Strategy is a part of racing whether you like it or not. Rain, fuel and pit-stops made for plenty of it during the Sprint Cup Series event Sunday at Pocono Raceway. The night prior to NASCAR’s stop into the honeymoon capital of the world, the “Mighty Modified” drivers at Sundance Vacations Speedway (PA) had their own decisions to make on a track nearly 10-times smaller.
The stage was set for drama with $3,000 on the line for 100-laps around the third-of-a-mile oval with just four degrees of banking that is trapped between a couple of Pennsylvania mountains. Yet, in the drivers meeting, officials added some spice to the event by announcing teams could pit for one tire if they so desired.
So when to pit, if at all, became the hot topic throughout the pit area before the event.
“I’ve pitted with 20-laps to go before and it’s worked out,” said Earl Paules as he hopped into his silver and maroon #8 Modified.
The breakdown of the race was simple. Nick Pecko never pitted and inherited the lead on lap 42 in his rust-colored #42. 2009 track champ Kyle Ebersole, who pitted in the early stages of the race, then mowed Pecko down on lap 81 to take the point. Earl Paules, as promised, stopped late, with 21 laps to go this time, and muscled his way through the field, only to come up two spots short.
You never know how strategy is going to play out, but for Rusty Smith, it was perfect. Smith stopped for new rubber at lap 58. It took a few laps for his Silver #34 to come in, but once it did, the second-generation driver put on a show for the ages. Smith did something they say couldn’t be done (or very rarely) at the old Mountain Speedway, pass on the outside. With eight to go, Smith wheeled it by Ebersole and then cruised to a big payday.
“When you go on the outside of them and you can see the chrome on their wheels cause they have it turned so much, you pretty much know you got ‘em,” said Smith in victory lane. “I was getting good bite coming up off, so I was able to jump up there, pinch them down and motor up off.”
And back to that strategy… Smith’s was good, but he still had his doubts during the race.
“To be honest with you, while I was riding around I was wondering if I had what it took (after the pitstop). I pitted for the tire and a couple other times to make some adjustments cause the car was a little tight. Once I got going and I got the first two, I knew the rest of them would be easy. There were 13 cars here that could have won tonight, so it was cool to win.”
Ebersole Strategy Comes Up a Bit Short
Kyle Ebersole didn’t expect Smith to come that quick and that strong on the outside, but in the end, that’s why the track champ had to settle for third.
“I still think we had the right strategy (pitting for a tire on lap 29). I don’t know what happened. We just got really tight; I don’t think I’ve ever been that tight here. I literally had to stop it in the corner otherwise I would have ran up into him (Smith). We checked the stagger and it’s right where we want it; it just didn’t work out tonight I guess,” said a puzzled Ebersole.
Ebersole did admit he tried the same strategy earlier in the year and, as he put it, “it almost worked.” Guess now it almost worked twice.
“Hey,” added Ebersole as we walked away from the interview, “If you see Rick Hendrick tomorrow, put in a good word for me.”
Paules Says Second Still Sucks
Earl Paules stuck to his guns, but could not make his way through the field after pitting with 21 laps to go. He finished second.
“I still think we stopped at the right time. The track is really slippery; I couldn’t believe Rusty got on the outside like that. I always pit late; it always does me good. Second-place is not bad.”
But for a guy like Paules, second place sucks, doesn’t it?
“Oh it does, automatically; I’m just being nice,” said Paules with a laugh.
Matt Hirschman’s Roller Coaster Night
Matt Hirschman drove Bob Horn’s #50 Modified Saturday at SVS. The duo set fast-time in qualifying, even with a SK Modified engine. Unfortunately, everything went sour from there.
A flat left-rear tire sent Hirschman to the pits before the race even began. The car also experienced carburetor problems. Yet, Hirschman was third with less than 20-to go. While battling for second, Hirschman got under Pecko and the two made contact with three laps to go. The 42-spun and officials deemed it Hirschman’s fault so they put him to the rear of the field. The second-generation racer made his way back to ninth in the closing laps.
“Those things happen,” said Hirschman. “I think if we didn’t have a flat and if the engine was strong, we could’ve finished first or second.”
“Pistol Pete” Shoots Blanks
Pete Brittian, at 56-years-old, is enjoying a good year in the Modifieds. He already has three wins on the season, two at Wall Stadium (NJ) and one at Wyoming County Speedway (NY).
“Rob Ormsby is my crew chief and he’s made a big difference. I wish I had him a long time ago,” said the veteran Modified pilot.
On this night, Brittian finished sixth; his “patient” strategy did not pay off.
“I was trying to save my stuff at the beginning of the race. We came in for a tire and we made some adjustments, but it didn’t come alive until the last five laps of the race.”
-Zane Zeiner was supposed to start on the outside of the front row, but his car quit before the green flag was thrown. Zeiner informed 51 that a homemade torque-arm snapped on his #14 machine. -CJ Jones is running a new SPAFCO chassis out of Art Barry’s shops in CT. Jones, who runs Jones Racing Products with his brother, finished fourth after leading some laps early in the race. -Barry Callavini tried running “The Double,” by competing at both SVS and Mahoning Valley Speedway a few weeks back. The tracks, which are just 45-minutes apart from each other, both run on Saturday night during the summer months. Both of Callavini’s finishes that night were out of the top-10. This time he stuck to just one track and finished fifth. -Todd Baer had a difficult night. In practice, the mount for the pan-hard bar broke and a piece went right through the rear-end housing. The team scrambled and with the help of 5-time NASCAR Modified Tour champ Tony Hirschman, they were able to make the feature. Without making a lap after the rear-end broke, Baer worked his way up to the top-5 before becoming a victim of the front bumper of Brittian. Baer rebounded to finish eighth. -The TQ Midgets were also in action Saturday. Ian Cumens charges from his seventh starting spot and passed on the outside to grab the lead with a handful of laps to go. His sister, Alison, finished third. -Sundance Vacations Speedway has also been known as Mountain Speedway and Evergreen Raceway though the years. The track, located just 30-minutes from Pocono Raceway, is infamous for battles between Jimmy Spencer and Tony Hirschman back in the day.