Dave Darling seemed to spend the last two weeks on the wrong foot, taking heavy damage early on and having to nurse his limping Pro Stock to less than happy finishes. Rookie Jake Johnson edged closer and closer to his points lead and math became a problem. The two-race slump was often a point of discussion – until this week, this race.
There was no damage, and Darling was back in his accustomed rhythm, clicking off the laps and ticking off the opponents passed as he worked his way to the front. In the meantime, Ryan Vanasse had leapt off the pole into the lead and was quelling his own demons on the season with a brilliant tour of the speedway, going out to an almost half-lap lead before a caution called the field back together for a restart. Vanasse has sufffered a number of race-spoiling and often quirky incidents coming on suddenly in the middle of great performances. This night, they were put to rest.
Two laps in: two car lead for Vanasse. Mike Mitchell was giving chase as Fred Astle and Mike Brightman were side-by-side, debating third place. Angleo Belsito pursued, waiting for an opportunity. And Darling followed. As Astle fell back, Darling came through and got under Astle.
Eight laps in, and Vanasse led by a half-straight over Mitchell, who had a full straight on Brightman and Astle, still side-by-side. Again, Belsito and Darling were looking for a way by. Angelo looked at Brightman’s low side and Astle got his fender ahead. He completed the pass in turn four.
Belsito, Darling and Todd Annarummo then stomed past. By lap 15, Vanasse was encountering lapped traffic, but not being appreciably slowed. However, Jake Johnson was entering the picture, two cars behind Darling with Annarummo occupying the space between. Rick Martin pulled up on Johnson’s tail.
At the race’s midpoint, Vanasse was a full straight ahead of the field. Mitchell still had second, ahead of Astle, Belsito and Darling. Mitchell had a full straight on Belsito, who was running third. Darling chose to look under Belsito just as Nick Johnson spun across the stripe. Mitchell took this moment to head for the pits. He was unable to return. With Mitchell out of the picture, Astle lined up outside Vanasse with Darling and Jake Johnson in row two. Annarummo and Martin followed.
It was door-to-door at the green with Vanasse taking a noe in turn two. They ran this way for the rest of the lap and into the next until Vanasse took the lead going downt the backstretch. Darling was moving forward and got under Astle on lap 33. Annarummo was following them. But with 15 circuits remaining, Astle suddenly was going backwards. This gave Darling control of second and Annarummo took third, followed by Martin and Johnson. Astle was moving slowly around the track and caution was called. Belsito pitted, but Astle found more speed again and rejoined the field.
With fourteen laps remaining, Vanasse and Darling lined up with Annarummo and Martin in row two. They battled but Darling pressed ahead and took the lead in turn three. Vanasse continued in second. Martin took over third followed by Todd and Jake. Dylan Estrella and Brightman were side-by-side. But two laps in, Kevin Casper spun in turn one.
Darling took the lead again and Annarummo was looking under Vanasse. He went in and two laps in had overtaken him for second. The three leaders ran nose-to-tail, followed by Martin and Jake Johnson. The race became a parade as the field stretched out single file, and it ran this way until Brandon Trubush spun in turn four.
Four laps remained as Darling and Annarummo lined up. Belsito spun on the first try. On the second attempt, Darling edged forward until he had the lead with two laps remaining. Annarummo was second, followed by Vanasse, Jake and Martin, who kept looking underneath to pass. But Casper and Estrella got together in turn four, leading to a green-white-checker restart.
Darling had the lead again in turn three and Annarummo settled in They negotiated the white-flag lap in order With Darling hauling down the victory and Annarummo second. Vanasse, Jake Johnson and Martin rounded out the top five.
Sixth went to Casper, followed by Tom Scully, Jr., Belsito, Nick Johnson and Brightman.