Contending for national honors never really entered into Duane Howard’s mind. Running on the dirt at Grandview Speedway in Bechtesville, Penn., where being the points leader means you never start better than 16th in the feature, Howard figured there were just too many obstacles.
When he started the year with just two top-three finishes – and no wins – in his first six starts, it looked even bleaker.
But the 46-year-old from Oley, Penn., has staged a remarkable summer run. Starting with his second-place finish on May 22, Howard has six wins and six runner-up finishes in 12 starts. It’s pushed him to the top of the points standings in the 385 Modified Division at Grandview and given him a sizable lead in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Pennsylvania state standings.
To top it off, Howard’s win this past Saturday was his third in a row and allowed him to jump from seventh to fourth in the national championship standings. With 700 points, Howard trails third-place Justin Johnson by just 16 points.
“There’s no pressure at all because we never really looked at it until recently,” Howard said. “We thought maybe top 10, but we never figured we’d be able to jump up all the way to where we are. We have a lot of cars to pass every night.”
The top three drivers will be honored on stage at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Award Banquet at the Charlotte Convention Center's Crown Ballroom in the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, Dec. 10.
Keith Rocco, of Wallingford, Conn., has already clinched the national championship by reaching the maximum number of points, at 810. That hasn’t slowed him down, as he earned win No. 21 last Friday in the asphalt Modified division at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
By virtue of his national championship, Rocco also secured a spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series postseason race in January that has earned the title as the 'Daytona 500 of short-track racing.'
Craig Preble, of Yuma, Neb., improved his second-place total to 777 points with a second-place finish in the crate Late Model division at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., on Saturday and a win at I-80 Speedway in Omaha on Sunday.
Preble has 20 wins, 33 top fives and 33 top 10s in 34 starts. Johnson, of Durham, N.C., won in the asphalt Late Model division at South Boston (Va.) Speedway and has 12 wins, 17 top fives and 20 top 10s in 21 starts.
Howard has six wins, 17 top fives and 18 top 10s in 18 starts.
CE Falk III has a first and second in twin asphalt Late Model features at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., and is fifth with 697 points.
Ted Christopher, of Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway and Stafford, is sixth, followed by Greg Edwards of Langley, Matt Buller and Bill Leighton Jr. of I-80 Speedway and Junction Motor Speedway, and Woody Pitkat of Thompson and Stafford.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sunday, Sept. 19 are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner received two points for every car in the event up to 20. Second place received two fewer points, and so-on through the field. Race winners received an additional five bonus points. For example, if there are 20 cars, the winner received 45 points, second gets 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner received 35 points, second gets 28 and third, 26.
For Howard, his biggest jump came as he reached his 18th race. Now, with three races remaining, he can work toward dropping his worst finishes and making incremental improvements to his points total.
It’s come full circle for Howard, who has been racing for 25 years. He started at Grandview with cars housed in the garage they built on the family farm. After connecting with car owner Chad Sinon, he returned to Grandview full time three years ago. They’ve finished second in the points each of the last two years – running the cars out of the old garage where he began.
“We have a new Troyer car and it’s just been so consistent week in and week out,” said Howard, who works in road and maintenance for the local township. He and his wife, Jill, have two daughters, Jessica and Erica.
“To come through the pack every single week, it really is incredible,” Howard said. “We’re just not getting into trouble. The car is fast enough. We’re just doing this basic thing week in and week out. We don’t need to do anything different, and that goes a long way.”
Almost all the way to the top.
National Top 500 NASCAR Points Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 43 21 31 40 810
2 Craig Preble I-80 Speedway 34 20 33 33 777
3 Justin T Johnson South Boston Speedway 21 12 17 20 716
4 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 18 6 17 18 700
5 C E Falk, III Langley Speedway 26 9 18 24 697
6 Ted Christopher Thompson Intl Speedway 30 8 19 23 688
7 Greg Edwards Langley Speedway 22 7 18 20 671
8 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 34 6 25 30 666
9 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 35 1 28 32 649
10 Woody Pitkat Stafford Motor Speedway 28 4 17 26 624
11 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 19 6 13 16 610
12 Woody Howard Langley Speedway 24 1 16 22 599
13 Ron Sheridan Delaware Speedway 17 6 14 17 598
14 Burt Myers Bowman Gray Stadium 19 5 9 18 597
15 J Herbst Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 17 3 11 17 583
16 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 22 12 22 22 582
17 Danny Edwards, Jr Langley Speedway 21 1 15 18 577
18 Ron Yuhas, Jr Waterford Speedbowl 17 0 14 17 576
19 Brandon Dean Motor Mile Speedway 19 1 11 16 563
20 Shawn Pfaff Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 17 4 11 16 562
21 Lee Jeffreys Bowman Gray Stadium 19 2 11 16 562
22 Jacob Brown I-80 Speedway 27 1 10 21 559
23 Scott Lindsay Delaware Speedway 17 2 14 17 554
24 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 24 1 10 16 543
25 Wayne Ramsey Motor Mile Speedway 15 4 12 14 540