Sammy Smith emerged victorious in the American Freedom 200 on Saturday night at Jennerstown Speedway in Pennsylvania, but his team were also survivors.
The $20,000-to-win CARS Tour Super Late Model race offered no shortage of twists and turns with various tire strategies, retaliations and a finish that saw several contenders either crash or run out of gas.
Throughout every instance of drama, there was Smith in the Donnie Wilson Motorsports No. 22 running near the front, but avoiding the misfortune suffered by others.
“Yeah, we had enough gas,” Smith said. “We struggled those first two stages. We just didn’t have the balance we needed to win. Bond and all the guys made good adjustments, and I knew we had enough gas.”
Josh Berry, making his first start driving the Highlands Motorsports No. 96 dominated the first half of the event before the series of competition cautions jumbled the running order and resulted in various strategies playing themselves.
For any caution period, a team could elect to take fuel or tires, but not both and those decisions played into the finish.
Alongside Smith and Berry, both Terry Senneker and Corey Heim were also amongst the top-five throughout most of the race.
Racing for second place with 12 laps to go, Senneker drifted up out of Turn 2 and pinched Heim into the wall and the ARCA Racing Series championship leader responded by hooking the second-generation racer around and hard into the wall.
On the prior restart, Matthew Craig ran out of fuel and suffered from a power steering ailment that brought out the caution that set up the Senneker and Heim incident.
Leading up to the planned coemption caution, it was a three-car battle for the lead between Heim, Senneker and a resurgent Bubba Pollard making his first start since joining forces with Gary Crooks and Port City Race Cars.
It’s been a struggle over the past 12 months for Pollard to routinely finish races and run competitively across starts in Senneker and VanDoorn cars but the defending winner looked back to familiar form on Saturday.
That was the case anyway until a fuel pickup issue sent him behind the wall and out of the race.
“Port City Race Cars have working hard all week and gave me a great race car, and man it was fast,” Pollard said. “We were just riding. I didn’t have good track position early in the race, and we just kept doing the things we needed to do to get to the front.
“I had them right where I wanted them for a 40 lap race and man, that thing was good. I just hate we didn’t get to show it. That’s a part of racing and we’ll fix it.
“Get ready, we’re going to win some races.”
A caution with four laps to go, for a slow Justin Crider running out of fuel, set up even more chaos. Prior to that caution, Derek Griffth had been reeling Smith in for the lead and was able to restart right next to the Donnie Wilson Motorsports No. 22.
Griffith jumped the first restart and it was called back, and the struggled to get his car into gear on the second attempt, which stacked up the field behind him and resulted in Berry and Chris Davidson crashing out of the race.
“I was having problems all night shifting the thing into third and just couldn’t get it in on that restart,” Griffith said. “I had to use the clutch all night, it sucks because I had a great run going and didn’t want to see that restart.”
Garrett Hall avoided the chaos over the final several restarts to finish second.
“When it doubt, throttle out,” Hall said.
Heim rebounded to finish third with a damaged car.
- #22 Sammy Smith
- #94 Garrett Hall
- #78 Corey Heim
- #54 Matt Craig
- #5 Garrett Smithley
- #51 Stephen Nasse
- #96 Josh Berry
- #45 Kodie Connor
- #49 Jeff Batten
- #33 Albert Francis
- #12G Derrick Griffith
- #14D Chris Davidson
- #7 Justin Crider
- #37 Terry Senneker
- #20 Jeff Vrsek
- #26 Bubba Pollard
- #35 Carson Kvapil
- #19 Ethan Myers