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Late model returns to championship chase

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POSTED August 13, 2009 1:04 a.m.
In a bold effort to build up car count and increase the championship drama down the homestretch of the season, Madera Speedway president Kenny Shepherd made a surprise announcement last week that the 2009 Western Late Model championship at the 1/3 mile oval would be determined by the last four races with only the top 10 drivers in the points being eligible.

“The tough economy is certainly at the top of the list for our late model competitors not being able to compete. Now adding the economy with the fact that the late model car has become extremely expensive to operate in a competitive manner and you have a pretty bad combination for this class,” explained Shepherd.

Before the announcement was made second generation driver Kyle Gottula of Modesto led the standings by a comfortable 288 to 251 margin over Stockton’s Ross Strmiska, while Rick Thompson of Clovis was a distant third at 213 points.

“In my opinion we really looked at every aspect of this situation. We did not have a championship at this point, so I decided to go back to the Chase format,” said Shepherd. “It is a good four races for the championship which includes two high dollar events and two regular races for the teams. I look forward to seeing who comes out on top of this championship chase.”

Unfortunately, the move seemed to have little effect last Saturday when only seven cars lined up to take the green flag for the first of the four Chase races including just four of the 10 championship eligible drivers. Gottula would grab the lead just five laps into the 50-lap feature to cruise home with his sixth win of the season.

“I wish they had left it the way it was as far as the points. It turned out the same anyway,” criticized Gottula afterward. “I don’t know why they changed it especially on the Thursday afternoon before the next event.”

The late models will get a breather this weekend as the powerful 410 Supermodifieds return to Madera this Saturday heading an open-wheeled program that will also include the 360 Modifieds, USAC Sprints, Ford Focus Midgets, Legends of the Pacific and NCMA Sprints.

After encountering lapped traffic Greg Voight, of Goleta, elected to duck low to get around the slower car while race leader Craig Raudman, of Cottonwood, chose to go high on lap 72 in last Saturday’s “Don Conti Memorial 99 presented by Performance Electrical Company” at Stockton 99 Speedway. Voight’s decision proved to be the correct one as he took the lead and held on for his first career victory in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series.

“I’m so happy for my guys. They put their heads down and work hard. They deserve this win,” said Voigt who was coming off of consecutive third place finishes.

Voight now trails veteran driver M.K. Kanke, of Frazier Park, in the SRL season standings by a 267 to 295 margin. Kanke finished the race in third and set a new track record in qualifying with a blistering 13.086 second lap.

This Saturday in Stockton, the Western Late Models will be battling in twin 50-lap features along with the Grand Americans, Street Stocks and Bombers.

It will be MKM Dairy/Merced County Sheriff Association benefit Night at the Merced speedway this Saturday with a five division program featuring the Valley Sportsman and IMCA Modifieds.

Manteca’s Scott Speed registered a solid performance in last weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at Watkins Glen Raceway in New York.

Speed went with a two-stop strategy in Saturday’s nationwide race. With the last coming under caution 37 laps from the finish when Speed’s car took on four tires, fuel and a series of adjustments. He reached the top five with 22 laps to go, and only a last-lap misstep entering the inner loop chicane prevented Speed from earning his first top-five finish in Nationwide competition although he was able to salvage his fourth top 10 in eight starts.

In Monday’s Sprint Cup race, Speed cycled his way into the lead 30 laps from the finish during a series of green-flag pit stops. Speed led four laps as the only driver not to pit before a nasty six-car wreck forced a 20 minute red flag and ended up 22nd in only the third road race of his stock car career.

“This was my first time to Watkins Glen, so we had hoped to have a decent finish,” Speed said. “We didn’t have the day we were looking for. We really struggled with getting the right setup on our car. It’s a shame we only have two road-course races on the schedule. I would have loved another shot at it.”

Speed will be returning to the 2-miile oval at Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Michigan for this weekend’s Carfax 400 Sprint Cup race. The race can be seen live on ESPN beginning at 10 AM on Sunday.

The 36th edition of the famous Rolex Monterey Historics returns to historic at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, near Monterey, this weekend August 14-16. Porsche is the featured Marque for the 2009 Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races and of the 450 vintage cars that will be racing at the event, 145 are Porsches. For more information, visit www.mazdaraceway.com on the web.
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