For three straight years, Keith Rocco put together seasons that would be the envy of most drivers. But they fell short of his ultimate goal.
He was determined not to be denied again.
To that end, Rocco has been nearly unstoppable in the asphalt Modified Divisions on the short tracks of Connecticut. The 25-year-old Wallingford, Conn., driver picked up his 19th and 20th wins of the season this past weekend.
And Tuesday, Rocco got the congratulatory call from George Silbermann, NASCAR managing director of racing operations, to let him know it was official. Rocco is the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion.
“It’s so much relief, it’s not even funny,” said Rocco. “To come so close for so many years and to finally get it done …
“There isn’t going to be anything better than to be able to go to the banquet and celebrate as the champion. And to be the first one at the Hall of Fame is something that almost makes you speechless.”
Rocco will be honored 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.
After three straight years where the national championship came down to the last race on the last weekend, Rocco was able to lock up the short-track championship with a month remaining before the Sept. 19 deadline for races to count.
That’s because of Rocco’s 20 wins, 18 have come against a field of 20 or more cars.
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.
If two drivers finish the season with identical points, final positions are determined by a tiebreaker procedure. If two drivers finish with the maximum 810 points, the deciding tiebreaker is the first driver to have achieved the 18th 45-point win.
Rocco accomplished that Saturday night with his 10th win of the season at the Waterford Speedbowl. He also has eight wins at Stafford Motor Speedway, including his last-lap pass for the win this past Friday night.
Rocco finished second in the nation to three-time champion Philip Morris of Ruckersville, Va., last year and fourth the two previous years. This season, Rocco won six of his first eight starts and never relinquished his hold on first place.
“When you surround yourself with great people, you get results,” Rocco said. “You can’t do it with one or two people. It’s a combination of everybody working together. When they’re really working together and everything clicks, it’s almost unbeatable.”
Even though Rocco put the lock on the championship, there is still plenty of honors up for grabs in the final month, including track, U.S. state and Canadian province championships, as well as who will finish second and third in the nation and join Rocco on the big stage at the Hall of Fame.
Craig Preble of Yuma, Neb., remained in second with 770 points. He has 19 wins - 11 coming against the maximum 20-car field - to go with 31 top fives and 31 top 10s in 32 crate dirt Late Model division starts. Preble was third Saturday at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb., and second at I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday.
Justin Johnson of Durham, N.C., beat former national champion Peyton Sellers to win Saturday night in the asphalt Late Model division at South Boston (Va.) Speedway. It was Johnson’s 12th win of the season and improved his third-place total to 716.
Ted Christopher won at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway Thursday and was second to Rocco at Stafford Friday. He is fourth overall with 686 points. Christopher won the national title in 2001 and is the last Connecticut driver before Rocco to achieve the honor.
CE Falk III is fifth with eight wins at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., and 670 points.
Matt Buller of I-80 Speedway and Junction Motor Speedway is sixth, followed by Duane Howard of Grandview Speedway in Bechtesville, Pa., Bill Leighton of I-80 Speedway and Junction Motor Speedway, Greg Edwards of Langley, and Woody Pitkat of Thompson and Stafford.
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.'
But Rocco isn’t looking that far ahead.
“We're still working our tails off getting ready for the following week,” Rocco said.
National Top 500 NASCAR Points Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 41 20 30 38 810
2 Craig Preble I-80 Speedway 32 19 31 31 770
3 Justin T Johnson South Boston Speedway 21 12 17 20 716
4 Ted Christopher Thompson Intl Speedway 28 8 18 21 686
5 C E Falk, Iii Langley Speedway 24 8 16 22 670
6 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 32 5 23 28 661
7 Duane Howard Grandview Speedway 17 5 16 17 655
8 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 33 1 27 31 649
9 Greg Edwards Langley Speedway 20 7 16 18 637
10 Woody Pitkat Stafford Motor Speedway 26 3 16 24 619
11 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 19 6 13 16 610
12 Woody Howard Langley Speedway 22 1 15 20 595
13 Burt Myers Bowman Gray Stadium 18 5 9 17 585
14 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 21 12 21 21 580
15 Brandon Dean Motor Mile Speedway 19 1 11 16 563
16 Danny Edwards, Jr Langley Speedway 19 1 15 17 555
17 Lee Jeffreys Bowman Gray Stadium 18 2 11 16 546
18 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 23 1 10 16 543
19 Jacob Brown I-80 Speedway 26 1 9 20 543
20 Wayne Ramsey Motor Mile Speedway 15 4 12 14 540
21 Ron Yuhas, Jr Waterford Speedbowl 16 0 13 16 540
22 J Herbst Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 16 2 10 16 538
23 Ron Sheridan Delaware Speedway 15 5 13 15 533
24 Steve Carlson Lacrosse Fairgrounds Speedway 15 6 10 14 526
25 Toby Porter Greenville-Pickens Speedway 21 6 19 20 526