It seemed like nobody was going to get out of Concord Speedway (NC) Saturday night without something bad happening.
Saturday night’s UARA-Stars Late Model Stock Car tour event was held under the late-Summer mugginess of suburban Charlotte, but was probably better off being held sometime around Halloween. From pre-race favorites, the series’ point leaders to rookies and veterans alike, it was like nobody was going to visit victory lane without at least some sort of mechanical or tire failure on their car.
Only one driver escaped from Concord truly unscathed and he was the one who ended up with the checkered flag. But make no mistake, Garrett Campbell wasn’t only in victory lane because of others’ misfortunes. The 19-year-old earned fast time in qualifying and then led the majority of the event.
But one other driver made it through the vast majority of the race unscathed, as well. Coleman Pressley qualified a disappointing 11th, but the former UARA winner at Concord patiently made his way up through the pack and eventually challenged the once-dominant Campbell. Campbell lost the lead at the start to outside-polesitter Brennan Poole, but re-gained it on lap 25 and checked out until Pressley caught him and took the lead with just 18 laps remaining.
Behind them all night long, contenders were haunted by bugs. From Poole’s flat right-front tire and hub problems, to Clint King’s right-front flat, Matt Kurzejewski’s brakes failing while running third, rookie Ronnie Bassett nudging his way into the top-five only to have an alternator problem, to Kyle Grissom and former Concord UARA winner Paddy Rodenbeck being involved the race’s first-corner crash, Concord was not friendly to most Saturday night.
But Pressley and Campbell avoided the maladies that struck their colleagues at Concord. That was, however, until the caution flag flew for Kurzejewski’s issues on lap 143.
The final caution set up a four-lap shootout between Pressley and Campbell. Pressley, who already scored a win in 2010, and Campbell, who was looking for his first-ever UARA win, saw the green flag and Campbell had only one shot left.
Two laps went by in the four-lap shootout and Pressley appeared to have this one in the books. Then, just off the final corner as he turned to see the white flag, Pressley slowed considerably. He weaved to try to thwart Campbell’s run into turn one. It didn’t work. Pressley had a flat tire like so many others at Concord and Campbell went on to score his first-ever UARA victory.
“I knew that we weren’t going to catch him on the green flags,” said Campbell. “When the caution came out, our car was really good after the tires cooled off. That thing was really gripping good when they cooled off.
“I just drove it as hard as I could. Then on the last lap, I saw him get a little hot and I just drove it in there as hard as I could and got in the gas as quick as I could. You know how the old saying is. ‘The first man in the gas wins,’ so I was making sure I got in the gas. That big backchute is pretty long and that’s where I think I gained my ground. I just drove as hard as I could on that last lap. It was awesome.”
At the time, Campbell did not realize Pressley had problems. Once Pressley felt the right-front go flat, he did everything he could to make sure his flat tire wasn’t going to cost him a race or a shot at the championship.
“I don’t know if I ran over something or what happened,” said Pressley. “It must’ve been some of that brake rotor off Matt Kurzejewski’s car. There was no sign at all. It was a four-lap shootout. The first two I was good and dad (his spotter and former NASCAR Busch Series standout Robert Pressley) said I was pulling away.
“I went into one, or maybe it was three, I don’t know. I get confused here, and it just popped and went tight all the sudden. I just kind of pinched Garrett off and kill his momentum, figuring the 11 (Robert Johnson) would come in and move him and I would kind of crutch around for the win.
“But I was scared that if I drove it too hard, it’d really pop and I’d have a destroyed racecar and a bad finish. I just held on to it as best as I could for the big picture and the points.”
Pressley was passed not only by Campbell, but also by Johnson, who scored his best-ever UARA finish with second. Pressley held on for third, followed by Michael Rouse in fourth and Concord Speedway regular Jerry Miracle in fifth.
FIRST-TIME’S A GREAT TIME
Garrett Campbell shared a laugh with Speed51.com after the race because it seemed like after every race 51 was at, Campbell would be interviewed after a top-five finish and the question of “When is that first win going to come?” would undoubtedly be asked. That question can be asked no longer.
“Oh man, this is awesome,” said Campbell. “I’ve been wanting to win one for three years now and we finally got it. We had a good car all night. This thing was unbelievable.”
Robert Johnson may not have had the second-best car at Concord Speedway Saturday night. He may have only had a car that could have put him close to the top-five. But nothing can take away Johnson’s diligence and patience to complete 150 laps at the tricky Concord tri-oval in one piece on a night when others weren’t so lucky.
The second-place finish was Johnson’s best-career UARA finish and it was one that made him a happy 18-year-old after the race.
“This is my best finish, to date, and I’m just really excited,” said Johnson. “We’ve been inching up on it. We’ve finished fourth the last two weeks. We’ve been getting closer and closer and hopefully we’ll get one of these races soon.
“We did a little bit of guesswork with the setup here tonight. We assumed that the track would tighten up and it got freer. We had to come into the pits and tighten the car up. Once we tightened it up, it was a rocketship. We sort of worked our way up there, and some guys may have fallen out that were a little better than us, but we still came out with a second-place finish.”
KURZEJEWSKI GETS HIS MOMENT IN THE SUN
The record books will forever show that Matt Kurzejewski got his first-ever UARA-Stars victory in the series’ most recent event at Tri-County Motor Speedway in North Carolina last month. But that win didn’t come with the usual burnouts or victory lane photos. Kurzejewski was handed the win after on-track winner Brennan Poole was disqualified in post-race technical inspection due to illegal heads in his #5 car.
The Pennsylvania-native Kurzejewski finally had his chance to celebrate his Tri-County victory and get the trophy and photos at Concord Speedway before Saturday night’s race, but he much rather would have gotten there after the race instead of before it.
Kurzejewski appeared to have a decent shot at a podium finish, if not better, late in the race at Concord. His chances of being an on-track winner in UARA were thwarted, however, when his brake caliper failure caused a multitude of problems beneath the #10, bringing his night to an end prematurely and his chances of being back in victory lane cut short.
“What we think happened is that a bolt on the caliper mount broke, causing the other one to come around on it,” said Kurzejewski. “The caliper got wedged in there and completely took out the right-front tire, the brake rotor and the caliper. It took out everything, plus the brake line.
“The car was phenomenal. We were on a rail tonight. We were running the crate motor. If we had more motor, we definitely would’ve been up there contending for the win.”
DOC’S HOUSE CALL
Jerry Miracle’s name as a fifth-place finisher Saturday night at Concord may be a surprise to some who follow the UARA tour, but anyone who has been to Concord Speedway’s weekly Late Model Stock Car events knows that the Concord dentist’s #32, which was re-numbered #82 with duct tape Saturday night, is almost always a contender for victory.
“Doc” Miracle came out with the UARA touring stars Saturday night and may have had to rely on a couple “Lucky Dog” passes to stay on the lead lap at the end, but he still was able to sport a shiny smile after a fifth-place run.
“We Concord boys take a lot of pride in this place,” said Miracle. “It’s a fast track. We take a lot of pride when we come in with the touring guys and run with them. These guys are awful good.
“We’re real proud of the run we had tonight. We didn’t qualify very good. I kind of put us in the hole there. We just hung around and got some breaks and got a pretty good finish out of it.”
BAD LUCK FOR BRENNAN
Brennan Poole was out to prove that his disqualification at Tri-County was behind him by putting the #5 car back into UARA victory lane Saturday night. While he did lead the first 24 laps of the race, he eventually settled into second and watched as Campbell checked out early.
“At the beginning I was just so tight, I was going to let the 12-car (Campbell) go and hope to get him later,” said Poole. “Then it just got crazy loose later on and that’s when I knew I had a tire going flat.”
Poole hit pit road with a flat right-rear tire. His team got the #5 back out on track, but just a few laps later, the right-rear hub broke off the car, ending Poole’s night.
All was not lost for Poole, however, as he was still able to finish ninth thanks to the issues of others’ throughout the race.
BREAKING “THE ROCK”
Ronnie Bassett, Jr., who earned the nickname “The Rock” back in his Bandolero and Legends Car racing days, has had a fairly impressive rookie season on the UARA tour. Bassett had a handful of top-10 finishes to his credit in 2010 going into Concord and could have had a few top-five finishes or better had bad luck not crept up on him and his #04 team in several recent races.
The story remained the same for Bassett once again at Concord, as the #04 slowed and hit pit road under green on lap 131, giving up the fourth spot for a DNF.
“We had a fast car, but we didn’t have the qualifying effort we wanted,” said Bassett, who started ninth. “We were just making it to the front when we had a alternator wire burn off and we lost power. By the time that happened, we had a right-front tire go flat. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that happened with the alternator wire, but I am glad the right-front tire didn’t blow and we’d have a wrecked racecar.
“It’s been like that the last five weeks. We’ve been fast just about every place we’ve gone. It’s not like we’re running in the back and something bad happens. At least we’re running towards the front. I’d rather nothing bad happen, but at least it’s happening when we’re running up front.”
- Twenty UARA-Stars Late Model Stocks entered the pit area Saturday night, but only 19 took the green flag. Clint Mills did not take to the track in qualifying nor the race due to engine problems.
- During the week, third-place finisher Coleman Pressley works at JTG-Daugherty Racing in Harrisburg, North Carolina. Just a few hours before the green flag waved at Concord, the car that Pressley works on during the week, the #47 NASCAR Nationwide Series car, made it to victory lane at Watkins Glen International (NY) with driver Marcos Ambrose.
- Two pre-race favorites were eliminated from contention in the first corner of the race. Kyle Grissom nudged Paddy Rodenbeck going into the first turn, sending both towards the wall. Rodenbeck got his car locked down before hitting the wall very hard, but Bo Foust was left with nowhere to go and clobbered the front end of Rodenbeck’s #81. Foust and Rodenbeck were out of the race at that point. Grissom went into the wall with his right-front corner and made several pit stops throughout the race, finishing 12th, 49 laps down.
- Other Concord Speedway NASCAR Whelen All-American Series weekly Late Model Stock drivers making the show included Jeff Melton, who also got a piece of the Rodenbeck/Grissom fracas on the first lap, finishing 15th, and Brian Conforth, who finished 17th.
- Kaleb Pressley celebrated his 21st birthday at Concord Speedway. It wasn’t the happiest of days for Pressley, however, as he had issues early on in the race and was credited with a 14th-place finish.
- Buster Bennet’s 16th-place finish may not have been what he wanted, but at Concord Speedway, Bennett and his wife Jennifer helped to raise awareness of Autism by collecting for the Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) organization at the track. The Bennets have started a North Carolina chapter of TACA and will be using Buster’s UARA and Nationwide Series events to help raise awareness for their group. For more information on TACA, visit Bennet’s website, www.busterbennet.com
- Campbell won the race using the new Ford M-6007-D347SR sealed crate motor.
- The next UARA-Stars event is this Saturday, August 14th at Kingsport Speedway (TN). Speed51.com has learned that NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Danny O’Quinn will make a return to UARA competition at Kingsport. O’Quinn’s team in the Nationwide Series does not compete in the road course, restrictor plate nor Nationwide “COT” events, such as next weekend’s at Michigan, so O’Quinn is planning on competing back in UARA, where he was the series’ inaugural champion.