino for second and third respectively. On lap ninety four, Como, Mississippi driver Tommy Joe Martins, saw his best run of the season spoiled by a flat left rear tire. Martins had been running solidly in the top five, but fell out of contention when he had to make a green flag pit stop to change the flat tire.
Once the race resumed for the final one hundred laps, Hamner continued to pace the field. He was never able to completely drive away from second place runner Brent Downey, but he was able to fend him off at the checkered flag. “The car was phenomenal all night long,” said Downey after the race. “We made some adjustments at halfway to loosen the car up, but the throttle was sticking for the last fifty laps so I kept having to pull it up off the floor entering the corners.” Hamner and Downey crossed the checkered flag ahead of Drew Brannon, Brian Campbell, and Chris Eggleston. Early race leader Peter Cozzolino came home in sixth.