Returning to the CalSpeed Calendar after a four-year hiatus, the Oval Showdown introduced many to the left-only aspect who hadn’t been around for the event’s 3 year run from 2014-2016. While it was no surprise to see some of the more experienced drivers from the previous editions at the sharp end, several first-time runners made noise in their CalSpeed Oval debuts, and there was a lot of good racing on the day…
The 2020 edition of the event would see “DMarlingtonsville” (the D is silent) back in place, although the track would look a little different, and certainly drive different from iterations 1-3. With CalSpeed getting a facelift in 2019, the front straight had moved, which made turns 3-4 longer than they were before, and a paving job in the Long Beach section would mean a different
surface for turns 1-2. Once practice had finished for the morning however, it was clear that the secrets of the new tweaks had been discovered, and there would be plenty of side-by-side action when racing began.
Before the heat races would begin however, qualifying would take place, and it was KC Cook bringing home the pole position with a best lap cracking into the 20-second range, while Doug Yauney and Tyler Redman went fast enough to score pole positions for groups two and three respectively.
Once the green flag flew for the heat races, it really became clear which drivers had things figured out, and which ones were like a fish out of water turning left only. Sam Hunt would score the victory in heat 1a after starting second to Cook, while Luis Calderon did the same from Yauney, while Ayrton Demoss claimed heat 1c after starting third. The second set of heats
would see a small shakeup in the groups and an invert of the top ten, an obvious recipe for a lot of side by side racing. This time around it was 2015 Oval Showdown winner Chris Huerta scoring the win in heat 2a, Redman rebounding from a tough first heat with the 2b win, and Michael
Hazelwood bringing home the heat 2c W to finish things off. Overall it would be Sam Hunt scoring pole position for the A-Main by backing up his win with a 2nd in second heat, while pole sitter KC Cook when 2 for 2 in the runner up spot to start on the outside of row one for the A.
But before the A Main could go off, a pair of preliminary mains first had to run, and there was one driver on top of the pile for both. Mistakes in the heat races saw the #2 qualifying not get the results he aimed for, but when the mains came around, we saw possibly what might have been with a clean day. In the C-Main, Yauney would make what this writer -and commentator in the mains- thought was the move of the day; starting back on row 7, he would steadily work his way through the field, finally getting to the top three which is where the move would happen. As the leaders headed into turn three, he would already be alongside for second, but would capitalize on the traffic they were approaching with a surge under the brakes going in. The move would see him not only secure the pass for second, but also steal away the lead, making it a 2 for one move from 3rd to 1st . Yauney wouldn’t look back from there, bringing home the C-Main win, transferring to the B-Main, and then showing why he was the #2 qualifer; pitting straight away, he would get out of the traffic immediately, and then just click off fast lap after fast lap, leapfrogging his way to the top without having to really fight for it on track. Between the pass in the C and speed in the B, it was no wonder he was in the A-Main when the green flew on the last race of the day.
The start of the 60 lap A-Main saw Hunt and Cook lead the field down into turn number one, but it was Chris Huerta coming away with the lead by the time they crossed the line the first time. For the opening couple of circuits it would be Huerta, Hunt, Cook, but Cook would waste no time, slotting into 2nd on lap three, while Bryant and Calderon would complete the top 5. But
then the strategy move of the race took place from Luis Calderon; not even 5 laps in, he would duck down pit lane to serve one of his two required pit stops, giving up a top 5 but emerging into clean air. But what really gave him the advantage, was when TJ Blackledge did the same a handful of laps later, coming out right behind Calderon, and the two drivers linked up. Out front, KC Cook had taken over the lead, but between working traffic, a little bit of infighting, and then eventually running alone, the advantage to the early stop drivers began to emerge…
Pit stops for the rest of the front runners wouldn’t really start in earnest until just before halfway, and when Cook returned to the throttle and began to blend back onto the race track, the damage that had been done was clear. Going from the leader before stops, he was now third behind Calderon and Blackledge, and almost a full second behind. Even with the fastest pit
stops of the day, Cook wasn’t able to match the advantage of having a ‘drafting partner’ made, especially a pairing that worked as well as it did with the lead duo. Cook would pit just 2 laps after his first stop, but would have to wait at least ten laps before he could see if any inroads had been made in strategy. When TJ emerged from the pits after his final stop on lap 39, he was still a second and a half up the road, and when Calderon exited 2 laps later, he was even further up the road via a quick stop. As the laps clicked off and the final stops took place, it became clear who was going to win the 2020 CalSpeed Oval Showdown: Luis Calderon. Fast pace wasn’t the
only thing needed to win this event, and Luis proved that a smart head for strategy and staying smart through traffic was also important. Oh, and it didn’t hurt having a little help on track with the bump draft. TJ Blackledge would be rewarded for his dutiful efforts with second place -the pairing also each clocking the same fastest lap of the race- while KC Cook would have to settle for a 3rd after leading the most laps.