by Dana Rowe
Dave Darling came home the winner once again to capture the Pro Stock’s initial Phil’s Propane Triple Crown feature. In doing so, he spoiled Mighty Mike Brightman’s best start of the season. Darling worked his way up from twelfth as Brightman, who had jumped into the lead from a start at the pole, led the field for 53 laps in the extended feature (65 laps.) Mike Mitchell, on the outside pole, went wheel-to-wheel with Brightman for two laps before Mike pulled away. Austin Blais had started outside Dylan Estrella in the second row, came around Mitchell to give chase to the leader. The two circled the oval at high speed as the field strung out behind them except for a side-by-side battle for fourth between Estrella and Fred Astle, Jr.
Mitchell fell to fifth and Astle took over third just ahead of Estrella. Blais kept looking underneath Brightman, who kept closing the door. Darling was troubling Kevin Casper for eighth, just behind Tom Scully, Jr.
Ten laps in and Brightman was still fending off Blais as Astle looked for opportunity and Estrella followed. Mitchell still held fifth, ahead of Ryan Vanasse, Scully and Darling. At this point, Darling moved in under Scully, moving in behind Vanasse.
Another three laps and Vanasse took a look below Mitchell but was denied. He tried again on the next lap before The Skipper, Bob Hussey, took a solo spin out of turn four.
Brightman leapt ahead of Blais on the restart and Astle got underneath. Estrella watched while behind him, Mitchell and Vanasse dueled.
Astle took over second and Estrella went to work on Blais.
Darling ducked under Vanasse on lap 19, took the spot and went to work on Blais, taking over fifth. Mitchell lay ahead. While Brightman and Astle rushed away at the front, Darling passed Mitchell and moved in on Estrella, who was on Astle’s bumper.
Freddy fended off an attack by Estrella before Darling went on the attack for Estrella’s position. When he cleared into third, Astle sat 3 cars ahead. Brightman still led Astle. Darling closed to Fred’s bumper, looked under and went. They ran side until Dave pulled ahead on the backstretch with 23 laps remaining.
Brightman was nursing an eight-car lead but Darling was closing in. A lap later – lap 45 – the lead was down to five cars. Then three, then two. With 17 laps remaining, Darling was at Brightman’s bumper. Brightman held him off, slamming the door a couple of times. With Astle closing, Darling went to the high side, then dropped back under the next time around. They came out wheel-to-wheel and Darling then took the lead. Astle moved in underneath Brightman. Blais was on Astle’s bumper and when he cleared, Brightman had Blais underneath and when Blais cleared, Estrella dived in, locking Brightman outside.
Mike elected to drop under and got below Estrella. Mitchell followed with Radical Rick Martin on his bumper and Casper in pursuit. Three laps remained. The field wound around the track in parade fashion to the checkers with Darling grabbing the first Triple Crown of the season.
Astle finished on his heels for second just ahead of Blais. Estrella and Mitchell rounded out the top five. Brightman grabbed sixth, followed by Martin, Vanasse, Scully, Jake Vanada, Casper and Bobby Pelland III.