Josh Brock earned the biggest win of his career off-track in 2017 when he overcame Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma to be cancer-free and return to his race car in 2018.
On Sunday Brock brought home another big triumph, this one on-track. The Kentuckian secured an eighth-place finish in Sunday’s Winchester 400 to get the better of Austin Kunert, Hunter Jack and Jon Beach and secure his first ARCA/CRA Super Series championship.
Moments later Brock found himself in his family’s embrace, eyes watering on the frontstretch as he realized what his No. 17 team had accomplished.
“It’s everything I can do right now to hold back tears,” Brock told Short Track Scene. “It’s a lot, you know. When you’re sick, and especially when you’ve got the big “C” word, there’s always a fear about what your next day’s going to hold. We beat that, and we immediately knew we were going to try to come here and do this.
“I’ll be damned, here we are.”
Brock’s triumph came in the second year of CRA’s Chase format – an elimination-style playoff that awards the title to the best finisher of the final four contenders in the season finale. There were times when it looked like Brock would fall short of earning the trophy, but a conservative drive from the series sophomore proved to be enough as his playoff rivals faltered.
“We were close together,” Brock said of his Chase rivals. “But honestly we were running our own race. Racing the race track, staying out of the wall, staying away from people.
“There were times I really wanted to charge and fight hard, and we couldn’t. We had to protect. We almost went a lap down here or there, but we held on.”
Kunert followed in 11th in finish second in the standings after a frustrating day. The young prospect rose through the field over the opening half of the race and took the lead on Lap 198, surging past eventual winner Jeff Choquette and marching to a five-second advantage. Kunert would hold the top spot until Lap 232, when he lost the lead to Tyler Ankrum after staying out while most pitted on the preceding caution.
The speed was there, but Kunert’s line led to rubber build up on his left-front tire that caused extreme chattering in the car. He would drop back on the ensuing run and come to pit road only to encounter battery issues shortly thereafter and fail to rise back into contention.
“I’m actually pretty sad about it,” Kunert said. “We had a very good year, came here strong. The car was badass fast. So much rubber built up in the left front that it caused a vibration that slowed the car down. I couldn’t even see, my teeth were chattering.
“After that I came in a pitted, went back out on the restart and started gaining positions. But then the battery decided to take a crap, and I couldn’t really do anything about that.”
Jack entered the day as one of the favorites to win the ARCA/CRA crown, but a pair of early issues ruined his day before it ever completely began. The second-year playoff hopeful was running inside of the top 15 when he was hit with a double-dose of championship misfortune, breaking his left-rear trailing arm bracket and left-front lower control arm in the span of minutes.
The resulting damage left the Hoosier disappointed for the second-straight season, coming home third in the series standings after failing to make the final run of the Chase in 2017. Jack was able to accept the loss in stride, noting that the issues were outside of his control.
“It wasn’t really our fault,” he said. “I think if we wouldn’t have had that happen, we would have had a good shot at it, so I’m not completely disappointed.
“We’ll move on to next year. I’m not really sure what we’re going to do yet, but we’ll go at it hard.”
Beach followed in fourth, dropping out of the race early in 24th after making heavy contact with the outside wall.
“On that restart we were battling for a spot around the top 10 and got put in the fence coming out of (Turn) 2,” he said. “Just kind of a racing deal. Ran out of space and got the worst of the wall.
“Our biggest thing is we were the underdog going into this. We battled, tried getting top 10s most of the year. It would have been more of an upset and a surprise for anyone else but us. The hard work just didn’t pay off this time.”
His championship secured, Brock will shift his focus from driving conservatively to searching for victory lane at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
“We’re going to go try to win the All-American 400,” he said. “We ran really good there the first year, led 75% of that race and at the end kind of fell off. I felt like we could have won that one. I’ve ran Nashville a couple times this year.
“We’re going to play in the dirt this winter, then we’ll be back with CRA next year. ”
Both Kunert and Beach mirrored Brock’s intention to return to CRA next season, though Beach claimed a lack of sponsorship could prevent him from making another full run at the tour.
Jack might be the lone driver to move on from CRA in 2019. The 18-year-old told Short Track Scene he’d “like to go down south more and run some bigger races” next season.