Back Down to Earth.

Race Report: Club NASCAR 2019.
Round 2 (20 June 2019).
Martinsville Oval.

Steve dominated the opening round of the 2019 Club NASCAR championship, taking a clean sweep of race wins and a tasty lead in the standings going into round two. Second in the table, Anthony also had a comfortable points cushion, but neither driver would enjoy such a commanding performance at the Martinsville Oval. Indeed, round two served as something of a reality check, with both drivers facing far stiffer competition for places and points.

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Race one saw Steve and Anthony in a cagey fight for the lead in the first stint. Anthony had converted second on the grid into an early lead, before Steve overtook him on the second lap. Anthony didn’t allow Steve to pull away, however, and shadowed him throughout those early laps. As the fuel gauge ran down, it was clear Anthony had done a better job of conserving his fuel, and was able to run a handful of laps deeper into the race after Steve made his first stop. Needless to say, it was the Anthony’s car in P1 after the first stops, and he now had a healthy lead he would not surrender.

Nervous

Steve was now two laps down on Anthony, and was now nervously looking over his shoulder at the DeWalt liveried car, which was making good progress with Scott at the controls. Scott closed up in third place, but a late burst from Steve ensured the gap back to the Toyota remained no smaller than two laps. Further back, Cliff and Norman had fought over fourth for much of the race, with the outcome ultimately decided when Cliff ran out of fuel on lap 76.

Race One Result (starting position in brackets):
1st Anthony (2) – 100 laps
2nd Steve (4) – 98 laps
3rd Scott (3) – 96 laps
4th Norman (1) – 88 laps
5th Cliff (5) – 76 laps

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Anthony was quick to build on his solid start to the round, making an excellent start from fourth to pass the three cars ahead of him on the first lap. A spin on lap two dropped him back behind Darren and Lee, and with Scott now snapping at his heels, the pressure was building.

Different

At the front, Darren was pulling away, but he was eating into his fuel reserves at an alarming rate. By lap 35, he was in for fuel, but made a very brief stop. Clearly trying something different, he was back out in the lead, but with barely more than quarter of a tank at his disposal. He would inevitably need to stop again soon, and predictably he did. Indeed, he would stop a total of eight times in this race – each time for a tiny amount of fuel. It worked though; though Lee closed in the later stages of the race, he held on to take a well-earned win.

Hit

Behind Lee, Scott had fallen away from the leaders early on, and had a lonely run back in fourth. Fourth was to become third, however, when Anthony’s title challenge took a big hit, running out of fuel on lap 51. With every lap counting to a driver’s points tally, this was a huge amount of points to drop.

Race Two Result: 
1st Darren (2) – 100 laps
2nd Lee (5) – 98 laps
3rd Scott (1) – 89 laps
4th Cliff (3) – 84 laps
5th Anthony (4) – 51  laps

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After their disappointing results in round one, both Lee and George were keen to make progress in round two. In race three, both took the fight to race two winner, Darren. The pair pulled away at the front, and contested the win from lights and almost to the flag. With Steve struggling for pace in the Mountain Dew Chevrolet, it was left to Darren to try and stop them.

Fuel

Ultimately, the win was decided by fuel. Both the leaders had judged their consumption well, and were running on fumes at the end. But both had failed to notice Darren’s progress back in third. Lee, had been forced to make a final, late stop for fuel, which dropped him from second to third, with Darren the beneficiary.

Race Three Result: 
1st: George (2) – 100 laps
2nd Darren (4) – 99 laps
3rd Lee (3) – 97 laps
4th Steve (5) – 95 laps
5th Cliff (1) – 82 laps

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Championship leader Steve had disappointed in race three, his performance thus far had been a far cry from his round one dominance. As race four got under way, it seemed that tonight was not to be his night. Lee had made a good start away from the front of the grid, and George had made the performance edge of the #14 Chevrolet pay, but leaping up into second from fourth. Both began to pull away at the front.

Up Steve’s Sleeve

Steve was to show he still had a trick or two up his sleeve, and was playing the long game. Conserving his fuel in the early stages of the race, he came into play in the final quarter. Lee and George were once again running on fumes at the race reached its denouement, and – as was the case in race three – Lee once again had to make a late stop, which handed second place to Steve. Behind them, Anthony faced the same struggles Steve had in race three, bringing the sluggish Mountain Dew car home in a distant fourth.

Race Four Result: 
1st George (4) – 100 laps
2nd Steve (3) – 98 laps
3rd Lee (1) – 98 laps
4th Anthony (5) – 88 laps
5th Norman (2) – 83 laps

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Steve started race five from pole, but it was Scott who was leading by the end of first lap, having powered by on the back straight. A spin meant his lead was short-lived, and Steve was more than happy to take P1 off his hands. He too was to succumb to an error, spinning off a couple of laps later, and handing the lead to Anthony.

Cautious

With Steve dropping back to fourth after his early off, he again decided to adopt a more cautious strategy and conserved his fuel in the first stint. He carried this over into the second stint, before turning on the pace in the final stages to leapfrog both Darren and Scott to take second. There was no catching Anthony, however, who’s performance at the front was imperious, finishing three laps up on the championship leader.

Race Five Result: 
1st Anthony (3) – 100 laps
2nd Steve (1) – 97 laps
3rd Darren (5) – 96 laps
4th Scott (2) – 95 laps
5th  Norman (4) – 86 laps

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After some early promise, Scott was to mount a serious challenge for victory in race six. As the lights went out, it was Anthony who took the lead from pole, but Scott was enjoying the pace and handling of the #14 car, and passed him for the lead early on. Holding on to the lead throughout the first stint, a short first pit stop saw him retain his lead on rejoining. Still running second, Anthony stopped a little later, but took on more fuel and dropped to third behind Darren.

Change

The lead was to change again as the racers made their second stops. Scott had dropped to fourth after stopping for a second time, but as the others made their stops, he once again found himself back at the front. When the race entered its final stages, it was all change again, however.

Pressure

Anthony had taken the lead from Scott with 20 laps to go, and Scott was now coming under pressure from a late charge from George. The pressure was to tell, and George passed the rookie to take second. Second was to become first for George, when Anthony was forced into a late pit stop. A late stop was something George should have made too – but hindsight is a wonderful thing. As it was, he tried to carry on and ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap, handing the win to Anthony and second place to a grateful Scott.

Race Six Result: 
1st Anthony (1) – 100 laps
2nd Scott (4) – 100 laps
3rd George (5) – 99 laps
4th Darren (3) – 96 laps
5th Cliff (2) – 88 laps

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Lee did everything right at the start of race seven, breezing past Darren on the opening lap and taking an early lead. It went south pretty quickly though, with a big crash dropping him behind both Darren and George. Darren too was to allow a mistake to compromise his race, a spin handing the lead to George. Running back in third, Lee was to fight back, and passed both the leading pair after the three had made their first pit stops.

Advantage George?

By half distance,  George was trailing Lee by two laps, but he had double the fuel. Indeed, on lap 57, both Darren and Lee headed in for fuel, handing the lead to George. The lead of the race remained in George’s hands until he came in for what should have been his final stop on lap 68.

Lapse

Lee took the lead, and held onto it until lap 86, when a rare lapse in concentration saw him run out of fuel. With George now back in front, victory was surely his, but he too was marginal on fuel. A late stop kept him in the running, but handed the lead – and the win – to Darren. Behind the leading duo, Lee’s woes had promoted Cliff to third, who had secured his biggest haul of laps thus far in the #14 car.

Race Seven Result: 
1st Darren (1) – 100 laps
2nd George (3) – 100 laps
3rd Cliff (4) – 92 laps
4th Lee (2) – 86 laps
5th Norman (5) – 84 laps

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The final race of the evening began with an early battle between Steve and George. Early promise faded for Steve, with a series of spins which dropped him from first to third. Lee too had endured some early set-backs, but ultimately fought back through the field, passing car after car, before taking the lead from George.

Unassailable

Lee didn’t stop there. A great performance saw him pull out an unassailable lead at the front, while for George, the focus shifted to defense. Steve was piling on the pressure in third, and he too was coming under scrutiny from Scott. While Lee was heading to victory, George earned some respite from the pressure when Steve was forced into a late stop. This dropped him behind Scott at the flag, who gratefully took another podium finish to round off a solid night’s racing.

Race Eight Result: 
1st Lee (4) – 100 laps
2nd George (1) – 97 laps
3rd Scott (5) – 97 laps
4th Steve (2) – 96 laps
5th Norman (3) – 86 laps

Round Two Result:
1st George – 691
2nd Darren – 666
3rd Lee – 629
4th Steve – 619
5th Anthony – 609
6th Scott – 602
7th Cliff – 487
8th Norman – 482

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With the dropped round rule in effect, the top two in the standings are unchanged, but the gap has been closed with good performances from both George and Darren. The championship decider on 5th December will be intriguing!

Championship Standings:

Round 1: Round 2: Round 3: Total
1
Steve

750

619

681

1431
2
Anthony

702.5

609

664

1366.5
3
George

618.75

691

655

1346
4
Darren

XXX

666

640

1306
5
Lee

611.25

629

636

1265
6
Scott

XXX

602

611

1213
7
Norman

528.75

482

427

1010
8
Cliff

XXX

487

462

949
7
Alex

545

XXX

XXX

545

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