For eighty-four laps, Friday night’s Vynorius Companies 100 at Star Speedway looked like the third stop on the Derek Griffith Express. Griffith, coming off consecutive high-stakes Pro Stock wins, had been unchallenged from the drop of the green, and seemed well on his way to taking his second Granite State Pro Stock Series win of the year.
Joey Polewarczyk had other plans.
In a thrilling door-to-door duel over the last sixteen circuits, “Joey Pole” prevailed by inches to earn his first GSPSS win of 2020.
For Polewarczyk, it all came down to a matter of choice on the race’s final restart.
“Derek’s been so good, he was so good tonight,” Polewarczyk said in victory lane. “He got a good run on that restart…but if I could hold him down a little bit, I could kinda take his line away and keep my momentum up on the outside.”
Polewarczyk had lined up outside Griffith for a lap-83 restart, but slipped ahead of Griffith when Larry Gelinas’ spin brought out the race’s final yellow flag only one lap later. The sneak preview inspired Polewarczyk to take the outside lane for what would be the final green flag of the 100-lap race.
“I just had to stick it up there for fifteen laps,” he said. “That was my mindset…and man, this feels good.”
With Griffith unable to break free, the two Hudson, N.H. natives battled side by side for the final laps, pressuring each other but never crossing the line. Polewarczyk’s car found its footing off the final turn, propelling the 2014 American-Canadian Tour champion ahead by four hundredths of a second at the line.
Griffith, not even twenty-four hours removed from a ninth-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in an ARCA Menards Series race, was the first one to Polewarczyk’s car after the race, with the drivers sharing mutual respect in a close but clean battle to the wire.
“I can’t thank Derek enough for racing me clean,” Polewarczyk said of Griffith. “When you’re racing that hard, all it takes is one mistake to screw it up for both of you.”
Before the final battle, the evening had belonged to Griffith. Only minutes after winning his heat, Griffith drew the pole position in the redraw, prompting several within earshot to offer up donations to a bounty fund payable to Griffith if he were to forfeit his starting position and roll off from the rear.
Griffith had drawn the pole in the last GSPSS event, the Newport Chevrolet 150 at Claremont Motorsports Park, and went wire-to-wire to earn a $10,000 check in the biggest race in series history. The following Friday, Griffith was not so fortunate in time trials for Lee USA Speedway’s Freedom 300 Pro Stock open, qualifying tenth. The 2015 GSPSS champion marched through the pack anyway, taking the lead on lap 37 and cruising home to take another $10,000 prize in a race shortened by the local curfew.
Friday’s feature started out in similar fashion to Claremont, with Griffith distancing himself quickly from Ryan Kuhn and Ray Christian III after an early caution. Christian and Polewarczyk moved to second and third over a long green-flag run, with Polewarczyk pressuring “RC III” for the runner-up spot.
Then Christian slipped off turn four, scraping the wall and skating over the turn-two banking with a flat tire on lap 69. The timing was nice for Polewarczyk, who moved to second, but not so nice for the series points leader, who limped to the pits in a shower of sparks.
Griffith was still strong on the restart, but Polewarczyk was able to keep pace, shadowing Griffith until a tire issue for reigning champion Joey Doiron brought out the pivotal lap-83 yellow that set the stage for the scintillating finale.
American-Canadian Tour regular Ryan Kuhn, making his first GSPSS start of the year, finished a stout third in what may as well have been a separate race. Christian rebounded from his flat tire to finish fourth, with series sophomore Jake Matheson matching his career best with a fifth-place finish.
Rookie Casey Call, Doiron, Rusty Poland, 2020 Motor Mountain Masters winner Mike Hopkins and Mike Mitchell rounded out the top ten.
Christian’s fourth-place rebound, contrasted with Polewarczyk’s win, erased the remainder of the Groton, Conn. racer’s thin points lead, with Polewarczyk unofficially topping the GSPSS standings with three races remaining on the schedule. Two of those races are at Christian’s home track, New London-Waterford Speedbowl, a track where Christian earned his first career GSPSS win.
But Polewarczyk is no stranger to Waterford, with wins in his last three ACT Tour starts there in 2010 and 2016. And the remaining track on the schedule, Lee USA Speedway, has been the site of two touring wins for the veteran, including a 2014 GSPSS triumph. And even though he has not run for points since the 2015 season, chasing championships is familiar ground for Polewarczyk.
Oddly enough, the Granite State Pro Stock Series is more akin to uncharted territory for the driver who sits second in all-time American-Canadian Tour wins with victories in the Oxford 250 and the Vermont Milk Bowl. Prior to 2020, Polewarczyk had only three GSPSS starts to his credit, with wins in all three. June’s season opener, in which Polewarczyk finished fifth, marked the first time in his career he failed to win a GSPSS event.
Podium finishes in the next three races put Polewarczyk in the heat of the title chase, though, and with eight races complete, the veteran is primed to battle rising star Christian for the 2020 crown.
Friday night’s thriller was a picture-perfect kickoff to Star Speedway’s annual Star Classic, the signature event on the calendar for the Epping, N.H. speedway. Now in its 55th year, the Star Classic is one of the premier East Coast races for big-block Supermodifieds, with the winged cars lapping the quarter-mile in just under 11 seconds. The Classic has a greater significance this year; with the International Supermodified Association schedule decimated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Star Classic is the third and final race weekend of a shortened ISMA season.
Last year’s Star Classic was the first to be run as a two-day program, with the GSPSS anchoring a “Fendered Friday” card of Star’s weekly classes. This year, in celebration of the Webber family’s fortieth year of ownership at Star, a Sunday program has been added, featuring the Modified Racing Series and Star’s ACT-rules Late Models.
For fans attending all three days of racing, Friday’s finish will be hard to top.
Official Results, GSPSS Vynorius Companies 100 at Star Speedway:
1. (97) Joey Polewarczyk
2. (12G) Derek Griffith
3. (72) Ryan Kuhn
4. (93CT) Ray Christian III
5. (52NH) Jake Matheson
6. (90NH) Casey Call
7. (73) Joey Doiron
8. (44) Rusty Poland
9. (15) Mike Hopkins
10. (40) Mike Mitchell
11. (8) Angelo Belsito
12. (66C) Bobby Cabral
13. (12) Bobby Pelland
14. (18) John Lowinski-Loh
15. (48) Larry Gelinas
16. (77) Jeremy Sorel
17. (88) Kevin Casper
18. (55) Cody LeBlanc