From the ‘Short Track’ of CalSpeed’s Oval Showdown last week, to the venue’s ‘Super Speedway’ this week, the end of May is all about close quarters pack racing. While the oval saw tight, nose to tail racing all the way to the finish, expect the high speeds of Nuovo to again host nothing less but the closest finishes we’ll see all year.

The weekend promises to be the hottest one so far on the calendar, far and away different from what we saw the last time we took to the near flat-out layout in January. The grid looks a little bit different too; not necessarily the faces, but the hierarchy in where they sit in the point standings. We enter the track not on equal footing, but instead with a list of the who’s who for their respective championships, and favorites for the podium come days end.

The first of the track layouts to be visited for the second time this year, the question will be if we will see a repeat winner in Logan Calvin, fresh off a win one round ago, or if we will see a new driver stand atop the podium. Nuovo has a knack for providing exciting and close finishes, with unfamiliar faces at the sharp end…

Round #6, Nuovo: A look back on the Season Opener; 1/3/15…

The season opened on the Nuovo layout back on January 3rd, it’s regular high speeds bolstered by the cool temperatures, barely making it to 60 degrees that day. Qualifying saw a dual between champions; with defending Super Series champion Jon Kimbrell edging out Logan Calvin by just .09 for the first pole position of the year.

Kimbrell would back up his speed in qualifying, scoring both his heat wins en route to pole position in the A-Main, joined to his outside by Nuovo ace Sergio Bravo after also scoring the heat race sweep. Also grabbing heat race wins would be Jose da Silva, Chris Huerta, Adam Nagao, and Wes Dent. And although he qualified second overall, Logan Calvin would see himself start a few rows back in the A-Main, after finishing second and third in his two heats.

Calvin would not be denied however, making his way to the front in quick order, with only Kimbrell and Bravo able to stay in touch with the former National Champ. In the end Bravo would lose the top two, and Kimbrell would be unable to make the move stick on Calvin, making Logan Calvin the first winner of the 2015 Season…

Smitty’s Spotlight: Bravo is the ‘Master’; Calvin carries the momentum…

The Nuovo layout is one of the few tracks in the CalSpeed repertoire that lends itself to ‘specialists’, drivers that just seem to do well on the configuration. Ironically it also is a track that tends to get drivers some career firsts; poles, heat wins, podiums and even overall wins. Not recognized as one the most technical layouts, it is still considered a driver’s track via ones need to be good at the chess match behind the wheel.

For this reason its no wonder that the two most successful drivers on the layout are also former champions, with Sergio Bravo and Logan Calvin topping the statistical charts. Both drivers have been on the podium the past two times we have been on Nuovo, and have shared it with the same guy each time, fellow Super Series champion Jon Kimbrell. This point is pretty impressive in of itself, but if you add in the fact that Bravo hasn’t missed a podium the past four times we have been here, it makes it all the more clear he is the ‘Master’ of Nuovo.

He’ll have a hefty challenge form Calvin though, as the current point leader not only won the most recent race here, he’s fresh off a win earlier this month at round #5. It will be no surprise if we once again see a battle of champions this weekend, and I got a chance to catch up with Sergio ahead of tomorrows race:

Mike Smith: You are the most successful driver on the Nuovo layout, having stood on the podium more than any other driver, including at the season opener this past January. What is it about Nuovo that clicks for you?

Sergio Bravo: Well, I don’t really know why Nuovo in particular has historically clicked for me, but I’m not taking any of that for granted. I approach every race as one I’ve never done before and that’s why I never pay much attention to what track were running in advance. That way, no matter what track, I’m always looking for ways to improve in any way possible and my attitude is not going to change for this race.

MS: Your last win here came in this very same race last year, besting Logan Calvin and Jon Kimbrell in the process. Ironically, it was the three of you again on the podium at round #1; Aside from the two others you have shared the podium with, whom else do you see as a threat to keep you from another Nuovo victory?

SB: This year I think we’ve had the greatest mix of drivers at the front of Heats and A Mains than ever before. That being said, the names don’t matter to me. My goal is simply to be in a position to keep everyone and anyone behind me at the finish line.

MS: Do find there are many differences between the Season opener and this event, at the half season mark? Does the weather change things, or does the approach to the two events change given where they are in the season?

SB: If your going to win you always have to find a way to adjust to varying conditions. It doesn’t matter if it’s weather, karts, track conditions or the varying drivers you are racing against – adjusting and adjusting quickly is how you get to the front.

MS: In your opinion, what will be the keys to having a solid day tomorrow, and what does it take to finding the podium as often here as you do?

SB: The keys are; Put myself in a position to win, and then do everything I can to make it happen.

Top 5 Best Returning Nuovo Drivers

Sergio Bravo: 2 Wins, 7 podiums, 9 Heat Wins, 20 T 3’s, 7 F.L., 1 pole

Logan Calvin: 2 Wins, 5 podiums, 8 Heat Wins, 23 T 3’s, 5 F.L.

Darren Mercer: 2 Wins, 3 podiums, 7 Heat Wins, 12 T 3’s, 5 F.L.

Jon Kimbrell: 1 Win, 6 podiums, 10 Heat Wins, 24 T 3’s, 6 F.L., 2 poles

Miles Calvin: 1 win, 4 podiums, 10 Heat Wins, 18 T 3’s, 5 F.L., 1 pole

The Overall Championship: Logan Calvin leads all; has set a high bar to beat

Logan Calvin is the de-facto guy to beat right now, having won twice, and has stood on the podium in 4 of the 5 rounds so far this season. He’s looking a lot like the driver that won the Super Series Championship and Sport Kart Grand Nationals in the same year in 2012, and has set a high bar for any who mean to challenge him.

But there are challengers a plenty as we reach the end of the first half of the season; Second place runner Jon Kimbrell has three podiums of his own, has been driving quite well, and has been in position to score wins on more than one occasion. A couple rough rounds separates his season thus far from Logan, but he has shown he’s well up to the challenge to defend his title.

Wes Dent is the first of the few break out performances of 2015, scoring his first win in the rain shortened second round, but then backed it up with another podium in round #4. Dent has shown he has what it takes to not only be at the sharp end, but also beat the best, and needs just a little more to be a title contender, and not just a podium threat.

2013 Super Series champ is once again at the sharp end of the standings threatening ‘the kids’, scoring a podium in the opening round, and a pair of fourths since. Now heading to the Nuovo layout for the race he won last year, Bravo is in perfect position to make in-roads for the championship, and finish out the first half of the season on a high note.

Taking the entirety of last year off saw the beginning of Miles Calvin’s 2015 campaign start off a bit slowly, but he has found his old step, scoring a pole and top five in round #3, and followed it up with a podium earlier this month at round #5. The elder Calvin looks to be hitting his stride at the right time, and being no slouch on the Nuovo bodes well for his chances another solid run to enter the summer months.

Adam Nagao is the other big surprise for the 2015 season, taking the next step up the ladder after a solid 2014 season that saw him make every A-Main and challenge for a top 10 in the standings. With three 4th place finishes already this season, Nagao has proven he has the pace to be at the sharp end, and throw in a Sprint Series podium this year, as well as a podium at the Oval Showdown last week, and he has shown he can finish up there too. A return to Nuovo could be just what he needs to find that little extra he needs to challenge for a podium overall.

Having a quietly strong season so far, Hays is one of just three drivers to say both of their throw outs are in the 300’s, and more specifically is third in the throw out strength department. While consistent all year, Hays hasn’t found the podium yet, but his three top 5 finishes have kept him within striking distance for the overall podium. A former winner on the Nuovo layout, Taylor is another one of those drivers that could use the flat-out layout as a springboard for the rest of the season.

Scoring the fabled “Perfect Day” earlier this month showed that the reigning National Champ has lost no step this year, and his win boosted him up the standings to 9th. Always a threat for these epic, big results, ‘Downsy’ will need to find the front on a bit more regular basis if the he will be on the podium come season’s end.

Darren Mercer rounds out our focus on the championship heading into the halfway point of the season, and like Hays, has had a pretty quiet but solid run so far this year. He hasn’t really had a bad round yet this year, not taking into account missing the previous event, his podium in round #4 also showed he’s still a threat for the overall win. If he is able to parlay these strong runs thus far into wins or podiums, then we’ll see ole ‘D-Merc’ shoot up the standings in quick succession.

Top 15 Overall Standings

1Logan Calvin 1195(323/365)
2Jon Kimbrell1175 (219/268)
3Wes Dent1164(308/357)
4Sergio Bravo [M]1145(274/326)
5Miles Calvin 1130(255/310)
6Adam Nagao1125(257/344)
7Taylor Hays1090(320/325)
8Aaron Downs1068(293/296)
9Darren Mercer1067(0/338)
10Chris Huerta1045(0/0)
11Diego Morales [M]1043(0/0)
12Justin Tolman1042(249/313)
13Jose da Silva [M] 1039(274/309)
14Bill Kreig1021(0/292)
15Kirk Feldkamp 1004 (183/272)

The Masters Championship: Keep an eye on Morales… 

Bravo still commands the Masters class, and while guys like Jose da Silva, David Kelmenson and Ben Blank having been keeping him honest, it is Diego Morales that is the one that could be the biggest threat. Coming into the season after missing the opening two rounds, Morales made a statement by scoring victory in his 2015 debut. The fact he has nothing to fall back on with the pair of goose eggs in the throw out category will make it difficult, but not impossible to take the fight to Bravo.

That said, the uncharacteristically up-and-down trend in this category means that the amount of points one could gain or lose is fairly high, which keeps all of the aforementioned drivers in the hunt for this podium. Bravo may be the guy to beat, and Morales the primary challenger, but that is about where the guarantees end. And Nuovo could be the track that sees it all turn on its head…

Top 5 Masters Standings

1Sergio Bravo1145 (274/326)
2Diego Morales1043(0/0)
3Jose da Silva1039(274/309)
4David Kelmenson997(114/288)
5Ben Blank935(272/278)

The Grand Masters Championship: Top 3 fight; Latimer and Starr are coming

The spotlight on the top 3 fight continues to the half way mark of the season, as both Messimer and Kimbrell show no signs of letting go of the top two spots. Ed Lewis has held onto the 3rd spot for a couple rounds now, and has also shook free of a couple challengers during that time. During that time though, two of those challengers have started to hit their stride, as last year’s #2 and #3 put up numbers ahead of their closest competitors.

Jeff Latimer put up the third highest total of the day to move into the fifth spot in the standings, and Brain Starr’s second highest score sees him 7th, now within 57 points of the third and final podium spot. 3rd-7th look to be the primary contenders for the Grands Masters final spot in the awards, but there is still a lot of season to go, and the inevitable improvement that comes after the Grands weekend, in which Lewis and 4th place Duane Lawson will be attending…

Top 10 Grand Masters Standings

1Dave Messimer 913(283/287)
2Dennis Kimbrell 711(166/192)
3Ed Lewis 553(116/146)
4Duane Lawson529(120/132)
5Jeff Latimer512(115/148)
6Steve Frame506(108/142)
7Brian Starr496(0/0)
8Roger Adams 421(0/107)
9Joe Sabella416(83/96)
10Greg Reinhardt368(92/102)

 The Rookie Championship: Spicer leads; fight between 2nd-5th is epic…

The last time these drivers saw the Nuovo layout it was the season opener, in which every single one of the contenders dropped. Since then they have all improved, going to a different track every round, learning and working on their craft in an effort to find some sort of advantage over the other, and make their way up the standings.

This weekend marks the first race in which they will all return to familiar territory, and given what has been learned, should be their best chance to enter the weekend on even ground. Kyle Spicer has be the de-facto leader in this group since the drop of the green, but he hasn’t pulled out to an insurmountable lead.

Given the fact there is near nothing separating his challengers, attacks at his supremacy will be from every angle, and we could see a big weekend change things in terms of momentum for any one of these guys. Of the group, Sergio Serrano and Luis Calderon seem to be finding a bit more pace as of late, working their way up from the lower part of the top five in the most recent round.

All of the top five have shown great potential, and it is just a matter of when, not if they have that breakout moment…

Top 5 Rookie Standings

1Kyle Spicer 809(195/233)
2Brent Curran662(147/171)
3Sergio Serrano627(144/163)
4Luis Calderon627(122/136)
5Drew Zeller619 (179/187)

The Heavy Class: Breakout for Lewen; now a true contender?

As he needed to do, Doug Lewen put in a career performance that saw him the top point earner in the Heavy Class, staving off Rodney Bryant’s steady march away from the rest of the group. He was also able to move up into the second spot with Mike Collins being absent, and with Mike once again scheduled to miss this weekend, that advantage could widen even further. But the real question is, can we now consider Lewen a true contender for the Title?

The potential is there, this I have no doubt; seeing him drive in clinics, as well as these events proves there is a chance to improve; he just needs to seize it. Outscoring Bryant by 13 regularly will see him continue to chip away, but he’ll need a bit more than that to fight for he top spot.

Nuovo is kinder to the Heavy class drivers, as the fact we are on the gas nearly the whole way around means very little chances to lose ground do to acceleration zones. Big points are on tap this weekend, and it will be interesting to see what Lewen’s encore will be…

Top 5 Heavy Class Standings

1Rodney Bryant 478(125/140)
2Doug Lewen359(68/69)
3Mike Collins343(0/48)
4Paul Juarez 245(30/44)
5Jeff Asberry170(16/23)

The Team Championship: No change in the top 5…

Only the top team is awarded at season’s end for the Team Championship category, and we  are starting to see the final contenders now as we approach the halfway point of the season. This weekend’s event will see a return to a track for the first time, and like the Rookie fight I spoke of before, the team championship could also see thing ebb and flow a bit more too. Aside from the top two teams, the opening round on Nuovo wasn’t very kind, and this will be a chance for redemption for a lot of the names in the top 5. Aside from Team GranStand, each has a former Nuovo winner in there ranks, so the foundation is certainly there for strong points, it will just be more about those #2 and #3 drivers to hit the ground running.

A near 200 point margin to second, and over 400 to 5th bodes well for our leaders RNA – Imola though; the rest of these teams will need to start making inroads before its too late…

Top 5 Team Standings

1RNA – Imola 2884(1365)
2IKM – GranStand2689(1015)
3Calvin Racing Development 2623(1482)
4IKM – S3 2523(1202)
5CRD – Gold2478(1160)