Even with two straight wins at Claremont Motorsports Park, Ray Christian III somehow looked like an underdog in the closing laps. He had been a fourth-place car all night. Second place meant he was trapped in the outside line. And alongside him was one of New England’s top Late Model racers, a driver who had won all but one of his previous Granite State Pro Stock Series starts.
But Christian held steady, made the outside line work, and broke free of Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.’s grasp to win Friday’s Independence 100 Presented by Newport Chevrolet, the second event of the GSPSS season.
“I think we were a fourth-place car,” Christian admitted after the race. “But, you know, some stuff unfolded up front, and we capitalized.”
LOOKING BACK: Christian charges late for season-opening GSPSS win
Indeed, the post-race pyrotechnics were not the only fireworks on display at the tricky New Hampshire third-mile. Local favorite Luke Hinkley asserted himself early, charging from fifth on the grid to pass Mike O’Sullivan for the early race lead. And through the race’s halfway point, Hinkley looked likely to earn his first career GSPSS trophy in front of the hometown crowd, while Polewarczyk sat second.
But when “Joey Pole” faltered on a late restart, Angelo Belsito went from third place to Hinkley’s bumper. Belsito, who dominated the early stages of June’s GSPSS lidlifter, nudged Hinkley out of the way to take the lead, a move Hinkley swiftly repaid the next lap. As Belsito spun to the inside, Hinkley was held up, allowing Polewarczyk and Christian to slip past as the caution was displayed.
With Hinkley sent to the rear and Belsito in the pits, the battle was on between Polewarczyk, Christian, and defending champion Joey Doiron, who kept looking to Pole’s inside on restarts. Doiron’s car fell off on the final run, though, leaving Christian to challenge Pole for the checkered flag.
With Pole holding the low line, Christian went to the high side, passing Pole for good with a few laps remaining to seal the deal.
“It was an absolute blast,” Christian said. “Here we are three-for-three, and two-for-two to start the year.”
After struggling to close out races in the first half of 2019, Christian pulled together wins at Star Speedway and Claremont to close out the year en route to a runner-up finish in the points. Back-to-back wins to start the season, plus a win streak going back to last year’s season finale, are a welcome reversal for the Groton, Conn. driver.
Joey Polewarczyk’s runner-up finish kept his top-five streak alive, but his second-place finish was surely a disappointment for a driver who, prior to 2019, had won all of his GSPSS starts thus far.
Joey Doiron, whose team thrashed to get the car to the starting grid after finishing second in his heat, finished third. Mike O’Sullivan was fourth, with Cory Casagrande rounding out the top five.
Finishing sixth was sophomore Jake Matheson, with Luke Hinkley rebounding to seventh after the incident with Belsito. Rookies Cody LeBlanc and Casey Call were next, with Seekonk Speedway regular Ryan Lineham tenth. Eighteen cars took the green flag for the feature. Championship hopeful Jimmy Renfrew, Jr., who crashed hard at Claremont in June, was not in attendance.
Belsito set fast time in time trials, then went on to win his heat, with Hinkley winning the second. Former series champions Mike O’Sullivan and Barry Gray led the field to green after the top-eight redraw.
The next race for the Granite State Pro Stock Series is next Sunday’s Gate City 100 at Hudson Speedway in southern New Hampshire. Hudson native Polewarczyk, who lives only a few minutes from the track, is the race’s defending winner.
Official Results, GSPSS Independence 100 presented by Newport Chevrolet at Claremont Motorsports Park:
1. (93CT) Ray Christian III
2. (97) Joey Polewarczyk, Jr.
3. (73) Joey Doiron
4. (08) Mike O’Sullivan
5. (7CT) Cory Casagrande
6. (52NH) Jake Matheson
7. (31NH) Luke Hinkley
8. (55) Cody LeBlanc
9. (90NH) Casey Call
10. (48) Ryan Lineham
11. (29) Barry Gray
12. (88) Kevin Casper
13. (12) Bobby Pelland III
14. (18) John Lowinski-Loh
15. (8B) Angelo Belsito
16. (11) Byron Baker
17. (40) Mike Mitchell
18. (8NH) Guy Caron