RPW Column: The Champ Trail: Modifieds Return To Mahoning Valley; Hamlin Wins At Bristol

Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WAVERLY, RI – The Asphalt Modifieds made their return in the Northeast with an event that didn’t disappoint. The John “Peepers” Yerger Tribute 77 at the Mahoning Valley ¼ mile Speedway in Pennsylvania will be a race that many won’t soon forget, with a packed house, a star-studded field (32 cars) and a finish that was far from what anyone expected.

In an event that was riddled with cautions, it was clear that Pennsylvania locals Eric Beers and Matt Hirschman were the class of the field. The duo ran nose to tail for the majority of the race but contact late in the closing moments would send both cars to the back, handing the lead and the eventual win to New Jersey native Jimmy Blewett.

When the green flag dropped on the 24-car field, it was Beers and Todd Baer who led the field to turn one. As the early laps clicked off, Beers would hold a solid lead, but it was Hirschman who would put on a charge to the front. After starting eighth, he would find himself in the runner-up position by lap 21, nipping at the heels of the Beers No 45. Through numerous cautions, Hirschman and Beers would keep the top two spots as the field continued to shuffle behind them.

With seventeen laps to go, Hirschman took a look to the inside of Beers coming off of the second turn on lap 60 of the scheduled 77-lap distance. As they approached turn three, the space got small and minimal contact was made between the rear end of Beers and the nose of Hirschman. The contact turned Beers sideways as he drifted his way through turn three, eventually coming the full way around in turn four and bringing out the caution flag. Race control would send Hirschman to the rear for contact as he would give a wave to take blame to Beers while joining him at the tail of the field.

The on-track action would become a gift to Wall Stadium Speedway regular Jimmy Blewett, who was making his first ever appearance to the tight oval. As the field tried to complete the remainder of the race, it was a slew of caution flags to the finish. The checkered flag waved on lap 66 of the scheduled 77 on a green-white-checkered due to the number of cautions. Blewett would score the victory over Mahoning Valley regular Josh Scherer and invader Blake Barney. Although the contact took both Beers and Hirschman out of contention for the win, both drivers finished the race and no hard feelings were had between them. While Beers was able to salvage a sixth-place finish, Hirschman would have to settle for 11th. Following Blewett at the finish was Josh Scherer, Blake Barney, Austin Kochenash and Chuck Hossfeld.

The Stafford Motor Speedway management announced last Saturday, June 13 through Facebook that the track has tentatively scheduled its first Friday night racing event of the season for June 26. It was also announced that the track would hold an open practice on Saturday June 20.

The post on Facebook read as follows:

The Stafford management stated “We’ll kick off our 2020 season with an open practice Saturday, June 20th. Stafford Speedway tech staff will be on hand to complete the mandatory safety inspection for Stafford race cars. All race teams that are scheduled to compete at Stafford Speedway in 2020 are welcome to attend. Practice schedule and safe opening guidelines will be released Monday morning.” They added, “At this time we are tentatively scheduled for opening night Friday, June 26th. Full details will be released next week. Thank you for sticking with us! We’re excited to get back to racing.”

New state guidance in regard to reopening plans due to the COVID-19 global pandemic shutdown opened the door for outdoor events to take place. Under new state guidelines the state will allow outdoor events to take place on June 17. Stafford Motor Speedway has been unable to host racing events because of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Under the new guidance for outdoor activities, those operating professional sporting venues must get approval from the Connecticut Department of Economic Community Development. Stafford Speedway chief operating officer Paul Arute said earlier this week that the track had submitted their plan for reopening in late May. The new state guidance calls for outdoor event businesses to limit capacity to 50 percent. Stafford Speedway has a capacity of 10,000. Arute said earlier this week that the track’s plan submitted to the state requested a capacity lower than 50 percent but he said of the 50 percent number: “That would be much better.”

Arute stated that track’s reopening plan calls for their season to be extended with events through late October. The track typically run its final racing events in late September or early October.

As NASCAR Weekly Series sanctioned events begin to return at select tracks across North America, NASCAR and Advance Auto Parts (NYSE: AAP), a leading automotive aftermarket parts provider, today announced a multiyear official partnership, designating Advance Auto Parts as the series entitlement sponsor. As part of the agreement, Advance also becomes the “Official Auto Parts Retailer of NASCAR.” Whelen is no longer the title sponsor for the National Weekly Racing Series program.

Race fans can catch select NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series races live and on-demand via TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, the new streaming service from NASCAR and NBC Sports. NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series races are part of the NASCAR Roots package for $2.99/month or $19.99/annually. The full TrackPass package, which includes NASCAR Roots, IMSA and American Flat Track events is available for $4.99/month or $44.99/year. TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will be available on desktop web browsers and via the NBC Sports app on iOS and Android phones and tablets, Apple TV (Gen 4), Roku, Amazon Fire TV, AndroidTV, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and Chromecast devices connected via HDMI.

NAPA is a big sponsor at Stafford and certainly a competitor of Advanced Auto Parts. It will be interesting to see how the Stafford Speedway handles this. Nascar used to have a rule at the cup level anyway that you couldn’t have competing sponsors but it is believed current sponsors were grandfathered in.

In NASCAR Cup racing, Denny Hamlin found the magic once again at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Hamlin took the lead for the final time with 30 laps left and held off Chase Elliott for his record-tying third NASCAR Cup Series victory at Homestead. Ryan Blaney was third in a race oft-delayed by rain and lightning. Tyler Reddick finished fourth. Ryan Preece finished 24th, one lap down.

Fans, 1,000 of them, mostly invited military members who could each bring a guest, were back at a NASCAR race for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic started, and there were no banned flags in sight. Most of those fans were gone when Hamlin drove under the checkered flag at 10:46 p.m., ending the marathon day.

That’s about it for this week from 11 Gardner Drive, Westerly, RI 02891. Ring my chimes at 401-248-1307.