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Canandaigua, NY – August 4, 2012 – Veteran Danny Johnson stayed right in sync with the sweltering heat Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, scoring a sizzling victory in the 35-lap Original Pizza Logs Big-Block Modified feature to kick off the last full month of summer racing at the Ontario County Fairgrounds.
Local chauffeur Todd Henderson (Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman Modified) and traveling star Billy Jaycox (Castner Performance 305 Sprint) notched their first wins of the season while Nate Peckham (Parts Plus Street Stock), Eric Chapman (Pure Stock) and Tyler Meeks (New Legends Sportsman) each triumphed for the third time to close out F.X. Caprara Car Companies-Parts Plus Nite at CMP.
A speedy squad of 10 youngsters also gained some memorable track time on the hallowed half-miler, with special Kids Power Wheels races held on the frontstretch to entertain the heated grandstand contingent. The initial three-lap feature was won by 4 year-old Kaylee Marcuccilli (daughter of Sportsman driver Dave Marcuccilli) from Cayuga while 6 year-old Zoelle Payne (daughter of Johnson's crew chief Mike Payne) from Stanley won the 4-lap nightcap.
Less than two hours later, Payne returned to the winner's circle following Johnson's most convincing victory of the 2012 campaign steering the potent blue no. 27J Honeoye Auto Parts-Page Trucking-Lax Express/Bicknell machine.
“This car felt good and was good right from the get-go, massaged her a bit but didn't really have to work too hard,” revealed Johnson, 52, the second-generation standout from Rochester, after posting his 78th career Big-Block win at the 'Land of Legends' layout which ranks him fourth all-time. “Had a good heat race (won) and everything stayed that way the rest of the night.”
“Its just unbelievable. Never expected (6 wins) at the beginning of the season. These guys are preparing a great race track out here and everybody's doing a great job with the car. Really can't ask for much more,” Johnson said.
Falling in 11th on the 23-card starting grid to begin the Modified main event, Johnson wasted little time finding his way around the smooth and slick fairgrounds oval. The 'Doctor' operated with precision both high and low, cracking the Top-5 after just seven laps as pole-sitter Tim Currier maintained his rapid pace out front.
Chad Homan wrestled the lead away from Currier on the eighth circuit just as Johnson overtook Dave Allen for fourth. The 'Danimal' swept past 11-time track champ Steve Paine on lap nine and the next time around disposed of Currier to secure the runner-up spot.
Turn three contact between Ron Bellinger and Cartwright forced out the first yellow flag and Johnson blasted by Homan on the lap 11 restart to forge the final lead change. While Bellinger was sent to the rear for his involvement in the initial slowdown, officials ordered current points lead Matt Sheppard to the back of the pack after a turn three tap ended with Allen spinning sideways. Allen pulled off a perfect 360-degree spin all alone on the front chute back under green before Henry Maier's mount came to a stop high in turn one to incur a fourth straight caution.
Johnson pulled away from his nearest challengers after the final stoppage of the race, with Homan still second and a hard-charging Justin Haers leading Paine, Gary Tomkins and Jimmy Phelps with 15 laps complete. Haers grabbed second two laps later while Sheppard rallied into the Top-10 at the halfway mark.
Traffic during the latter stages did little to affect the final outcome as Johnson cruised home for nearly a straightaway victory over Haers. Phelps and Billy Dunn finished next followed by Sheppard, who matched Johnson with his 12th Top-5 tally of the season.
“Have to congratulate my team, the way the crew has come together is just phenomenal,” remarked Johnson, who climbed to within 18 markers of Sheppard in the CMP standings with just four point races remaining. “There's been so much help getting us here, its made my job a lot easier.”
“Success comes and goes, that's the way racing is. There's hills and valleys, you gotta ride both. Today we got one of those highs so everything is good,” added Johnson, who earned his fourth track title in 1999.
A staple at the fairgrounds for the past two decades, Henderson garnered his lone Sportsman season championship in 2006 yet the Canandaigua driver's visits to victory lane have been far more regular.
“Wanted to keep that streak of having at least one win a year going,” noted Henderson, who has now taken checkered flags in 13 different seasons since scoring his first victory in 1994. He was also the 358-Modified points king at Canandaigua in 2005. “We finally got it, hopefully can get back here before the end of the season.”
“Been around the front, top-10, top-5, just haven't been able to close the deal this year. The competition is so tough that going from the back to the front … those days are really hard to come by. But the ole Genny car made it back here tonight,” beamed Henderson, who now sits 29 points behind defending champion Dan Wiesner (finished 13th) on the chart.
Chasing leader Kane Bristol and A.J. Lloyd across the stripe to begin the 25-lap Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman finale, fifth-starting Henderson pulled into second on lap four before moving to the point three laps later. Tom Keyes suffered a broken rear-end on his open-wheel mount to bring out the first caution on lap 11.
Contact with Frank 'Bubba' Burnell Jr. on the ensuing restart resulted in Justin Henderson looping between turns three and four, with the scramble up front collecting Wiesner as well as trailers Matt Guererri and Daryl Nutting.
Henderson once again opened up a commanding lead and with 15 laps scored Steve Gray ran second ahead of Lloyd and Nick Guererri while five-time winner Paul Guererri cracked the front-five from his 15th starting position. Wiesner slid high up against the frontstretch wall exiting turn four to incur the third and final slowdown while Kevin Ridley limped into the pits under the same lap 17 caution to relinquish a Top-10 spot.
Henderson never blinked over the final eight circuits aboard his blue no. 18H Genny Light-Uptown Tire-Tarjac-Mac's Philly Steaks/Bicknell entry, increasing his advantage to six car-lengths over Gray at the line followed by Paul and Nick Guererri, and Rob Bussey to round out the front-five.
“This is the same car we wrecked a couple weeks ago and finally got it back together,” added Henderson, on the heels of his 14th Top-10 finishe in 17 mains “Have to thank Loren Lincoln, he did a lot of work straightening out a lot of bars.”
“When we came out for the heat we actually had the fuel cell in backwards, so the car was running out of gas in the corners. Did a quick switch in time for the feature and here we are. It sure seems like its been awhile,” Henderson said.
The wait seemed just as long for Peckham, even after making his third Parts Plus Street Street victory of the season just as satisfying for the Seneca Falls pilot.
“(Wins) never come easy around here,” stated Peckham, who registered his last victory on June 9 and now has an even dozen on his fairgrounds resume. “Russ (Marsden) has really got his car hooked, we've all been scrambling trying to catch him.”
On Saturday the field had to play catch-up the entire distance as Peckham led flag-to-flag to capture the 15-lap caution-free full-fender feature. Mike Welch shadowed the leader throughout while 10-time race winner and points leader Marsden was never a factor in third. Pat Hobbs and Adam DePuy completed the Top-5.
“Figured Mike would be on the bottom, that's where he always runs here. So I just kept hugging the bottom. I watched Marsden behind him (scoreboard), so as long as it stayed that way we were good to go,” added Peckham, who acknowledged his mother in victory lane for letting him park his blue no. 90 Auto Value-Advance Auto Parts-Industrial Service of Rochester Chevrolet Camaro in her garage during the season.
Chapman had also last reached the winner's circle in June, with much of the Hannibal driver's success seemingly overshadowed by the dominance displayed by front-runners Vance Vanderwall and Marc Minutolo in the Pure Stock ranks.
“Seems like nobody can really touch Vance or Marc, they've been the ones to beat every week,” said Chapman, a seven-time winner at CMP in 2007-08. “The Minutolos have really helped me out a lot this week. So has Russ Marsden, we're even using his bell housing tonight.”
Mike Minutolo Sr. led early in the caution-infested 12-lap affair that took over 20 minutes to complete. With three yellow flags falling over the first five circuits for minor spins and flat tires, Chapman bolted from third to first on lap six, overtaking both Vanderall and the elder Minutolo in a turn three and four dash.
With two laps left, Marc Minutolo hit the left-rear of Vanderwall exiting turn four to send Vance spinning through the homestretch infield. Vanderwall bounced back to cross the line third yet was relegated to 14th on the finale scoresheet, while the younger Minutolo continued on and placed fifth behind his father Mike, George LaVare Jr. and Roger Bush.
“Was debating going to the top lane just before that one caution came out but decided to stay on the bottom,” recalled Chapman, while posing alongside his no. 22T John Juhl Construction-Marsden Racing Engines-Big Mike's Auto Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS ride. “Then I finally got by Vance and big Mike and everything worked out well after that.”
The results for New Legends Sportsman racer Tyler Meeks could not be any better after the last three shows. After three straight wins for the Evans Mills rookie he will now move up to the top tier of Sportsman to take on Canandaigua's best the final month of the season.
“I didn't know how I was going to do starting in the back, whether or not the car was going to handle alright,” divulged Meeks, who led from start to finish in his first two victory marches. “It seemed to handle pretty good.”
Billy Brown jumped out to an early lead before Jon Ellsworth crossed the stripe to gain an advantage on lap four. Ellsworth built up a comfortable margin 10 laps in, with seventh-starting Meeks nestled in behind Brown and Jeff Davoli.
Brown and Davoli slowed after making contact in turn two to let Meeks go by on lap 11, and in a sudden burst of power Meeks' no. 17T Allside Painting-Flack's Hi-Rise Concrete Restoration-Meeks Trucking/Bicknell mount charged high out of turn four on the same lap to sneak past Ellsworth and emerge as the third and final leader.
“Just got on the outside there and tried to make it stick,” Meeks replayed. “But almost put it in the wall coming out of four. Once around the leaders I was able to hold on to the bottom. When you're going for the lead its all or nothing, you can't hold anything back.”
Starting on the front row to give him the best chance for his first win, Jaycox needed three laps to snatch the lead from pole-sitter Jake Muench and left little for the opposition as he rolled on to a memorable victory in the 15-lap Castner Performance 305 Sprint Car A-Main.
“We were good tonight,” said Jaycox, who makes the three-hour haul weekly from the Albany suburb of Middleburgh. “Good in the heat, made a few changes for the feature and got a little better.”
With Jaycox staying strong up front, Muench maintained second until suddenly losing power on lap 10 and looping low in turn three attempting to refire. Five-time winner and points leader Dave Ferguson was in position to inherit second although he fell 10 car-lengths shy of Jaycox' blue no. 5J Lacko Farms-Jim's East Coast Customz Maxim machine in the eight-minute main.
“Didn't know where the other guys were going to be but they were going to have to go way up to beat us,” Jaycox added. “Been working hard on set-up the last 2-3 times out here. Know the top groove gets pushed out so far up there that its a long way around. Told Jeremie (Corcoran CMP promoter) I'd support him if he ran this class so I appreciate his staff for being so welcoming. The track's been awesome too, and that makes the drive here with my wife Elaine even more worthwhile.”
Reigning NASCAR champion Tony Stewart returns to Canandaigua Motorsports Park during Cup Weekend at nearby Watkins Glen when the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprint Series comes to town Aug. 11 for its 23rd visit to the Ontario Co. Fairgrounds. Stewart will be joined by 2nd- and 3rd-generation drivers Dave & Ryan Blaney as they contend in a pair of no. 98H Troyer Big-Block Modifieds.
Cobra Motorhomes/Wilkins RV and North Eastern Pool & Spa combine to headline a full card that also includes Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman, Parts Plus Street Stock, Pure Stock, New Legends Sportsman and Castner Performance 305 Sprint Car racing. Pit gates unlock Saturday at 4pm, grandstands open at 5pm and the first qualifying heat goes green at 7pm.