CHAD BAXTER WAXES THE FIELD IN SPORTSMAN SEASON OPENER

BY ADAM BELUE 

SEEKONK, Mass. —  A caution midway through the 30-lap Helger’s South Coast Power Equipment Sportsman Feature on opening day at Seekonk Speedway seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for Chad Baxter, as he ran away with a victory after a tightly contested first half of the race. The race was a Power 5 battle for the Sportsman — five extra laps more than their normal distance due to sponsorship from South Coast Power Equipment in the opener of their NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series season.

Baxter, riding in the No. 0 car from Pascoag, R.I., was entrenched in a lengthy battle with Joe Kohler, Kyle Casper, and Corey Fanning for the top spot from the drop of the green flag.  Casper and Kohler began on the front row, and dueled throughout the first 10 laps before Kohler was finally able to take over the top spot. Baxter showed patience, lurking in third, while making several attempts to take over both second and first. The top four traded paint several times, including on lap five, where Baxter checked up after a run which caused the cars behind him to become close acquaintances.

Baxter made the pass on Kohler on lap 13, but still had the North Scituate, R.I. native in the No. 43 car near his back bumper when the caution came out at the halfway point in the race. Rob Kohler and Doug Benoit made contact and spun out into the infield grass across from the start/finish line, while Mark Healy and Kevin Rioux also swapped paint as well. The race was halted for several minutes while Benoit’s car was restarted and Kohler’s vehicle was towed off due to extensive front and right-side damage.

Once the dust settled and the feature was restarted, Baxter wasted little time in stretching out a lead.  Kohler and Fanning, who lined up second and third respectively after the caution, traded paint near turn four on the first restart lap, with Kohler taking second and never looking back. Fanning eased into third, where he would remain, while the trio of Adam Petty, Chris Gomes, and Craig Pianka battled for fourth with 10 laps left. Steve Axon, who needed to use the consolation race in order to qualify for the feature event, made his way up through the field and made the trio for fourth a quartet in the last few laps of the race.

Baxter eased his way to the checkered flag, stretching out to a nearly two-second gap at the finish, with Kohler, Fanning, Pettey, and Axon – who started 21st in the 24-car field – rounding out the top-five.  Gomes, Ed Perry, Colby Lambert, Pianka, and Dave Gargaro Jr. finished in the top 10.

The Helger’s South Coast Power Equipment Sportsman return to the track on Saturday, May 8, with a 25-lap feature event in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series.