Hanner Holds-on at Talladega; Locks into iSuperChase
May 14th, 2015 by JaimeB
On the heels of a busy news week in the world of the iSuperSpeedway.com Racing Series, the top 42 drivers hit the ‘Dega high banks for one of the largest races of the year, second only to the iSuperSpeedway 500k season kick-off: The Stars Fell on Alabama 250.
Round 8 of the championship meant that only four races would remain following the event (five including the All Star Race). Thus the window of opportunity to win, or get into the top five in points, was narrowing for championship hopefuls. The majority of iSS races are run in a heat race format. Drivers qualify in to the main (which pays out championship points) through heat races, where those who qualify set the grid order in the ‘Dash for Cash’ race. Those who fail to lock-in must go through the B-Main, which is 1/2 the length of the main event and are both LIVE on LSRTV.
The Stars Fell on Alabama 250 is the second of four endurance races on the Season 4 Championship. The first was the season-opening iSuperSpeedway 500, the next will be the Drafthardt 300 at Talladega, the final race before The Chase, and then the final is the Finale in Florida 400 at Daytona to complete the schedule. These events feature elongated race lengths, and have regular single car qualifying in a traditional format, unlike the Heat races.
Because of the tough qualifying procedures to make a iSuperSpeedway A-Main event, the “feature races” (as they are commonly known) present a harder route to make the show. Those races, which make up the majority of the season typically have 36 or so cars, which is a large field in and of itself. The SFOA250 was announced as an open entry event, meaning any drivers who have competed within an officially sanctioned iSS event could participate. The grid tallied up to a total of 42 of an available 43 spots on pit road, packing the house 22 rows deep for the event.
The race saw two caution flags fly for incidents in the opening quarter of the race (Laps Eight and 13) before going on a long green flag stretch that lasted until the halfway point, right before green flag stops. Chaos broke out in Turn 4 on Lap 49, moments after the lead pack went from being tucked in line in preparation for said stops. Chad Keene, who did not pit under the early yellow, had to pit alone and was hit by the group of leaders who went side-by-side as they tried to pass him while he was getting back up to speed. The accident collected many strong drivers, forcing them to use their one and only quick fix right when the action was picking-up.
“We all just piled in, there was nothing we could do.” – Matt Bontempi
Rodd Flagg traded-out the top spot from Seth DeMerchant on the next short stint. Sensing the end was near (!), the pack began getting more racy, going three wide and trying to stretch the boundaries in the draft. Not a few competitors tried sneaking-in a “bump” in an effort to get to the front of the field without being penalized for pushing in the corners, similar to the rules enforced in the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series.
Another incident stemming from small contact on the lead car in a tandem quickly escalated into a Big One as multiple cars spun through the front stretch grass.
Unfazed, the remaining drivers really started going at it in earnest: The outside line no longer gave room to the line on the bottom, trying to pinch and gain a side draft advantage. Matters reached the point where both lanes of the lead pack sat six to seven rows deep, with both below the white hash marks in the corners. Led by the #88 of Jorgenson, the outside line gained speed the more help they got, but could not get past DeMerchant, who had regained the top spot throughout the 20 lap battle. Because of the rules package, it is critical for the outside to get a train formed if they want to challenge, and the likes of Josh Hanner, Donnie Guirratano, BBM teammates Roy and Hollyday worked the draft well.
The #24 of Hanner jumped out of line and went high with 14 laps remaining, to get in front of Hannerick Motorsports teammate Jorgenson in an effort to get around Seth DeMerchant who had dominated almost all night. Because DeMerchant had no immediate push help, Hanner soared to the lead down the back. However, he had to drop down in line in the front before he could bring his teammate with him as DeMerchant found some help from Guirratano before a late yellow set up the 28 car-deep of lead lappers, for a five lap shootout.
Although Wicked Motorsports occupied three of the top six spots, the restart saw Hanner get a good jump on the outside lane down low, giving the bottom a good advantage. DeMerchant was the first to challenge on the high side, but faded to seventh with two laps remaining. Then the #28 of Shane McEachin (with help from Dana Osborne’s #8) mounted one last charge.
Just feet short of the white flag, Guirratano was turned in the tri-oval by Jason Oltmanns. Guirratano slammed into the outside wall before coming down the track and collecting others, but that delay was all the leaders needed to snag the white ensuring a green flag finish.
The drama did not end there. Kory Henry, who had been a couple of laps down at the half way, was running third place into Turn 2 on the last lap, when Dana Osborne slid-up the slightest bit in his wake. Osborne tagged McEachin who came down, turning Henry with Jorgenson, DeMerchant, Pelletier and Hooks all getting involved down the back stretch, leaving only the top three to decide the race. Wofford (#7) pushed Hanner all the way through and off of Turn 4, opening up a small gap back to the third-placed Osborne allowing him the space to try a last second move. Wofford looked high into the tri oval, a good 200 yards short of the finish line, but move was unsuccessful as Hanner hung-on to win the Stars Fell on Alabama 250 victory and lock his #24 Hannerick Motorsports Chevrolet into a title hunt late in the year.
Hanner become the seventh different winner in eight points races finishing ahead of Wofford, the season’s only multi-time winner, thanks to his sweeping Daytona Speedweeks with the shootout, a duel and the 500 win. The win locked the # 24 into the five race iSuperChase, although that machine was already in a qualifying position into the night by being in the top five in points.
Hanner’s gameplan which, as opposed to many who held back ‘til late before attacking, involved staying up front all night, paid-off with the victory. Hanner, attributed the aggressive approach to a need for redemption after a poor result in Daytona Beach last week.
“I had a good group of guys that just wanted to work with me” he said in Gatorade Victory Lane, “I owe it all to those guys,” not only thanking his teammates, but also the drivers in the top seven he raced with all night, who worked together to keep it clean till the end. Qualifying for the championship “takes a load of pressure off (the team)” he said.
“I’m going to do all I possibly can do get them all a win and get them in the iSuperChase.” – Joshua Hanner
Hanner, who was en route to a chase birth via the points earned in a strong set of finishes, will now be assured the opportunity of helping his teammates qualify for The Chase.
“I’m going to do all I possibly can do get them all a win and get them in (Jorgenson, Mann, Ball). You just need to play the strategy right,” he said. “If we can, watch out!”
Wofford, second place finisher on the evening by 3/4 of a car length, was content with runner-up after his #7 Racefan Racing Inc. Chevrolet was fastest in practice, took pole.
“I was tight tight pushing up the track,” he said. “I screwed it up in 3, and tried it once more but the 24 came out victorious.”
Wofford is arguably one of the hottest drivers in the series with how strong they have been all year. Similar to Hanner’s situation, Wofford also hopes to get his final teammate without a win (Giarratano) into the iSuperChase by helping him in the coming races.
Osborne spoke to media post race, apologizing to anybody involved in the last lap incident he initiated.
“We have struggled all year because of this draft package,” he said, “I learned in these long races to lay back… that’s that we did tonight with Paul and we did a good job overall,”
Osborne’s camp looks to find success late in the season as they are not in a spot to realistically qualify in on points. “We need to wait to the end like we did tonight,” he said. “When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.” The Mountain Dew Dewshine Chevrolet will look to the Drafthardt 300, the final event on the year, to be a good place to get it done at as they favor the endurance events over the features.
The season continues Friday, May 15th at Daytona for Feature Race 9, with a return to “plate track racing, short track style” in the heats. Coverage can be found LIVE on LSRTV at 10:00pm EST/7:00pm PST with Evan Posocco and Petey Zehler in the booth for the call. Only four races remain in which a win will translate to a ticket into the iSuperChase, so the action is sure to only continue through the roof!
For more information on the iSuperSpeedway.com Racing Series, visit isuperspeedway.com and for more information on upcoming LSRTV broadcasts, visit livesimracing.com, or through Facebook at facebook.com/livesimracingtv.