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Anthony Nocella edges Matt Hirschman in photo finish for the Blewett Memorial 76

The veterans established ground rules on Tuesday and implemented them on Wednesday

NBC SPORTS

New Smyrna Speedway is billing it as the closest finish in the history of motorsports.

While that could be perceived as an exaggeration, it was certainly difficult to argue with the optics of what was described as .0000000000001 margin of victory from Anthony Nocella to Matt Hirschman in the John Blewett III 76 at New Smyrna Speedway on Wednesday night.

The two raced side-by-side for the final three laps, crossing the line in a virtual tie, each time they crossed under the flag stand.

The finish was so close that Hirschman initially drove into victory lane under the conviction that he had emerged victorious. However, after a lengthy five-minute review that utilized video evidence, still photography and the eye test, Nocella was declared the victor.

It was fitting that the race came down to Nocella and Hirschman, racing side-by-side for three laps without making contact once, because they found themselves dissatisfied the night before over how Craig Lutz muscled his way around both of them en route to a Night 2 victory in the World Series of Asphalt.

Hirschman was the first one to get to Nocella, wanting to congratulate him for the battle, regardless of the official ruling.

That respect went both ways.

“Coming from open wheel cars that I’ve ran all my life, that’s the way I think it should be racing, you know,” Nocella said in Victory Lane. “They got nerf bars, you can beat and bang. We rubbed a little bit, but we ran there for the win, ran clean, ran with respect for each other. And it shows, we put on a good race for the fans.”

Upon hearing the official decision come down from race control, Hirschman crossed into the grandstands and marched his way into the tower with a cell phone taken from a fan that showed what he believed was a different result.

He was met by Champion Race Association officials Glenn Luckett and RJ Scott, who simply offered their process, before suggesting he return to the podium and to his No. 60.

“That was a great race… from my seat, I felt I beat him by about six-twelve inches — I looked at a photo that sure looks like it, but that was the official decision, so I do have to live with it,” Hirschman said. “I disagree with it… but I’m not going to take anything away from the No. 92 for what an incredible finish it was.”

And even though he came up short, Hirschman said he believed his battle with Nocella on Wednesday night was indicative of how racers should battle for the win.

“That’s a lesson on how it should be done,” Hirschman said. “Unfortunately, today, the quality of racing isn’t like that. The ridiculous saying is ‘I did what I had to do’ and that is B.S. This right here is what you have to do and both of us did that.”

Jimmy Blewett, the brother of John Blewett III, led the middle stages of the race but had to settle for third. Blewett passed away following a racing incident at Thompson Speedway in 2007. Ryan Preece charged from the rear of the field to finish fourth after making an unapproved change after qualifying. Dave Sapienza completed the top five.

As for the decision to award Nocella the win, Luckett said the following determined the results:

“The reason we don’t use the transponder is that NASCAR has a template to where you have to mount it and we don’t,” Luckett said. “We just put it on the left rear frame rail. We always go by: What’s seen at the line. They were side by side for three laps, so we knew we were going to have to watch. I was watching from the tower, so were the scorers, and we agreed it was Nocella.

“We went back at photography, and what we saw on the broadcast, and the final decision came back to what the flagger saw at the finish line.”

Nocella also took the championship lead from Hirschman and leads by two points. Ryan Preece is third and 26 points back but will miss Thursday night to compete in the Duel at Daytona. Craig Lutz is fourth and 28 points back. Thursday’s race is a 35-lapper in advance of the bookending Richie Evans Memorial 100 on Friday night.

The complete results from the John Blewett III Memorial can be found below.

  1. Anthony Nocella
  2. Matt Hirschman
  3. Jimmy Blewett
  4. Ryan Preece
  5. David Sapienza
  6. Eric Goodale
  7. Patrick Emerling
  8. Mike Willis, Jr.
  9. Kyle Ebersole
  10. Tommy Catalano
  11. Brett Meservey
  12. Jeremy Gerstner
  13. Craig Lutz
  14. Jim Gavek
  15. Ricky Moxley
  16. Joe DeGracia
  17. Eddie McCarthy
  18. Tyler Rypkema
  19. Anthony Sesely
  20. Rich Parker
  21. Tyler Catalano
  22. J.R. Bertuccio
  23. Brian Robie
  24. Paul Townsond
  25. Brad Vanhouten
  26. Jeffrey Gallup
  27. Ray Fattaruso
  28. Adam LaCicero
  29. John Gerstner

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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