The final championship chase enters its second leg: Grande…
The championship continues on it’s symbolic final lap, having left the Sportivo stretch, and is entering the Grande layout with a much shorter list of contenders. Now with only three rounds remaining, the final chess match has begun, and with it, the moves that will hopefully secure victory for their respective players.
And there is no shortage of matches to be found; Overall, Master’s, Rookie, and Heavy are all matches we have been watching to see who the final players would be, but there are many others as well. The Top 10, Top 20, and the Top 35 are all significant milestones for drivers, and with them, an obvious measuring stick for the next season. And then there are the smaller, individual battles, where each and every driver’s personal goals are on the line.
In this round’s preview, we’ll broaden our spotlight to shine it’s light on several more of these battles, take a look at the key players, and the moves they’ll need to make to win their respective matches.
A Look Back: Round #4, May 4th 2013…
Round #4 was actually a return to the Grande configuration, but was the first time run for points, as the January PreSeason Exhibition didn’t count towards the championship. Heading into the weekend, the big talking points were the need to rebound for many of the regular front-runners, including KC Cook, who was absent for the previous round.
It would be Logan Calvin striking first, securing his 5th career pole by edging out Taylor Hays and KC Cook, all three scoring valuable championship bonus points. And while all three would go on to score heat wins in their first race of the day, the man on the move was Sergio Bravo, having finished 2nd in his first heat after qualifying in 19th overall.
Heat round #2 on the day would see a new set of winners across the board, including Bravo, who would beat round #3 A-Main winner, and rival Masters driver Jay Schreiber to the line. With eight different winners in eight different heat races, it was anyone’s guess who had the upper hand heading into the A-Main, but it would be Cook leading them to the green at the start. It was in this race that the ‘work together and wait till the end’ mentality that was prevalent in the A-Mains up to that point started to erode. At least that was how it looked if you were watching Sergio Bravo circulate the track…
Starting 4th, Bravo immediately fell back to 6th, but then methodically worked his way up: 5th on lap three, 4th by lap five, then into 3rd on lap eight. Around him were the helmet taps of ‘work together’, but he was having none of it. 2nd on lap 10, and then into the lead on lap 11. He had taken the lead from Jon Kimbrell, who along with Miles Calvin, looked to be his closest challengers for the win in the final laps. Indeed, Kimbrell even put down the fastest time of the race on the penultimate lap, but it would be Bravo beating him at the finish line by just over two tenths for the win, with Miles joining them on the podium.
Top Drivers from the Spring Grande CW Race
|Sergio Bravo||2 wins||1 T3|
|Miles Calvin||1 win||2 T3’s|
|Jon Kimbrell||1 win||1 T3, 1 T5|
|Darren Mercer||1 win||1 T3|
|KC Cook||1 win||T3|
|Logan Calvin||1 win||1 T3|
|Taylor Hays||1 win||1 T5|
RD’s Spotlight: Who to watch for in Round #9
Miles Calvin. He missed round 8; the last time he came back from missing a round it was also on Grande, and he finished on the podium. Currently 4th in points, and 70 back from the lead, I’d say the fire has been lit, and he’ll be hot this weekend.
I also have an eye on 6th in points Darren Mercer, who although didn’t have as strong a round as I thought he would last month, has a way of excelling when the chips are down. 83 points back and outside of the top 5? Ya, I’d say the chips are down.
There are several others that are peaking right now, and we’ll take a look at some of the battles throughout the field, so I am going to keep this section short. That said, I am really curious to see how Jerott King does this round. He has missed 2 of the past 3 rounds, and with it his spot inside the top 10, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. If the Jerott King who was at Grand Nats and this past weekend’s Machismo 12 Hour shows up, it could be really fun to watch…
The Overall Championship: Top 6 have pulled away, but who is the favorite?
Leading the way into the ninth round is a driver with more momentum in their corner than any other has had this season. Sergio Bravo returns to the track that he won on in the Spring, is fresh off a win and a second in the past two rounds, and is leading the overall points to boot. While no stranger to being towards the sharp-end of the standings this deep into a season, Bravo is looking to be a serious contender for the championship this time around, and has put the rest of the field on notice.
So what are the goals of his rivals? Beat Bravo? Go for the win? Given the way Sergio’s been running, I’d say that they’re pretty much one in the same…
The thing is, it isn’t like the rest of the top drivers are putting up bad rounds, it’s just that Bravo is peaking at the right time, scoring 380, 380, and 395 (1155) in the past three rounds. The only other two drivers even close are Taylor Hays with 385, 370, 375 (1130) and KC Cook with 395, 345, 375 (1115). That said, both Darren Mercer and Miles Calvin have missed one of the passed three rounds, and have taken a hit in the points because of it. Both were on pace for strong numbers, but the goose egg they have in rounds 7 and 8 respectively are killers. Not only do these guys need to keep putting up their usual strong numbers, they need Bravo to stop being quite as strong as he has been. It is unrealistic to think he will all of the sudden stop being a threat in the final rounds, but him being in the top 3 or 5 on a regular basis has not been conducive to their chances.
For we spectators, the exciting part is the fact that a clinched championship is far from likely this year, as every one of the front-runners has missed a round, or has had a really dismal point total to their credit. This one’s going to come right down to the end…
Overall Top 10 Heading Into Round #9
The Masters Championship: The battle focus turns to the podium fight…
You can basically copy and paste the above paragraph about the overall hunt, right here in the Masters category as well. Bravo has a strangle hold on the point lead right now, but it isn’t because his closest rival in Jay Schreiber isn’t driving well. Quite the opposite: As if in response to Sergio’s win in round #7, Jay went out and took pole in round #8, then followed it up with a win and a third in the heat races. He capped it off with a top 10 run in the A-Main, and a 365-point day, which is strong by all counts. Problem is, when the guy you are trying to beat puts up a 395, it can get a little frustrating. Jay needs some help here; he is driving well, but unless something drastic happens to Bravo’s point totals, the 2013 Masters National Champ may see himself playing second fiddle here in the Super Series.
The real fight in this class is for the 3rd, and final spot on the podium. Capitalizing on the absence of Dave Messimer, and some of the misfortunes of Ben Blank, David Kelmenson has leaped frog the duo, and has taken over the third spot, but he can by no means relax. Messimer was the 2012 Masters National Champion, and last year’s runner up in this category, finishing 7th overall in the final tally. Ben Blank’s point totals don’t reflect his outright pace, or his improved ability as of late, as more than one of his runs have been cut at the knees by adversity.
Kelmenson may have it, but any one of these three have what it takes to earn that third spot in the category, and it will be an exciting run to the finish.
Masters Top 5
The Rookie Championship: Contenders count 6; but for how long?
For the first time all season, every contender (in attendance) for the rookie title put up strong numbers, and the point swings were relatively low. Spring left the day maintaining his point lead via a 255-point run, but he still lost a few points to his rivals, as they put up 278, 312, 266, and 289 to close the gap now inside 300 points at its largest.
At this point the top four are still the primary contenders, as all are inside of 177 points back, and could be in the lead if Spring has a ‘throw-out run’. That said, aside from Enz’s breakout 312 performance this past round, Spring and 6th place Andrew Lemons are the only ones who have scored a 300+ point days. This means it is far more likely that it will be three rounds of ‘chipping away’ versus one big round that will see anyone 2nd on back move up the charts, and into the lead.
For Charles Eichlin and Andrew Lemons, they need those aforementioned 300+ point days, and on top of that, need the guys in front of them to stick to the sub 200’s. It is a tough thing when you need a little help from others to score the win, but it isn’t impossible. For these two, round #9 will be telling.
And speaking of round #9, the two rookies I will be watching closely are Michael Wojdat, who is coming off of a long European vacation, and Ian Enz who has been the strongest of the rookies over the past two rounds. For his part, Wojdat needs to return with a bang, and score some very strong points; losing more points this round isn’t an option. In Enz I think we have a case of a driver who has hit his stride, and is going to be tough to beat; the question is, has he hit that stride too late?
Top Rookie Contenders
The Heavy Class: A mano-e-mano bout to the finish, and the title…
Mike Arnold’s season has been turned on its head. Over the course of the first four rounds, he outscored everyone in his class hand over fist, and built up such a sizeable lead, that it looked like he was untouchable. Rounds five and six were still strong rounds, but not quite as strong as he had been used to posting. Then in the latest two rounds he scored uncharacteristic low points, and at the same time his rival was putting in his best. Arnold still has a strong point lead heading into he final three rounds, as the past two have effectively been his throw outs, but he’ll need to return to his 200+ point days to retain the top spot.
While not as strong a round as round #7, round #8 was still a step in the right direction for Steve Jasinski, as he once again shortened the gap to the lead. While still 106 points back, he has out scored Arnold by large amounts over the past two rounds, and is looking at his best. Also to his advantage, is the fact that Arnold now has had a couple of low scoring rounds, which effectively improves Steve’s potential to gain ground on him. Before, he would score well, but when Arnold had a rough round, he’d just throw it out. Now, Mike will have to keep just about everything he puts up, which opens the door quite a bit.
It really has become an exciting dual, in what was once thought to be all but decided. Both drivers have shown what they are capable of, and either one could win this thing. Question is, who wants it more?
The key matchups: Top 10 and Top 20 maybe; Top 15 and top 35, YES!
The Top 10 and Top 20 battles are still important, and significant to those involved, but there are some fairly large gaps in the points either fore or aft of the couple of participants, so we won’t focus on them as much. The Top 15, 25, and 35 battles however, are also very important, and involve numerous drivers, which makes them all the more exciting to watch. And, this makes them even more unpredictable, which is always fun…
Top 10 and Top 20
For the Top 10, it’s really between Feldkamp and King at the moment, although they aren’t so separated that it will stay like that indefinitely; it’s just improbable it won’t. It will most likely stay one-on-one until the end, which will be fun to keep an eye on.
The fight to get inside the Top 20 is also kind of decided, just because of the consistency shown by those who are on the inside already. Still not impossible, but I would be surprised if it was anyone besides Morse or da Silva that made it happen. The 200+ point gap from 23rd in points on back I think may just be too big to touch in the next 3 rounds.
|21||Jose da Silva||-113|
Spotlight: Top 15 Battle…
This may be the most exciting group, as it consists of every driver between 12th and 20th in the standings, the whole group is consistent, and regularly races wheel to wheel. It could literally become a position on track is a position in the points, and will certainly come down to the final race of the year.
|12. ||Nick Haye||+81|
Spotlight: The top 35 Battle…
This battle consists of a large group of drivers, and actually contains several smaller battles within it, and is also where the most fluctuation in point hauls can be found. With race-by-race totals varying by 200 points or more in some rounds, there is no predicting how this will shake up, but everyone of the drivers listed here could makes some noise in the final rounds, and move up the ladder quite a bit. In addition to the drivers listed below, there is a tightly packed group just outside the top 40 that are in striking distance, but they will have to put in some fantastic runs, and get a little help from lady luck to move inside the top 35…