By the slimmest of margins – .024 seconds to be exact – Philip Morris finds himself back atop the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings.
And the way the final five weeks is shaping up, this doesn’t figure to be the last time the top spot changes hands before the 2009 champion is announced on Sept. 16.
Morris, from Ruckersville, Va., used a bump-and-run on race leader Frank Deiny Jr. to claim the Valvoline 150 Saturday night at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va. The race was extended twice by green-white-checkered finishes and covered 161 laps, with Morris beating Deiny to the finish line in the closest finish in track history.
The difference between second-place points (44) and the win (51) was enough for Morris to wrestle the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points lead from Wallingford, Conn., driver Keith Rocco.
Rocco, who had a win, two thirds and a 12th-place finish in four races over the weekend, had led the points for the previous seven weeks.
Bill Leighton Jr., of Omaha, Neb., did not race and remains third with 778 points. Ted Christopher jumped up from ninth to fourth with 722 points. The Plainville, Conn., driver had a win, second and fifth in three races.
Marty Ward was third at Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway Saturday and is fifth overall with 721 poitnts.
With the Sunday, Sept. 13 deadline for races to count toward NASCAR Whelen All-American Series state and national points looming, here is a look at the top contenders for the 2009 national title.
Morris is searching for his seventh track championship at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., and a third national crown. He knows perhaps better than anybody how much every position in every race counts and how important the bonus points for wins are.
He won his national championships in 2006 and 2008 by just two points each time – equivalent to one position on the track during the course of the season.
After winning in six of his first eight races, Morris hadn’t visited Victory Lane since May 30 until he edged Deiny out for the trophy Saturday.
Morris will have four more shots to pick up points at Motor Mile, starting with twin 75-lap features this weekend. There is also a race at South Boston on Sept. 5, which is an open weekend in the Motor Mile schedule. Morris has shown a willingness to travel in search of points, racing at Caraway Speedway and Ace Speedway in North Carolina and Langley Speedway in Virginia during his championship seasons.
Rocco is tied for second with 12 wins and is averaging 44.389 points per his 18 best finishes – just shy of Morris’ leading average of 44.444.
And he’s got time on his side. Racing three nights a week on Connecticut’s short-track weekly circuit, Rocco has 14 races remaining before the deadline. Also working in his favor is that Thompson, which regularly races on Thursdays, will run on Sundays as a rain date for all of September. This covers the first two weeks of the month that serve as the final two weeks of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series schedule.
Rocco had a pair of third-place runs in twin features at Thompson this past week, but the second race only netted him 30 points. His win at Waterford Saturday was worth 41 points.
Bill Leighton Jr.
Leighton stepped up his program after winning the 2008 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Nebraska state championship, and the results are apparent. He’s gone from two wins last year to eight and put himself in the hunt for the national title.
Running twice a week – Saturdays at Junction and Sundays at I-80 – means Leighton has eight more races remaining. He missed an opportunity to make up ground when rain washed out double-features at I-80 this past Sunday. Leighton can still take home plenty of hardware, as he is leading the division standings at both tracks.
While the bulk of Christopher’s attention has been on defending his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship – where he is the points leader entering Thursday’s race at Thompson – he is also racing at Stafford and Thompson on a weekly basis.
Christopher has stormed up the standings lately after an uneven start. In his first seven races, he had three top fives and four finishes of 10th or worse. Now that he’s reached the 18-race threshold and can start dropping some of those poorer finishes, he’s in the hunt to back up his 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series title with another one.
Christopher had a win and a second at Thompson and a fifth at Stafford this past weekend, which allowed him to shed three finishes that had yielded fewer than 25 points. Of the top five drivers, he has the most room for improvement with six of his 18 top finishes worth under 35 points each. Like Rocco, he has 10 races remaining at Stafford and Thompson. Waterford is always a last minute option as well.
After finishing third in the nation last year, Ward returned to chase a record of six track championships at historic Greenville Pickens. With four races remaining, he can also tie the track record for wins in a season set 50 years ago by NASCAR legend David Pearson and matched by Dexter Canipe during his 1997 national title season.
Ward overcame an early racing incident with eventual race winner Roger Powell on Saturday, working his way back through the field to finish third. That allowed him to drop a 10-point night from a 17th-place finish earlier in the year and maintain his position in the top five.
Ward also leads the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series with his 13 wins.
He’s still lurking in ninth place overall, but don’t discount Joanides’ chances to make a late run at the championship.
With just 15 races in the books, Joanides can still make big gains, starting this weekend when Toyota Speedway runs twin features for its AC Delco Super Late Model division. He also has twin features on Aug. 29 and Sept. 12, giving him six more races to make up ground.
Joanides’ points-per-race average is only percentage points behind Morris and Rocco, and of the five races he didn’t win, he has four seconds and a third.
The final points standings are scheduled to be released Wednesday, Sept. 16.
Track, state and province, and the national champion earn invitations to the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet in Concord, N.C., Friday, Nov. 13. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion also earns a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to be held at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) Jan. 29-30, 2010.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner will receive two points for every car in the event up to 23 cars. Second place will receive two fewer points, and so-on through the field. For example, if there are 23 cars, the winner receives 46 points, second gets 44 and third 42. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 30 points, second gets 28 and third 26. Race winners receive an additional five bonus points.
National Top 500 NASCAR Point Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 23 8 16 19 800
2 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 35 12 24 26 799
3 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 25 8 23 23 778
4 Ted Christopher Stafford Motor Speedway 22 6 14 19 722
5 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 20 13 18 18 721
6 C E Falk, IIII Langley Speedway 19 8 16 17 688
7 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 24 5 11 21 687
8 Andy Eckrich Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 30 6 25 27 685
9 Nick Joanides Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 15 10 15 15 660
10 Andrew Kosiski I-80 Speedway 25 2 12 22 648
11 Roger Powell Greenville-Pickens Speedway 20 3 17 20 641
12 Mike Wallace I-80 Speedway 25 0 16 22 640
13 Jason Romero All American Speedway 21 7 12 18 637
14 Les Siebert I-80 Speedway 25 1 11 20 637
15 Jeff Strunk Grandview Speedway 17 2 11 14 634
16 Woody Pitkat Thompson Intl Speedway 22 1 12 17 633
17 Jeff Larson Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 20 6 13 18 616
18 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 17 2 10 14 608
19 John Moore All American Speedway 21 2 14 18 608
20 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 23 3 8 12 605
21 Jacob Gomes--R All American Speedway 25 2 17 22 596
22 Gary Glenn All American Speedway 21 3 10 16 589
23 Nick Smith South Boston Speedway 22 5 11 14 587
24 Juan Pitta All American Speedway 22 1 11 21 587
25 Jonathan Mawhinney All American Speedway 21 0 12 20 574