Dave Darling Grabs Sixth Pro Championship
Nick Johnson grabbed the lead coming off the front row and ran the entire 45 laps unheaded to cash in on his first win as Dave Darling pursued him to the checkers to claim championship number six, tying him with Fred Astle, Jr. at 6 on the all-time record. It was a hyper-competitive night, but not without consequence.
Four laps in, Mike Mitchell and Dylan Estrella came together and went hard into the backstretch wall, ending the night for both drivers. Mitchell drives the Rollie Lindblad special, which was tied up with motor problems and was in his own car for the evening. But suddenly, coming out of turn two, with Mitchell on the low side, they suddenly diverted toward the wall, suffering a grinding crash. Jake Johnson, just a few points behind Darling in the championship race, was collected, ripping the right side of his nose and required repairs in the pits. He was able to return, but his car would not respond for him.
Back underway, Johnson and Kevin Casper dueled for the lead, with Johnson winning out. Casper dropped in, then wasinvolved with a persistent Rocket Ryan Vanasse, who hopped onto his bumper and pursued with abandon. The field was quick to go single file and ran fast, lap after lap, making passing a difficult prospect.
Darling had moved Astle out of fifth on lap four. He pursued Tom Scully, Jr. until lap 12 to take over fourth. The fast-moving Vanasse became his next target, a chore which took seven laps to accomplish. Casper was his next target, but he was several carlengths ahead, bothering Nick Johnson’s back bumper. Darling steadily closed in.
He caught Casper and looked underneath. They battled it out, giving Nick a chance to build a 7-car lead before Darling could claim second for himself. Over the next nine laps, he slowly closed on Johnson until, with ten remaining, he was at the sophomore’s bumper and looking for a way around. Casper followed in third, with Vanasse in pursuit. With five circuits remaining, Angelo Belsito dislodged The Rocket and took over fourth. Rick Martin as well edged Scully out of sixth before the field came down to the checkers.
Johnson knew he had a tiger on his tail and kept his foot to the floor. Over the final laps, Darling called on his long experience and by race’s end there weren’t many items left in his big bag of tricks. But Johnson hung tough and at the same time, Darling exploited no opportunities which might have ended in spins or crashes. The finish line loomed, and they came across just three tenths of a second apart. Casper hung in for third and Belsito snared fourth while Vanasse rounded out the top five. Sixth went to The Radical One, followed by Scully, Mike Brightman and Jake Johnson.