Back to the Front.

Race Report: Club NASCAR 2020.
Round 1 (13 February 2020).
Bristol Oval.

Steve’s path to the 2019 Club NASCAR championship was something of a roller coaster. After dominating round one with a clean sweep of race wins, round two was something of a disappointment with a mistake-strewn performance. Then, when the racing resumed for round three, he stayed out of trouble and did just enough to ensure the championship title was his. Back at the Bristol Oval for round one of the 2020 Club NASCAR championship, Steve got his title defence off to a great start.

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It was a slow start for Steve in race one, however. Starting from the back of the grid, he quickly learned that the #18 M&Ms Chevrolet was some way off the pace of some of the other cars in the race, and therefore opted for a strategy of damage limitation. It was three-times Club NASCAR champion, George, who lead away from pole, but Scott was closing quickly from third on the grid. By lap 20, Scott had caught and passed George to take the race lead.

Duo

Further back, Steve found he couldn’t keep up with Darren and Cliff, but managed to stay out for an extra two laps when the two cars ahead of him made their first stops. This was to prove crucial, as it put him within striking distance of the duo, and when this was repeated for the second stops, Steve found himself up in third place. It was during the pit stops that Scott briefly dropped back behind George, but was soon back in front when the McDonalds car made its stop, and remained in front to take the win.

Note: Due to a timing anomaly, a number of sub-four-second race laps were recorded. These have consequently been discarded and marked as n/a in the race results.

Race One Result: 
1st Scott – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 100; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: n/a
2nd George – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 98; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.666
3rd Steve – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 96; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: n/a
4th Darren – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 94; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.808
5th Cliff – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 92; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 4.658

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Scott was to build on his race one success in the second race, successfully converting pole into a race lead after fending off early pressure from Lee and Steve. In the early stages, Scott put the hammer down and gradually pulled out a decent lead. It was looking like he would, again, be taking the winner’s laurels. It was very close, however, with all five runners on the same lap as the first pit stops loomed. Scott maintained his lead after the first pit stops, but this came at a price; he’d short-fuelled to stay in front. This would come back to haunt him at the second stops.

Dropped

With all five cars still on the same lap, Scott made his second stop much earlier than the rest of the field, and as a result dropped to last. Steve was next to stop, around four laps later, dropping to fourth. By the time the dust had settled, it was Darren who now lead from second placed Steve, who was carrying a little less fuel. Taking advantage of a lighter, swifter car, Steve was able to retake the lead, but he was forced to make a late pit stop to see him through the final five laps.

Gamble

Darren too was forced to stop a lap later, promoting Lee up to first. Perhaps with one eye on the chequered flag when it should have been on his fuel gauge, Lee gambled on his fuel lasting him to the end of the race. It didn’t, and he ground to a halt on the 96th lap.

Race Two Result: 
1st Steve – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 100; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.654
2nd Darren – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 100; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.429
3rd Scott – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 99; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.572
4th Lee – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 96*; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.697
5th Anthony – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 96; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.623

*Out of fuel

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Steve started from pole in race three, but immediately came under pressure from the hard-charging Cliff at the start of the race. With Lee and Anthony both crashing on the first lap, and after making an overtake on Norman, it was Cliff leading the challenge to Steve’s lead. On lap two, Cliff made a move stick and he was up into the lead. Steve gave chase, but a spin coming off the back straight on lap seven gave Cliff breathing room. Steve regrouped, and set off in pursuit, and eventually retook the lead on lap 17.

Recovered

While Steve and Cliff fought over the lead, Lee steadily recovered from his bad start and eventually joined the battle at the front. By the first pit stops had been completed, he was up into second, while Cliff took on too much fuel and dropped back to fourth behind Anthony. Fourth was to become third when Anthony’s thus far torrid evening continued when he ran out of fuel, promoting Cliff to the final podium position.

Disaster

At the front Lee was now bearing down on the leader Steve. Disaster was to strike on lap 92, however. Lee was shaping up to fashion an overtake on Steve, but Steve was focused on the gaggle of back-markers ahead of him. Changing lane at the end of the back straight to avoid the traffic, he collected Lee, sending him into the barrier. Lee rejoined, still in second, but a late pit stop added to his woes and he came home second.

Race Three Result: 
1st Steve – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 100; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: n/a
2nd Lee – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 98; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.437
3rd Cliff – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 92; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 4.830
4th Norman – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 87*; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 4.844
5th Anthony – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 63*; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 1
Fastest race lap: 4.820

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After marshalling in races two and three, George finally got the opportunity to build on the solid second place he registered in race one. It was an opportunity he took with aplomb, muscling by pole-sitter Anthony at the start to take a race lead he would not surrender for the rest of the race. A spin for Anthony allowed Cliff up into second early on, and with the pair now dueling for the runner-up spot, George was able to pull out a handsome lead without the scrutiny of his rivals.

Motoring

With George now motoring toward the horizon and a decisive victory, the fortunes of those behind him were somewhat less bright. A spin for Cliff allowed Anthony to finally pass him for second, and he would then drop to fourth after over-fuelling in his final stop, promoting Norman to a podium place. Darren, meanwhile, struggled for pace with the M&Ms Toyota, and eventually ran out of fuel.

Race Four Result: 
1st George – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 100; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: n/a
2nd Anthony – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 97; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.841
3rd Norman – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 94; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.675
4th Cliff – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 93; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: n/a
5th Darren – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 88*; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.641

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An eventful start to race five saw the last two starters on the grid promoted to the front on the first lap. With both Cliff and Scott spinning at the start, and apparent car trouble delaying Darren, it was the Club NASCARs of George and Lee pulling away at the front. It was George again who was in control at the front, and the triple Club NASCAR champion steadily grew his lead. By half distance, the gap was a lap and growing.

Gap

As with the previous race, George maintained his lead through the pit stops. Try as he might,  Lee just couldn’t do anything to narrow the gap. Push, and he used too much fuel; conserve and George pulled further away. In the end, second place and a two lap deficit was the best he could hope for.

Race Five Result: 
1st George – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 100; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: n/a
2nd Lee – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 98; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.393
3rd Scott – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 94; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 6
Fastest race lap: 4.537
4th Cliff – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 87; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.739
5th Darren – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 86; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: n/a

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Darren’s evening’s racing had seemed to be one disappointment after another. A second place in race two the only high point after a series of car problems and DNFs. He finally overcame all the earlier set-backs in race six, with a commanding performance from pole. Getting away from pole in the lead, albeit with the close attention of Steve in the Ford, Darren retain the lead to the end of the race. Steve ran close behind, but just couldn’t find a way by.

Pace

The leading pair had pulled out a handy gap back to third placed Lee; the Toyota runner tried everything to close the gap, but couldn’t get on terms with the leaders’ pace. At the race entered its final stages, he finally closed the gap and the three entered a game of cat n’ mouse as each made late stops to top up their fuel by the tiniest of increments. Eventually the three cars crossed the line with less than a meter separating them. Scott, meanwhile, did his championship challenge no favours whatsoever; running out of fuel on the 35th lap and dropping a huge number of points.

Race Six Result: 
1st Darren – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 100; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.657
2nd Steve – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 100; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.638
3rd Lee – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 100; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.562
4th Norman – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 97; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 4.773
5th Scott – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 35*; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 0
Fastest race lap: 4.660

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Race seven saw another tight, thrilling battle at the front – this time between Steve and George. The pair were having very similar evenings and it was looking like they would be leaving the Bristol Oval at the top of the Club NASCAR standings – but who would be first? With two wins a piece, it was difficult to call, but with this being Steve’s final race, he was keen to clock up another win.

Shadowed

Steve grabbed the lead early on, but George shadowed him as his made his way through the field. With the two cars and drivers seemingly matched for pace (their fastest laps were just one hundredth apart), and with them both on the same fuel strategy, we ended up with a fast-paced stalemate. The two crossed the finish line just two seconds apart. Further back, Anthony had the measure of Lee in this race, beating him to the final podium place and joining the race with Steve and George in the closing stages.

Race Seven Result: 
1st Steve – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 100; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.494
2nd George – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 100; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.484
3rd Anthony – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 100; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: n/a
4th Lee – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 99; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.678
5th Norman – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 89; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 3
Fastest race lap: 4.845

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With Steve now marshalling the final race of the evening, George had a great opportunity to close the points gap to the new series leader. The racing in this final race was again closely contested, and although George took the race lead early on, both Anthony and Scott were keen to make up for their set-backs in the earlier races.

Challenge

Having dealt with the the front row pair of Cliff and Norman early on, George lead the race until the first stops. The fact that George found himself back in fourth after the first round of pit stops were completed showed how close the running was at this stage of the race. Scott found himself in the lead for the second stint, but was passed by Anthony in the after the drivers had completed their second pit stops. From here, Anthony grew in stature and pulled away at the front. George mounted a late challenge, taking second place for a while, but a late stop dropped him to third at the final flag.

Race Eight Result: 
1st Anthony – Chevrolet SS #14
Laps: 100; Grid: 4; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.461
2nd Scott – Toyota Camry #18
Laps: 99; Grid: 5; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.459
3rd George – Toyota Camry #20
Laps: 98; Grid: 3; Pit stops: 5
Fastest race lap: 4.455
4th Cliff – Ford Fusion #43
Laps: 94; Grid: 2; Pit stops: 4
Fastest race lap: 4.651
5th Norman – Chevrolet SS #1
Laps: 88; Grid: 1; Pit stops: 2
Fastest race lap: 4.824

After strong performances from both drivers, it’s Steve at the top of the standing after round one, with George not far behind in second. The dropped-round rule means all is not lost for those drivers who had less than the best night’s tonight, so it’s all still to race for!

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Club NASCAR 2020 – Round One Result:

1st Steve – 706
2nd George – 691
3rd Lee – 616
4th Darren  – 583
5th Anthony – 581
6th Scott – 567
7th Cliff – 538
8th Norman – 530

Championship Standings:

Round 1: Round 2: Round 3: Round 4:Total
1
Steve

706

706
2
George

691

691
3
Lee

616

616
4
Darren

583

583
5
Anthony

581

581
6
Scott

567

567
7
Cliff

538

538
8
Norman

530

530

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