And another speed weeks has come and gone, and the 2016 season has now commenced! Thank god too, because our skin was crawling with anticipation. We've had a little preseason in January out west, but February is where the rubber meets the clay for real, points seasons have started, and even though you can't win a series title in February, you can be in a position you won't recover from. The first twenty days of the season have revealed a little bit of what's to come, and it's now time for our first roundtable of the year!
In this edition, we're going to tell you what stood out to us in the way of observation, what surprised us, what didn't and what it all means. It's early yet, but there's enough results to compare and observations to share. So let's get at it....
Current World of Outlaw Sprint Standings:
1. Brad Sweet- 447
2. Greg Hodnett- 420 *Non Tour Regular
3. Dale Blaney- 410 *Non Tour Regular
4. Daryn Pittman- 404
5. Joey Saldana- 404
6. Sammy Swindell- 400 * Non Tour Regular
7. Donny Schatz- 398
8. Kerry Madsen- 394
9. Shane Stewart- 384
10. David Gravel- 374
*Other Anticipated Tour Regulars:
14. Paul McMahan- 366
15. Greg Wilson- 356
22. Logan Schuchart- 316
24. Jacob Allen- 302
29. Clyde Knipp- 270
Donny Schatz and Brad Sweet took four of the first six races combined in ASCoC and WoO action with Kraig Kinser and Dave Blaney each landing an ASCoC win. It seemed to be fairly quiet on the sprint side. However, Brad Sweet comes out of Florida with a lead in the Outlaw standings and he's traditionally very good in California which consumes most of the schedule for the next six to eight weeks. First, tell us one driver that stood out to you in Florida, next tell us your biggest disappointment, and finally, tell us how long it will take Schatz to get back on top of the heap!
Kyle Symons - The driver that stood out to me has to be Brad Sweet. While Sweet traditionally runs well at Volusia, I never expected him to be the points leader leading into the Texas and California swing. Sweet has been running very well ever since Lee Stauffer came on board as crew chief prior to the Knoxville Nationals last season, and he looks primed to be tough all year long. I can't really think of any major disappointments this early in the season. I wouldn't say Schatz isn't still on top. Had a DNF first time in forever after charging to second one night. He's still the best sprint driver in the world, but this new format may slow him down a little bit with the heats and features being lined up heads up because traditionally he doesn't time trial all that well.
Tyler Beichner - Had I been told to pick one driver other than Schatz that I thought might be leading the points after Volusia, Brad Sweet would have been my pick. I see him maintaining the point position midway through the west coast swing before #DamnYouDonny takes control of the top spot. My biggest disappointment would be Shane Stewart. With finishes of 5th, 7th, and 21st he was running well and that's definitely noteworthy, but he was never in contention for a win like I had expected him to be.
Aaron Clay - I want to give Brad Sweet his due credit, as he was very impressive in Florida, but the driver that most stood out to me was Joey Saldana. "The Brownsburg Bullet" has been successfully competing in the World of Outlaws regularly for many years now, but the 83 Roth car has seen numerous drivers over the past few seasons. It's good seeing him run competitively this early in the year and I expect that it's only a matter of time before he parks it in victory lane! Like Kyle, there is not a single driver that stands out to me as being a disappointment, this early in the season. However, I am disappointed that "The Buckeye Bullet" Dave Blaney is not committed to running a full sanctioned schedule this year. He's already won 1 race in the Motter Motorsports 71 car, so I can't help but wonder "what might have been", if he were running a full All-Star or WoO schedule! Much to the dismay of Schatz haters, I think we all know that it's only a matter of time, before he's back on top of the points. I predict he will be back in 1st place before they begin their first California swing, on March 11th.
Jerin Steele- I'm not going to label a "most disappointing" or "impressive" driver based on one week of races in Florida...Long way to go. It was nice to see Kasey Kahne Racing run well in Florida, because frankly they were a step... hell maybe two steps behind Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart Racing last year. Hopefully they can continue to show speed to make it more interesting in 2016. I'm looking forward to seeing how well Kraig Kinser can do with the ASCoC and whether or not he can challenge Dale Blaney for the championship.
Current Lucas Oil Late Model Series Standings:
1. Jonathan Davenport- 1130
2. Brandon Sheppard- 1030
3. Tim McCreadie- 995
4. Scott Bloomquist- 995
5. Jared Landers- 980
6. Darrell Lanigan- 965
7. Dennis Erb Jr- 925
8. Eddie Carrer Jr- 925
9. Don O'Neal- 860
10. Jimmy Owens- 820
*Other Anticipated Tour Regulars
11. Earl Pearson Jr.- 815
12. Steve Francis- 815
Current World Of Outlaw Late Model Series Standings:
1. Josh Richards- 712
2. Rick Eckert- 652
3. Brian Shirley- 646
4. Shane Clanton- 642
5. Chub Frank- 632
6. Brandon Overton- 618
7. Morgan Bagley- 612
8. Frank Heckenast Jr.- 608
9. Boom Briggs- 602
10. Steve Casebolt- 590
*Other Anticipated Regulars
13. Chase Junghans- 566
14. Eric Wells- 562
15. Billy Moyer Jr.- 520
17. Joey Coulter- 502
18. Paul Wilmoth Jr.- 474
One thing we can say for sure, is that Davenport and Richards are light years ahead of everybody else. They're simply in another world to start the season. But, there were still some interesting results outside of their dominance. First, tell us one driver that was a complete disappointment from your perspective, then tell us one driver you'd barely heard of that turned your head. And finally, the coming rivalry between Davenport and Richards may go down in history years from now as one of the true classic dirt late model battles, name your all time favorite dirt late model rivalry and how will it compare.
Kyle Symons - Jimmy Owens has to be the biggest disappointment. Other then a second place finish at East Bay one night he was mostly terrible throughout all of Speedweeks. My all-time favorite battle has to be Bloomquist and Moyer because they are two of the greatest of all-time.
Tyler Beichner - Kyle stole my thunder with the Jimmy Owens pick. It's safe to say that he was nowhere near his or anyone else's expectations. I'll give him a little bit of a pass, based on him trying to settle into a new chassis; I'm not holding my breath though. Gregg Satterlee is definitely not a no-name in my neck of the woods, but you'd think that he's been a national touring driver for over a decade the way he was running once he got the new XR1 Rocket Chassis dialed in at East Bay. Good to see "The Truth" finally running where we all knew he was capable of.
|Daylon Barr Photo|
Josh Bayko- Biggest disappointment has to be Earl Pearson Jr. I mean, it's not like he was expected to light the world on fire or anything, but still, he had exactly three top tens during speedweeks at the tracks he cuts his teeth on. One seventh and two tenths. Hot garbage for a guy that used to be one of the biggest threats out there and who is supposedly the face of the LODLMS. I don't know that I have a favorite late model rivalry to this point, but Richards vs. Daveport will probably become it. Of course, It'd be a lot more fun if they ran the same tour, but they'll see each other enough in 2016 to make it fun.
Aaron Clay - My biggest disappointment is Chase Junghans. Keeping in mind that he races among the best Late Model drivers weekly, I no longer expect him to simply make the A-main. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I expected Chase's career would develop and he would contend for wins on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, he has not enjoyed a fast start to his season in Arizona, or Florida, leaving me hoping that he will turn it around soon! Admittedly, I'd heard of Brian Shirley before, but I am not very familiar with him. Not only was I happy to hear that he will likely run the full WoO Late Model schedule, but he also enjoyed competitive runs in Florida, leaving him 3rd in current points! Thinking of rivalries in Dirt Late Model racing, I'm not going back very far, when I think of Scott Bloomquist vs. Jimmy Owens. It was not many years ago where they would race each other hard, contending for wins nearly every night. Bloomquist still continues to be very competitive and I'm hoping "The Newport Nightmare" can rekindle his success in the near future!
Jerin Steele -Because of the early success by Richards and Davenport, I'm excited for this years' big events including the one in my backyard, The Firecracker 100. Hopefully mother nature is nice to Lernerville on Firecracker weekend for a change and doesn't scare away the top guns from Lucas, along with independents like Mars etc.
Final SDS DIRTCar Nationals Standings: (Regular Season Points Start in April):
1. Matt Sheppard- 233
2. Stewart Friesen- 215
3. Rick Laubach- 198
4. Billy Dunn- 196
5. Larry Wight- 192
6. Billy Pauch- 190
7. Tim Fuller- 189
8. Erick Rudolph- 181
9. Brett Hearn- 173
10. Danny Johnson- 156
SDS/Big Block Modifieds
Matt Sheppard won the gator and looked as consistent as he could have hoped. Is he driving with something to prove following the offseason breakup, and founding of his new team? Does Tim Fuller look like a completely different driver more comfortable in his surroundings, or is it too early to tell? How surprised were you to not see Stew Friesen in victory lane? And what else jumped out at you following four complete racing programs?
Kyle Symons - I think Sheppard definitely feels like he has something to prove this season, but he's also one of the top guys year after year. It will be hard to keep him from winning the championship. Fuller looks a lot more comfortable after returning to the Modifieds full-time after a stint in Late Models for a few years. Fuller is an all-time great and he will be tough all year long. I was a little surprised to not see Friesen pick up a win, but there were quality fields every night and that charge by Hearn on the final night is as impressive of a run as I have seen in quite some time.
Tyler Beichner - The first-tier drivers are gritty competitors, and Matt Sheppard is no exception. He proved that already when he found victory lane after just four races for HBR. Now back running on his own, Sheppard finds victory circle early on and proves why he remains at or near the top of the Big Block modified world.
Josh Bayko - I don't know that Matt is trying to "prove" anything. He's just a really good driver who understands his equipment and what it wants and needs. That's a lethal combination any way you slice it. Fuller looks more comfortable, but I'd still much rather see him in a late model. I'll leave it at that. Contrary to popular belief, Stew is not God and still has bouts of inconsistency and there's a bunch of issues with the team. I didn't expect much out of him in Florida anyways.