Philip Morris has been down this road before. Which is why, with an open weekend before the big season finale at his home track of Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., the Ruckersville, Va., driver is hauling his Late Model down to South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
Having won a pair of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championships by just two points – or one position on the track – each, Morris isn’t about to let an opportunity pass if he thinks he can improve his position. Even holding a 34-point lead isn’t enough; especially when his challengers still have even more races at their disposal.
Morris, the 2006 and 2008 national champion, extended his points lead by six points with a third-place finish at Motor Mile this past Saturday.
Keith Rocco of Wallingford, Conn., failed to improve on his 801 points when he finished fifth at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway and then had races at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway and Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl rained out.
Omaha, Neb., driver Bill Leighton Jr. also has 801 points. He gained two points with a seventh-place finish at I-80 Speedway on Sunday.
A driver’s best 18 results are counted toward their state and national points totals.
Nick Joanides of Woodland Hills, Calif., swept the Super Late Model features at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, Calif., to move within two points of Rocco and Leighton at 799. Ted Christopher of Plainville, Conn., remains fifth overall with 756 points.
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 doesn’t have a whole lot of room to improve, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try. He’ll run South Boston this Saturday, where he has three wins in nine starts this season. All three victories at SoBo garnered him 51-point nights, and a full field is expected again for the GCR presents Rotary 150 Champions Night.
There is plenty on the line in the next two weeks in Virginia.
While Morris is the outsider this weekend, three South Boston regulars are within eight points of each other for the track championship: points leader David Quackenbush, five-time winner Nick Smith and last year’s runner-up, Justin Johnson.
Morris will return to Motor Mile to close out the season on Sept. 12. Despite his five wins there, Morris holds just a two-point edge over Frank Deiny Jr. as he chases a seventh track title at the .416-mile asphalt oval.
While Morris has wrapped up the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia state title, Deiny still has a shot at catching CE Falk III for second place. Falk, who is sixth overall in the nation, swept twin features this past weekend at Langley Speedway. Deiny is 11th in the nation but has only run 17 events to date.
For the second straight year, Rocco led the national standings for much of the summer before relinquishing the top spot to Morris. With six scheduled races remaining, he still has a chance to catch Morris but must reel off several wins to close out the season. He has just one win in his last 15 races dating back to July 22.
And his life just got busier. In addition to racing three nights a week on Connecticut’s short-track weekly circuit, Rocco was tabbed to fill the No. 12 TS Haulers Chevrolet on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour the rest of the season. He will pull double-duty when the tour visits Thompson this Thursday.
Bill Leighton Jr.
Leighton gained more ground despite a rough weekend. He finished fifth at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., Saturday and then came back and finished 23rd and seventh in twin features Sunday at I-80 Speedway. It was that seventh, though, that netted him a two-point gain – the full field gave him 34 points for the finish, and allowed him to drop a 32-point race from July.
Leighton has two races remaining at Junction Motor Speedway, where he has a 29-point lead over Matt Buller of Lincoln, Neb., in the Late Models by GM Performance Parts points standings. He also has a 26-point cushion over Mike Wallace of Carter Lake, Iowa, in the Late Model standings at I-80 Speedway with one race remaining (Sept. 6).
Because Toyota Speedway runs twin features for its AC Delco Super Late Model division every other week, it has taken Joanides until the end of August to reach 18 starts and catch the national leaders. But he’s quietly put on one of the more remarkable performances in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
In 19 starts, he has finished outside of the top two only once. His 13 wins tie him with Marty Ward of Greenville (S.C.) Pickens Speedway and Andy Mercer of Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway for the most in the series.
Over the next two weekends, Joanides can wrap up a personal triple-crown. He leads both the AC Delco Super Late Model division and the Auto Club Late Model division at Toyota Speedway. The Super Late Model points season concludes with twin features on Sept. 12 – Joanides, the defending champion, leads three-time champ Rip Michels by 82 points – while the Late Models have four more events. Joanides has two wins in his Late Model and has a 16-point lead over Tim Huddleston of Agoura Hills, Calif. Huddleston has won three of the last four Late Model championships at Toyota Speedway.
Nobody in the track’s 10-year history has won championships in both of the top divisions.
In addition, Joanides is closing in on his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series California state title. Jason Romero of All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., is second in California and ninth in the nation on the strength of 10 wins and 708 points. With four races remaining at All American, Romero still holds a mathematical chance at breaking 800 points and passing Joanides is he wins out.
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 26 9 19 22 835
2 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 40 12 27 31 801
3 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 31 9 27 28 801
4 Nick Joanides Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 19 13 19 19 799
5 Ted Christopher Stafford Motor Speedway 25 8 16 21 756
6 C E Falk, III Langley Speedway 22 10 18 19 736
7 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 24 13 21 22 731
8 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 30 6 14 27 726
9 Jason Romero All American Speedway 25 10 15 22 708
10 Andy Eckrich Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 36 6 30 33 698
11 Frank Deiny, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 17 2 15 16 692
12 Mike Wallace I-80 Speedway 31 1 20 28 691
13 Les Siebert I-80 Speedway 31 2 16 26 686
14 Steve Robblee Delaware Speedway 17 6 14 15 684
15 Andrew Kosiski I-80 Speedway 31 4 14 27 682
16 Ron Sheridan Delaware Speedway 17 3 14 15 679
17 Rip Michels Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 19 2 16 18 678
18 Woody Pitkat Thompson Intl Speedway 25 2 15 20 672
19 Roger Powell Greenville-Pickens Speedway 24 4 21 24 670
20 Jeff Strunk Grandview Speedway 18 2 11 15 664
21 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 26 3 10 15 663
22 Nick Smith South Boston Speedway 25 5 13 17 655
23 Jeff Larson Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 24 6 16 22 654
24 Gary Glenn All American Speedway 25 3 13 20 635
25 Brandon Dean Motor Mile Speedway 18 0 7 17 628