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Heckert now two in a row on road courses
SoVaNow.com / August 18, 2014Imagine going to a sleek, picturesque high-powered road course race, and then a bruising, combative short track showdown breaks out.
That’s essentially what happened Saturday at the 55-lap, rarely a dull moment, NASCAR K&N Pro East feature at Virginia International Raceway.
Scott Heckert was the winner as the race went overtime, stretching to 60 laps.
A year ago, NASCAR rising star Dylan Kwasniewski put the field to sleep, winning handily for the debut series race. Things got downright hairy the second time around, as a series of hard-charging, gear-slamming, dust-inducing restarts put some typical paint-swapping short track drama into play. VIR moved its start-finish line, allowing for better sight lines. There were several messy restarts, including one where the no. 4 of Sergio Pena went flying into a tire guard, before NASCAR finally announced one green-white-checker to get the race finished.
The cars remaining - ten cars in the 24 car field completed 47 laps or less - bunched up for one last blast on a warm, sunny Saturday evening. Heckert charged off, managed to get through the first lap, and then sailed to his second road course win in a two-week stretch. Heckert also won at Watkins Glen.
Heckert battled through six caution flags for 15 laps, to defeat teammate Cameron Hayley by .848 seconds. Heckert averaged 60.500 mph, a speed brought lower by a series of late cautions. There were three late caution periods, mainly for accidents, late in the race, from laps 44-46, 48-50, and 54-57.
Heckert led the first two laps, and then laps 52-60. Hayley led the most laps, 25, while Gray Gaulding led 24 circuits. Heckert led 11, including the final eight.
Heckert had some issues with Hayley. The pair are teammates. The post-race interviews brought out an area of tension between second place finisher, Hayley, and the race winner. Hayley said that Heckert used him up with late race contact, hampering his chance to win.
Austin Hill, the top finishing rookie, was third, with Gaulding settling for fourth, one spot off the podium. Kaz Grala, another rookie who has run late model at South Boston Speedway, was fifth.
Matt Tiff, Brandon Jones, Jesse Little, Ryan Gifford and Ben Rhodes completed the top ten in the road course race.
Gaulding led from laps 3-24, and then 30-31, before Hayley took the point for laps 32-51. Heckert charged up on a restart and took the lead with a dazzling burst of energy.
Rhoades suffered a rough points day and slipped a bit, although he still owns a 570-505 edge over the second place competitor, Hayley.
The race took 2 hours, 13 minutes and 53 seconds, with five lead changes among three drivers.
Heckert is eighth in the points chase.
“We really struggled on restarts. But that one where we finally got to do some laps, my teammate, Scott Heckert, used me up in the corner, pushed me right to the grass, and that (sent) me back to fourth or so, which really hurt me. And in the scheme of things, it tore up my crush panel,” Hayley said.
“It was a wild and a hot afternoon. I don’t know how long that race was, but it seemed like a long race with all those red flags.”
Heckert believed he ran a fairly clean race, and added his teammate wrecked him in Columbus while he was leading. “Just what kind of what goes around comes around,” said Heckert.
Heckert felt anxiety as the race was winding down, especially worrying about his teammate, but the eventual winner had an explosive charge to grab the lead on lap 52. He never looked back.
“It’s incredible. These last six or seven races have been a dream come true. Even through the wins, we were still running strong, had a great qualifying, always running up front, so that’s always where I wanted to be. I knew as long as I was running up front, the wins would eventually come.”
Heckert said tire conservation was important here.
“there are a lot of slower speed corners at VIR. So you have to be careful the back tires (don’t) burn off, where at Watkins Glen, it’s very fast, very flowing. Today it was (60) laps of just trying to be as careful on the throttle as possible,” Heckert said.
Hayley had his fourth runner-up finish of the season.
The drivers had to run two straight races on road courses, but Hayley said the wear and tear on equipment wasn’t too much of a factor.
“We do have quite a few helpers in the shop. That makes it easy to bounce back from Watkins Glen. Obviously, (at Watkins Glen), I had a flat tire so I didn’t run it that hard. It wasn’t too hard (at VIR) ... There is always wear and tear, especially on engines, but the way it comes down to it, we both made it through the race,” Hayley said.
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