Monday, January 20, 2014

Things we learned from Tucson portion of the Winter Extreme

The first serious taste of DIRT came and went quicker than most fans wanted this past week at Tucson International Speedway where the NDRL's Winter Extreme played to the tune of an average of 53 cars a night and six different winners.

It can be difficult to glean much in the way of meaningful performances from the results this early in the season. Different drivers were experimenting with different setups on both tacky and dry slick track conditions all week. Some were there to win, some were there to learn, some were there to experiment, some were there to party and have a great time and most did a little of all of those.

But we did come away with a few observations, as many as we could from all the action occurring at one facility.

Things We Learned From the Winter Extreme

  • Mr. Moyer Sr and Jr took very little time in getting their new Longhorn chassis to the front of the field. Both secured wins early on in the action and Mr Smooth was one of only three drivers to make every show.  There were lingering questions about Moyer Sr's health this offseason part of which stemmed from injuries sustained at the World Finals in November, but those were put to rest. The man looks on top of his game and ready to add to his legacy in 2014.  Moyer Jr looked very good most of the week, but not quite as consistent, perhaps there was some testing factoring into the equation, but he'll certainly be a driver you'll want to keep an eye on in the coming season.

  • Jimmy Mars was probably the most consistent driver this week. Mars put his car into the top 10 virtually all week and took one of the $5000 to win features on Saturday Jan 18th. His 2013 may have been one he'd like to have forgotten, but his 2014 stock may be on the rise. We'll know more in Florida.

  • If there were ever any doubt about how quickly Ryan Gustin could elevate his performance to consistent top 5's against stout competition, he answered them this week, taking home the grand prize of $10,000 on Sunday night wile garnering a week high $13,450 (feature earnings) among the field of nearly 60 cars. He missed only one show and had 3 top 5's total. Is there a more intriguing driver to keep track of in 2014?

  • NDRL rookie of the year candidates Max Blair and Mason Ziegler took some lumps this week, but they also learned a lot. Blair got better as the week progressed and Ziegler didn't go home empty handed, but perhaps the setup advice they learned and the tendencies of other drivers that they encountered will be lessons that will pay off come the dog days of summer. The potential upside is certainly there with both of them and they each flashed a little brilliance during the week.  William Thomas however, had a week that he'd like to forget, failing to make any of the six shows in Tucson. He switched power plants early in the week to no avail, and his late 2013 success and his 2014 Ice Bowl win didn't exactly translate to good showings this week. But most fans would tell you that we've not yet seen the best from him yet so far.
  • Before the week began how many diehard super late model fans had even heard the names RC Whitwell or Tony Jackson Jr, Tony Toste, or Justin Asplin or Jason Krohn?  Whitwell took home a nice chunk of cash and a feature win while the rest of the names mentioned either qualified for multiple shows or even took top 5's. An event is only as strong as the level of the talent you're not quite familiar with, and these guys at time gave the bigger names all they could handle and then some!
  • Chris Simpson, Terry Phillips, and Shane Clanton had up and down weeks but couldn't manage a win. Nobody drives that long a haul to not win, but perhaps there was some test and tune logic going on this week for them.  Although, all of them at some point of the week looked primed to snag a podium finish which Clanton actually did on the last night.

  • Lastly, we learned how much we missed announcer Rick Eshelman. His voice had been out of the national spotlight since his retirement as the announcer of the World of Outlaws Late Models and it had been sorely missed! Rick, we're glad you're back, sincerely, All of DIRT Nation!

And now it's off to El Paso for the NDRL Late Models as they conclude their January action! Here's betting that there'll be a lot more to learn. Stay tuned!

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