NIESSNER, FULTZ THE BIG WINNERS IN NASHVILLE by Jeremy Troiano
Former ASA Driver Makes Exciting Late Race Pass For The Win
If you were to look at the final results sheet of Saturday night's NASCAR Southeast Series finale at Nashville's Music City Motoplex, you would have thought it was probably one of the most boring races of the year.
At the end of the 150-lap event, only two drivers, pole-sitter JR Norris and second-place qualifier Zach Niessner were on the lead lap. But, continue looking down the results page and look at the margin of victory. You'll see it was anything but a bore. That number... 0.201 seconds.
Niessner, making his first Southeast Series start, came to town on a mission. The former ASA rookie, who was dropped from SS Racing after the 2003 season, has struggled trying to make it on his own this year. He came out of the box strong when he qualified on the pole for the ASA season opener at Lakeland (FL) in a rented car and was running in the top-five when something broke on the car and he slammed into the outside wall.
Since then, Neissner has tried to get off the ground with his own racing team. He built a new NASCAR Elite Division touring car and planned to try and run at least one race in all of the four divisions. He finished second in a Southwest Series race at Irwindale Speedway earlier this year. He never made it to the Northwest and his Midwest shot was cut
short by a broken engine in practice.
But Saturday night, he made his Southeast Series shot count.
Niessner, as did the entire field, trailed Norris from the start. Norris had to start eighth despite his pole after the invert. He wasted little time in grabbing the lead from Justin Wakefield on lap 26. From there, Norris went on a ramapge and put all but the top four cars a lap down before the first yellow waved at lap 90. When Erik Darnell dropped out just a couple of laps later with ignition problems, that left just three cars (Norris, Neissner and Wakefield) on the lead lap. But the caution did something else.
It let Niessner, who has trailed Norris by nearly 13 seconds at one point, catch right back up.
Another caution on lap 94 set up a 50-lap shootout to the
end between Norris and Niessner. The two raced nose-to-tail for those final 50 laps until, with just seven to go,
Niessner trapped Norris behind Wakefield as they lapped him and opening the door for just the night's second pass for the lead.
Norris battle back over the next few laps and the two raced side-by-side, but eventually, Niessner pulled away and took the checkers for his first career SES win.
Zach Niessner surprised everyone with his win at Nashville on Saturday night. (51 photos)
“It is just the perfect night,” simply said Niessner in Victory Lane. “(My crew) was giving me lap times and I knew it was just me and JR. I knew we had to get out in front to have the shot because he could hold us off otherwise, so I was just looking for the right opportunity. “Lapped traffic was good most of the night, but just that one time they ended up catching JR and opened up a spot for me to go through.
“The car was just that good tonight. It was one of the best cars I’ve ever had. I wasn’t really even pushing the car that hard. Our plan was to just ride around. We got a good start but JR just took off. There for a while, we were running the same lap times as him, but we were a half lap down, so we were just waiting for that caution to come.
“JR got stuck behind the lapped car. I wasn’t going to wreck him. I always said I’d nudge someone for the win but he was battling for points. So it was nice to have a nice whole to stick it in and just go.”
It was evident early that Niessner's #88 was one of the fastest on the track.
Norris, who was looking for the SES championship in addition to the win, said the engine started to lose power and that probably cost him the victory.
“I wanted to lead the thing. I felt better setting my own pace,” said Norris, who also lcoked up the Rookie of the Year title on Saturday night. “I got to the lead and set my own pace. I was just pulling away. Then, around lap 80, the motor laid down on me. I just kept driving it as hard as I could. They had that caution and he got to me; that enabled him to get up to me. I couldn’t do anything wit him after that. If I could have kept him behind me, I thought I could have held him off. Once he got into front of me, I couldn’t do anything wit him. He out motored me on the straights.”
Even if Norris had gotten the win, it wouldn't have mattered in the chase for the title. Jeff Fultz, who ran horrible on Saturday night in Nashville, finishing 13th, three laps down, captured the crown by just 19 points.
“We’ve won five races this year in pretty convincing fashion, but we
JR Norris got the Bud Pole Award on Saturday night, but couldn't hold off Niessner when his engine took a turn for the worse.
struggled with the car here ever since we unloaded.,” said Fultz. “The car was so loose I couldn’t drive it. All the guys on the team kept me calm because I was getting pretty upset with the way we were running. We just had to finish even though where we ended up was kind of a letdown.
“This is our second championship with this team and it means a lot. My race team is so good they make it easy on me as a driver. We had a great season even though we had a couple of bad races. In all honesty, this is the worst race we’ve had in five years. We just missed the setup.”
Wakefield held on to third, with Kevin Prince and Jason
Hogan coming home fourth and fifth.
But Saturday night belonged to Zach Niessner. It was, to say
the least, a feel good win, one that many people helped him
“I got a lot of help from a lot of people for this,” added Niessner. “Since I got out of ASA, we are just trying to race as much as we can, but it has been a financial struggle. I still have a lot of people
Fultz just held on to the Championship after a bad run on Saturday night.
that believe in me. A lot of them will help me out when they can. It wasn’t all of my brain work, but it was my crew chief and some outside help. They know who they are.
“It is though, just the perfect night. It is a great win for me, but moreover, for my team. They deserve it.”