by Dana Rowe

            AJ (AKA Alexander) Manuel already had the championship in his pocket, but couldn’t resist the challenge of the last race of the regular season:  he came home with the win to add to the crown.  It wasn’t easy, as teammate Richie Murray was on his back over the second half of the race, and 2017 champ David Westgate was brawling it out with Murray as well.  Manuel held them off and went in for the win with Murray grabbing second.  Karlin Levesque roared in to dislodge Westgate and steal third, relegating Dave to fourt while Mike Lefort filled out the top five.

            Manuel had started twelfth while Jason Poitras and Samantha Mattera ran from the fornt.  Poitras took a nose at the outset and grabbed the lead, proper, in turn two. The opening lap saw the competitors three- and four-wide throughout the field, but then Stewart Carpenter erupted in somke and the race was called to a complete restart.  Poitras and Mattera this time came across the line wheel-to-wheel before Poitras could go ahead in turn one.  Raymond Herman looked under Mattera and went in then passed Poitras into the lead.

            Next time around Jordan Lopes spun in turn four, bounced off a couple competitors and keopt on but Mattera was stopped near the front stretch wall, bringing caution.  Lefort was called  for the assist and went to the rear.  Mattera pitted and returned.

            Herman and Poitras lined up and Herman grabbed the lead out of the box.  Tyler Almeida and Murray sailed under Poitras, who was stuck on the outside. Murray stayed high, looking for a way around Almeida while Manueal and Westgate ran side-by-side behind them. Poitras followed with John Lineberger following.  With Almeida closing on Herman, Manuel was looking to get around Murray and managed to take it all the way to the lead.  Herman claimed second while Almeida and Murray dueled over third. Westgate, Tim Bolger and Poitras followed.

            Manuel pulled ahead to a more-than-comfortable lead as Murray went outside Herman and then took over second.  Westgate was on the outside and Almeida slid under him. With ten to go, the order was still the same, but Karlin Levesque was beginning a movement that would take him from seventh to fourth.

            As Westgate and Herman battled for third with five laps remaining, Chris Pacheco spun in turn three.  The restart saw Manuel go back to the lead, Murray in second and Westgate looking underneath to steal Murray’s spot.  Herman ran third and Levesque was dueling Almeida behind him.

            Suddenly, Almeida was pointed the wrong way and against the backstretch wall, flying toward the barrier at the pit entrance. He made a hard hit, showering body parts.  It ended his evening.  Herman was called on the assist.

            Three laps remained and Manuel broke away from Murray again while Levesque got under Murray.  Riche was able to take second back on the outside before they ran under the white flag.

            They ran in order through the finish.

            Sixth on the field went to Bolger, followed by Mattera, Pacheco, Lopes, Poitras, Hermanc and Christine Cavallaro.