ROWE WINS BACK TO BACK 250s AT OXFORD by Mike Twist
Several Contenders Falter Before Checkered Flag Waves
Running up front in Banknorth 250 at the Oxford Plains Speedway (ME) was a popular place to be on Sunday. Staying there was a little bit more difficult for just about everyone but eventual winner Ben Rowe.
Clark’s crew sprang into action before the car was even unhooked from the wrecker, but their valiant effort was not
enough to save the day. He was able to log a few more laps and finish 24th, but all hopes of a good finish were over
for the 24-year-old driver.
“Paul Bosse spun and there was smoke everywhere,” said Clark. “My spotter had told me to go high and if he (Bosse)
had just locked up the brakes after he spun, everyone could have avoided him. He didn’t stay on the brakes and as soon
as I could see through the smoke, I was T-Boning him.”
Clark wished that he could have avoided the pit stop that put him deep in the pack, but knew that was not an option in
this extra distance event.
This year's Banknorth 250 had two NASCAR Nextel drivers in the field and that helped to attract a sellout crowd, including defending Cup champion Matt Kenseth. (51 Photo)
Rowe now joins Geoffrey Bodine and Ralph Nason as the only back-to-back winners of the race.
“Two in a row is great,” said Rowe. “Everyone talked all
week about Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch and I said ‘keep on talking’ because I didn’t have to listen to the media and
everything. We could just go about our own business. We
came in here to have fun and we did.”
Several drivers, including Johnny Clark, Scott Mulkern, Scott Chubbuck, Dale Shaw and Alan Wilson took their turns
pacing the field for the open Pro Stock (deep northern eastern based Super Late Model) race. However, all of these
drivers had some type of misfortune strike them before the
Johnny Clark had the car to beat for half the race, but ended the night on the wrecker as a result of someone else's mess. (51 Photo)
finish. At the conclusion of 250 green flag laps, it was a trio of defending champions that made up the top three finishers including the reigning PASS Champion, Oxford track champion and NASCAR Cup champion.
Early in the day, it looked like lady luck was riding with Johnny Clark. The winner of last month’s DNK 250 at the Unity Raceway (ME) drew the first starting position for the first heat race,won that qualifier uncontested and started the Banknorth 250 on the pole position. He led the opening 119 laps before
making a pit stop. Soon after that stop, his day turned disastrous. While exiting turn four, a spinning car in front of him left no escape route for Clark. Heavy contact was made and Clark’s #54 had extensive front end damage.
“I can’t believe it,” said Clark. “The car was so good that I didn’t want to pit. I wished that we had about five more gallons of fuel to get to the finish. I would have stayed right out. The car was a dream to drive.”
While Clark was looking for the big trophy, for many other
drivers just getting into the show was a victory in itself.
The 250’s starting field is based on the results of six heat
races, two consolations races, a last chance event with one
transfer spot and a four extra provisionals (one to a previous race winner, two for Oxford weekly competitors who are high enough in the track’s point standings and one for a previous NASCAR Cup champion). With 87 cars entered for the
40 starting positions, some really good cars and drivers are
bound to go home and this year was no exception.
The drivers who did not qualify included Ted Christopher,
Joe Bessey, GeGe Gravel, Ryan Moore, Richie Dearborn, Jarod Robie, Chuck LaChance, Alan Tardiff, Andy Shaw and John Fleming.
There were only four provisionals for the race, but they
went to some big drivers. 2002 winner Scott Robbins and
NASCAR star Matt Kenseth were among the drivers needing a little bit of help to get into the starting field.
Kurt Busch was the other Cup driver in the field. He finished 13th. (51 Photo)
Ben Rowe (#00) held off Kenseth (#17) in a spirited late race battle. (Norm Marx Photo)
Winner Ben Rowe (middle) and third place finisher Matt Kenseth (left) were joined on the podium by second place Ricky Rolfe. (Norm Marx Photo)
For those that did make it into the big show, the early laps of the race were devoted to following Johnny Clark around. Only Scott Mulkern appeared to have anything for Clark and he poked his nose into the lead very briefly. Mulkern’s day would end early though when Nextel Cup invader Kurt Busch
tangled with him and Steve Knowlton on the backstretch. The three cars went for a wild ride through turn three with Busch getting away unharmed. The two local drivers that he ran into were not as lucky and dropped out from the event with heavy damage to their racecars.
Alan Wilson would then log some laps up front before Dale
Shaw muscled by him for the top spot. The next battle for
the lead was between Shaw and Scott Chubbuck. That battle got a little too aggressive with under 100 laps to go and resulted in a spin for Shaw and a stop and go penalty for Chubbuck. Later on, the pair would tangle again with Shaw
forcing Chubbuck off the backstretch of the racetrack in an
apparent move of retaliation.
Wilson would lead into the race’s closing laps with Ben Rowe a half lap behind with two dozen laps left.
But the 2003 race winner was making up ground quickly.
With better tires under his car, Rowe was able to close to within sight of the lead when Wilson slid off the track and up into the dirt with only 11 laps to go. From there, Rowe ran uncontested to his second consecutive 250 victory.
“Alan was out there and it for me to chase him,” said Rowe. “I could see that I was catching him. I was thinking that if I could get to him, maybe I could rattle him around or try and pick a lane to get by him. Then I saw him go off and I couldn’t believe it. I started to worry after that about my own tires and I slowed down a lot to get to the finish.”
When asked how this victory compares to his last one, Rowe gave the nod to his latest triumph.
“This win is even bigger than last year,” said Rowe. “There’s no other race that I’ve won that compares with this. This is huge. I’ve got family and a bunch of friends that come up to see us and this is awesome.”
Ricky Rolfe, the defending Oxford Pro Stock champion,
finished second. He had nothing to chase Rowe with at the end.
“I tired to get the guys up front,” said Rolfe. “But I just needed some tires to do that.”
Kenseth started last and finished third. Mike Rowe was fourth and Wilson finished fifth.
There were plenty of other stories at the 250 and Speed51 will have more coverage of the race with our upcoming Banknorth 250 Leftovers article.