MONROE – On the same night that the field was set for the season-ending championship run in the Nextel Cup series, Evergreen Speedway crowned two new champions in the NASCAR Whelen All American Series.
Lane Sundholm held on to his razor-thin lead to win the second-tier bomber division title Saturday night and Chuck Richard won the championship in the third-tier mini-stock division.
“I wanted to be here, and I kept pushing every weekend trying to get here,” Sundholm said while standing on the victory podium, champagne dripping from his hair from car owner Naima Lang pouring a bottle over his head after the race. “And it paid off, by what? One point? Two points?”
Sundholm actually won his first title with a three-point margin over Darrel Lutovsky, who leap-frogged Travis Blackwood to finish second in the division. Blackwood was third, four points behind Sundholm.
The race to the title wasn’t close in the mini-stock division.
Richard started the night with a commanding 42-point lead over No. 2 Kris Harriss and clinched his first championship in 15 years of racing by taking the green flag in the feature main race.
“I’ve been close (to a title) before,” Richard said before the race. “So to come into tonight with a points lead takes all the stress out of it. I can actually sit back and enjoy the race.”
Scott Powell won his first-ever feature in the final mini-stock race of the year, with Richard coming in second and Rod Helmuth finshing third. Harriss, who won the rookie of the year title, came in fifth place in the race and finished second in the points battle, 50 points behind Richard.
All of the drama in the evening surrounded the bomber championship, which came down to which of the top three drivers in the points battle crossed the finish line first.
Sundholm entered the night leading the division by one point over Blackwell and he was three points ahead of Lutovsky.
After the four bomber heat races were completed, Sundholm’s lead was just two points over both Blackwell and Lutovsky, who were knotted in second after Lutovsky won his heat, setting up a winner-take-all A main.
But first they had to get to the A main.
During the second heat race, Steve Peters with Sundholm on his rear bumper looking for a way to get around him got loose in turn 1 and bumped Blackwell, who was on the outside trying to pass.
Blackwell, who was disqualified from a race earlier in the season for an on-track altercation with Sundholm, said later that he thought Peters had been pushed into him by Sundholm. Although that appeared to be true from the grandstand, both track officials and Sundholm said it did not happen.
After the heat, Sundholm and Blackwell came to a halt and engaged in a stare-down after bumping cars on the way to the pits. Peters then went around Sundholm and stopped his car next to Blackwell’s and both began to back towards Sundholm, who began backing away from them.
Track officials briefly considered disqualifying all three a decision that would have greatly impacted the title battle by putting Lutovsky in the lead. Instead, warnings were issued to Peters, Sundholm and Blackwell, and the championship was decided on the track.
Scott Mann passed Peters on lap 8 and then ran away with the bomber A main, winning the 40-lap race by several car lengths. Sundholm finished the race second, just ahead of Lutovsky, with Blackwell coming in fourth.
The fact that Lutovsky finished second in the division standings was a testament to his consistency throughout the year as his earlier heat victory was his first win in either a heat or main race.
“That’s better than I expected,” Lutovsky said of coming in second in points. Reminded that he had also gotten his first win, Lutovsky added with a smile: “I could’ve used a couple more.”