Clouser tops Goodyear Challenge Series
by Mark Keeler
(07.19.08 - Samsula, Florida) The stars and cars of the Goodyear Challenge Series took center stage on Saturday night as twenty drivers signed in for the 100 lap main event.
Alan Bruns (#4B) out of Clermont set quick time on his first lap with an 18.137 before loosing it on lap two and going around on the backstretch. “I thought I screwed up the first lap so I was going for it... it was my fault, had I not screwed that up I think I could’ve been quicker” said Bruns before the race. Second quick time went to 17 year old Jessica Murphy (#26) also out of Clermont, with an 18.154, “I got a good qualifying run and we’re starting up front... we’re here to win, so we’ll see what happens.”
Bruns drew a five pill for the inversion, pushing him back to the inside of row three for the start, that put Rich Clouser (#9), two-time series champion, on the pole, “that was real nice of Alan to pull that five pill” said Clouser “we had a good test last week... found out a lot about the car... hopefully we can hang out at the front all night.”
Joe Winchell (#57) would start from the outside of the front row. “We got a pretty good piece... this is a brand new car” Winchell said prior to climbing in, “we just wanna have a real safe race and have everyone get out of here in one piece.”
With the driver’s strapped in and ready, Katelyn Clouser, daughter of Rich Clouser gave the command for “Daddy and Driver’s” to start the engines.
Clouser jumped out to the lead while Jeremy Colangelo (#05) followed him, from his thrid starting spot into second ahead of Winchell. Clouser immediately began to put distance on the field, and as they completed lap two, it was about a six car length advantage.
Behind Clouser, the field was nose-to-tail. The man on the move early was Jerry Symons (#1) in the Gene Kelly Roofing machine. With no qualifying time, Symons started from the 20th spot, and just five laps in was just outside the top ten in the 12th spot.
Clouser continued to extend his lead over the field, out to about a half straightaway with through the first 20 laps. With the field racing hard bumper-to-bumper from 2nd on back, the first caution flew for Greg Kauok (#31) as he went around in turn one.
As the field took the green, Chuck Abell (#19) got into the back of Chad Akins (#60) sending him spinning down the track, right into the path of Gary Fountain Sr (#33) who had no place to go. The good news was that both Akins and Fountain were okay. Akins was able to continue, with some cosmetic damage to the front of the Team ASE / Crabby Joe’s machine, but Fountains Orlando Predator’s racer was done for the night.
The field was stacked up again behind Clouser for the restart, and Chad Akins luck did not get any better as he once again went around on the front stretch, also involved this time was Darren Brown (#23). Brown regularly competes in the Stealth Motorsports #53, but after a rough outing in the last race at Lakeland, he was in a car borrowed from Mike Pletka. Brown was unable to continue, but Akins would once again pull away under his own power, but after some attention from his crew down on pit road, he too made that disappointing hard left turn into the pit area.
As the green flag flew this time, Jessica Murphy (#26) got a good jump and immediately shot to the outside of Joe Winchell (#57) in a battle for third through turns one and two. The pair stayed sided-by-side through three and four and down the front stretch. With Murphy holding a slight advantage off of turn two, the two cars rubbed together sending Winchell scrambling down to the inside down the backstretch. Winchell was able to hang on the car and did not lose anymore spots as he settled in to fourth.
Behind them, Daniel Keene Jr (#5k), two-time series winner and current points leader, made a move to the outside of fast-qualifier Alan Bruns (#4B) for the fifth spot. Further back, Jerry Symons (#1) had moved all the way up to seventh, just ten laps shy of the half-way point. Symons was able to get past Bruns to pull into sixth, but Bruns was battling back. Bruns was able to get a good run through turns three and four and those two raced side-by-side down the front stretch and into one and two. Bruns took the spot as Symons dropped back to seventh, and immediately saw pressure from Alexis Fenton (#11) in the Children’s Miracle Network machine. With Fenton pressuring Symons on lap 46, the pair got together in turn four sending Symons spinning and bringing out the fourth caution of the event, just shy of the half-way point.
Joe Winchell (#57) took advantage of the restart, as he was able to get back by Jessica Murphy for third, meanwhile, behind them Keene and Bruns were once again side-by-side for fifth. Keene held on to the spot as Bruns dropped back to sixth just as Chuck Abell (#19) and Charles Kopach (#01) got together coming off of turn four to bring out caution number five.
As the field restarted on lap 53, the top five were Clouser, Colangelo, Winchell, Murphy and Keene. Just a handful of laps later, the field would be slowed once again as Alexis Fenton (#11) spun in turns one and two before coming to rest on the high side of turn two.
The field went green again on lap 62. With Clouser continuing to show the way ahead of Colangelo, the action behind them for third on back was bumper-to-bumper. Daniel Keene Jr was putting pressure on Jessica Murphy for fourth and appeared to have a stronger car, but was unable to get a strong enough run to get alongside Murphy.
Caution number seven soon came out, once again it was Alexis Fenton, who’s car rode very high through turn one before loosing the grip in turn two and going around.
As the green flew, Keene immediately resumed his pressure on Murphy for the fourth spot. They stayed nose-to-tail playing bumper-tag through the corners. Meanwhile, Winchell was all over the back bumper of Colangelo for second. It was a different story for Clouser though, as it seemed no one could stay with the AmSoil #9 under green.
Winchell continued to pressure Colangelo for the runner-up spot, until lap 87 when the Associates Roofing #57 got loose off of turn two, and with a head of steam built up, Winchell was unable to keep the car from spinning to the inside of the track bringing out the eighth caution.
Clouser and Colangelo once again drove away on the restart, and the battle was on between Murphy and Keene, now for the third spot. With just two laps remaining, Keene got into the back of Murphy in turn two, sending the #26 spinning to the inside and bringing out the ninth and final caution. Keene was sent to the rear for the restart for rough driving, and the field was set for the restart and the final two-lap shootout.
Rich Clouser left little doubt that he had the car to beat on this night, as he once again drove away on the restart and led all 100 laps to claim his first Goodyear Challenge Series victory of 2008. “This car was awesome tonight man.” said Clouser in victory lane, “I just can’t say enough about this team... Danny Sears... he wrenches on this thing all week... Bobby Sears... he’s the money man... he keep’s good equipment under me... I just can’t say enough about these guys... I’m just the steering wheel holder.”
The 2005-2006 Goodyear Challenge Series Champion picked up his second win in a row at New Smyrna Speedway, as he took down the weekly series Late Model Feature just a week ago.
Jeremy Colangelo held on for second, with Chuck Abell (#19) coming home third after being involved in two of the nine cautions.
Next stop for the Goodyear Challenge Series will be on August 9th at Desoto Super Speedway and then they will be back here at New Smyrna Speedway on Saturday September 13th. For more information on the Goodyear Challenge Series, visit www.FASCARTOURS.com
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