Jake Johnson came across this week with his second rookie win in Late Models: a gritty challenge after starting eleventh on the field. The division has been blessed this year with three talented rookies coming in from SYRA ranks, and all three of them finished in this week’s top ten – and Johnson topped them all. He and Ryan Kuhn have been disputing the Rookie of the Year honors, coming into this week in a virtual tie. Kuhn kept the competition tight with a third place finish and Mikey Toner made it in with a tenth place finish.
Toner and Jake’s cousin Dan Johnson started off on the front row. Toner nabbed the lead after some first lap wheel-to-wheel, but Dan kept on him as Rey Lovelace pulled into third, ahead of Tom Scully, Jr. and Vinny Arrenegado. Vinny got under Scully, who got high in the turn and slid back. He wrestled with the car, but fell back rapidly. At mid pack, Kuhn was in a battling with John Paiva and they came under Scully, creating a three-wide. Jake, meanwhile, motored along in his starting slot for the first five laps.
At the front, Toner had Dan on his bumper while Arrenegado and Lovelace battled behind them. Gerry DeGasparre, Jr. had pulled into fifth. Dan looked to the outside but couldn’t make progress. He looked underneath and Toner shut the door DeGasparre slipped past lovelace into fifth and Charlie Rose got underneath Lovelace.
Lap nine saw Dan finally get under Toner and to the lead as Vinny got under Toner as he slid back.
Jake had moved from eleventh to tenth and was still taking his time, running in place for seven more laps. Before getting by Lovelace.
A Nick Johnson spin brought lap 10 caution. Dan and Toner went side-by-side for a two laps
until Dan was able to retake the lead in turn two of lap 12. Arrenegado again got under Toner, who went around at the end of the backstetch.
Now, Dan Johnson had Arrenegado on his outside with DeGasparre and Rose as trailers. Nick Uhrig and Kuhn were row three. Jake was now appearing on the radar, outside Mike Mitchell in row four. Points leader Ryan Lineham was underneath Lovelace behind them.
Dan and Vinny ran door-to-door for a lap until Dan took the lead in turn two of the subsequent circuit. But Lineham had a tire cut down and spun. Lovelace was too close and was caught up in Linham’s spin.
Dan and Arrenegado engaged in three laps of side-by-side racing. Arrenegado dropped under on the front stretch but Johnson seized the moment and took the front, sticking Arrenegado in second. DeGasparre had come into third and Uhrig was working below Rose with Jake following.
Jake summoned up his chutzpah and went three-wide underneath them to find himself on DeGasparre’s bumper, in fourth on lap 21. They ran in this order until lap 26, when Uhrig took a 360 degree spin down the front stretch. He recovered and was about to continue, but caution had already flown.
Dan and Vinny now had Jake and Gerry behind them with Mitchell and Kuhn in row three. Dan nosed out with Jake on his bumper and Arrenegado battling on the outside. He nosed ahead but got loose and nosed down into Dan and they went around. Arrenegado’s hood was pushed back, blocking his vision and he ran into the back of Jake. But Jake kept it straight and became the new leader for the lap 28 restart with seven laps remaining.
He had DeGasparre on his high side, while Mitchell and Rose followed with Kuhn and Jeramee Lillie holding down row three. Dylan Estrella and Tom Scully, Jr. followed. Jake immediately seized the front as Mitchell got under DeGasparre while Kuhn battled under Rose.
Jake became a skyrocket and immediately grabbed a three-car lead while three rows followed, two abreast. Jake went supersonic and forged a half-straight lead on lap 31. Mitchell nosed under DeGasparre the next time around and another lap had Johnson ahead of him by a full straightaway as Kuhn worked in under Gerry.
As the white flag flew, Kuhn took control of third, ahead of DeGasparre and Rose. Jake continued with his straightaway lead through the final lap to the checkers, a full 2.37 seconds ahead of the second place Mitchell. Kuhn grabbed third (continuing the virtual tie for Rookie honors with Jake) just ahead of DeGasparre and Rose rounded out the top five. Sixth went to Lillie, followed by Estrella, Lineham, Uhrig and Toner.