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Sheppard, Guererri, Marsden, Minutolo & Brown combine for 15 trophies in 2012
Canandaigua, NY – May 26, 2012 – Auto racing has always been a numbers game. Saturday on Corvettes By Turner-American Equipment Nite at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, figures continued to flourish as the five feature winners combined to reach victory lane 15 times in 2012.
Led by Parts Plus Street Stock chauffeur Russ Marsden, who increased his track-high win total to five through seven shows, Matt Sheppard (Original Pizza Logs Modified) and Marc Minutolo (Pure Stock) registered their third victories while Paul Guererri (Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman Modified) and Billy Brown (New Legends Sportsman) returned to the winner's circle for the second time as racing at the Ontario County Fairgrounds in the month of May came to a close.
The Memorial Day Weekend holiday program included Family Autograph Nite with hundreds of fans taking advantage of the special occasion by venturing trackside during intermission for a unique meet-and-greet with their favorite racers.
Sheppard provided the grandstand throng with another unforgettable performance as the Waterloo driver forced the fifth and final lead change on lap 21 before out-distancing runner-up Billy Dunn for the decisive victory.
“Billy ran a heckuva race, its really fun racing with him,” remarked Sheppard, as he continued on course for a second straight Big-Block points championship at the 'Land of Legends' layout. “We ran side-by-side, lap after lap and never touched once. Seemed like the car just kept getting better and better the longer the night went on.”
And it was certainly a lengthy affair as the 45-minute Modified marathon was slowed by seven cautions and a rare red flag. Yet Sheppard crept closer to the front before each delay, advancing from 16th starting position in the potent JB Motorsports no. 9s F.X. Caprara Car Co.-Xtreme Lubricants/Bicknell entry to take his first lead from Dunn on lap 15.
Dave Rauscher bolted from fourth to first on the opening circuit before the red lights flashed for a mid-pack mix-up. With his mother Jane flying in earlier from down under, Australian Peter Britten got turned around exiting turn four and slammed the front wall in the wild chain of events. With no place to go, Danny Johnson plowed in, although he was able to return after a pit stop while Britten was done for the night without a single lap complete.
Rauscher maintained the point until a lap 10 restart shook up the order, with Chad Homan taking over the lead until Dunn charged past the next time around. A turn one/two tangle involving Rich Scagliotta, Justin Wright and Daryl Hilkert incurred another yellow flag, putting 'Super Matt' into the Top-5 with just a dozen laps scored.
The scariest moment of the night unfolded when front-runner Vince Vitale failed to fire on a second lap 13 restart, sending almost the entire field scrambling behind him in the turn four melee. Sheppard was unscathed although Dave Allen was less fortunate as his mount sat sideways at the start of the frontstretch.
Sheppard wasted little time back under green flag conditions, moving under Dunn to become the fourth different leader after 15 laps. Dunn returned the favor two laps later yet couldn't hold off 'Super Matt' who nosed ahead for good on lap 21 en route to opening up a commanding 2/3-straightaway margin at the checkers. Alan Johnson, Steve Paine and Gary Tomkins rounded out the front-five.
“We just keep coming back with the same (set-up), its been working for us here the last 3-4 years,” noted Sheppard, on the heels of his 25th career Big-Block victory at Canandaigua to keep him 7th on the all-time win list. “We've had a good car here for quite awhile, just stick with it and try to make it a little better every time back.”
“We talked about maybe over-thinking things earlier in the year. Just went back to basics and we got back to victory lane again. Just try to keep things simple,” added Sheppard, after increasing his division points lead ahead of new runner-up and last week's winner Jimmy Phelps.
A new Troyer chassis for Guererri has proven to be a simple fix for the veteran open-wheel campaigner from Geneva after Canandaigua's career Sportsman win leader notched his 29th triumph at the hallowed half-miler.
While leading nearly flag-to-flag in the final show of April to score his initial win, the 'G-Man' needed almost the entire distance to get the job done against weekly rival Steve Gray in the 25-lap Safety Awareness Solutions finale run one month later.
“This (win) goes out to the Proctors, they've got an illness in the family to overcome,” stated Guererri, who dedicated the latest triumph to his sponsor Proctor Roofing in a fitting holiday tribute. “Everybody here knows I'm not used to running the top but this car has been absolutely awesome all year. This new Troyer car is unbelievable.”
Gray muscled by outside pole-sitter Jimmy Maier on lap seven after the lead pair had built up a healthy lead ahead of Joe Cook Jr. and eighth-place starting Guererri. The mount of Frank 'Bubba' Burnell Jr. suddenly came to stop in turn four, resulting in the first yellow flag on lap 13 and erasing the gap between the frontrunners.
With plenty of three-wide racing visible throughout the pack, Gray and Guererri grabbed the most attention as they battled bumper-to-bumper from lap 15 on. Mirroring nearly every move of the leader, Guererri swept by with a surge of speed exiting turn four to complete lap 22 and held on for a narrow four car-length victory at the line.
“I saw Steve running the bottom and knew the only way around him was to try the outside,” figured Guererri, as he described the winning move made aboard his no. 7 Pizza Logs-Al Raymond Collision special. “So I just kept going deeper and deeper and deeper. (Car) was sticking and I got alongside him once and knew the next lap I'd be able to get him as long as I just didn't hop the cushion.”
Guererri stayed glued in the high groove to make the winning move, with Gray posting his best finish of the young season ahead of the son/father tandem of Justin and Todd Henderson, and Maier. Justin had relinquished third to Todd on lap 24 before ducking underneath and edging his father by a yard at the line.
A four-time winner a year ago in his first season as a Canandaigua regular, Marsden has already more than doubled his career success after the first two months of full-fender competition at the popular Routes 5&20 oval. He has now won three straight after copping the season's first two races steering the no. 28 Flack’s Hi-Rise Concrete Restoration-Coatings Plus/Chevrolet Impala.
“We just keep plugging away, going at it and going at it,” said a determined Marsden from Mexico, N.Y. following his latest triumph by a half straightaway over the only other Parts Plus Street Stock winners in 2012, Nate Peckham and Mike Welch. “Just want to win some races. Its good to have my car owner Pat Flack down here (victory lane) for some pictures.”
It was a picture-perfect night for 6th-starting Marsden after inheriting the point when the no. 98T Chevrolet Monte Carlo ride of leader Jack Terrell went up in smoke on a lap four restart. The only other slowdown came on lap eight of the 15-lap feature when Nate Daggett lost power and was rammed in the rear by Pat Hobbs, leaving just a handful of cars to take starter Scott Hixson's checkered flag.
“I really like this place, lots of bite here and you can race all over the track,” added Marsden, after extending his points lead over Welch, who was relegated to drive Roger Bush's renumbered no. 99 car most recently driven by Adam DePuy and carrying #9R. Blane Smith and Steve Faulkner filled out the Top-5. “Have to thank Jeremie for getting rid of all the rocks and having a great race surface every week.”
Continuing to build momentum in defense of his 2011 track crown, Minutolo also racked up his third consecutive victory in the Pure Stock ranks, outlasting four-time winner Vance Vanderwall in the 12-lap finale to emerge as the new points leader.
“I thank my dad more than anybody, but I really have to thank the fans, especially all the guys and girls that stay around and just show their love for the sport,” said Minutolo, after improving his all-time CMP win count to 28 strapped into the no. 25B Butch's Body Shop-Big Mike's Auto/Chevrolet Camaro. “That's what (auto racing) needs.”
Filling in fifth on the 11-car starting grid, Minutolo wasted little time grabbing the lead from Dave Bush on lap two with Vanderwall following him through the same hole. The second-generation standout had to wait out a lap one caution period when his father Mike Minutolo Sr. lost a rear wheel assembly in turn one right after taking the initial green flag.
Bush lost a solid Top-5 finish when he looped his mount on lap 10, but the two-lap dash to the checkers was still not enough for Vanderwall to chase down Minutolo. Eric Chapman, Roger Bush and Rod Comfort rounded out the final front-five.
With Josh Livingston and Kaitlin Pashina moving into the Sportsman division and last week's winner Andrew Jacobson taking the holiday off, Brown was the class of the field among entry-level Legends Sportsman signing in on Saturday.
The local driver from Cheshire took the lead from Daryl Nutting on a lap three restart and dominated for a straightaway victory over Jon Ellsworth while Nutting, Brandon Rauscher and first-time visitor Kris VanNorstrand completed the Top-5.
“Went back to the shop this week and set up for a dry slick track,” said Brown, who was greeted by a moist tacky surface when he arrived on this occasion. “Jeremie did a lot of work on the track and it was great out here tonight. We were terrible in the heat but made some changes and the car was great in the feature.”
Jason Scales' mount came to a stop in the second corner to slow the action on lap two and fifth-starting Brown was in prime position to take over the lead on the ensuing restart. Still in search of his first Legends win, Ellsworth grabbed the runner-up spot from Nutting after the midway mark but was unable to track down the winning no. 16 Brown Motorsports-Frost Racing/Bicknell machine without the help of another yellow flag.
The entire CMP staff and fellow racers at his Saturday night home extend a sincere 'get well' wish to popular Big-Block Modified pilot Gil Tegg Jr., who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident last Monday. Tegg, who steers the Gil Tegg Mobil Mart no. 22 All-Star Pizza-Mayfield's Pub/Troyer entry, underwent 7-1/2 hours of surgery after sustaining 4 broken vertebrae, 3 broken ribs and a compound fracture in his right arm during the early morning crash. Please send all notes of encouragement to Gil at 1440 Blossom Road, Rochester NY 14610, as he already harbors hopes of returning to the fairgrounds for competition next season.
The third full month of short-track action at Canandaigua Motorsports Park opens on on Saturday, June 2 when Victor Mobile Home Parks presents a full five-star show of Original Pizza Logs Big-Block Modified, Safety Awareness Solutions Sportsman, Parts Plus Street Stock, Pure Stock and New Legends Sportsman plus a return of the Castner Performance 305 Sprints on Military Appreciation Nite. Pit gates unlock at 4pm, grandstands open at 5pm and the first qualifying heat goes green at 7pm.