WEST HAVEN, Vt. – Nick Sweet completed a memorable back-to-front drive to win the People’s United Bank 100 stock car race at Devil’s Bowl Speedway on Sunday.
The event, which was previously postponed twice by rain, was the second round of the four-race Vermont State Late Model Championship Series and also included NASCAR Whelen All-American Series races won by Jessey Mueller and Mike Whalen, Jr.
Sweet started on the pole position in the 28-car field and engaged in a see-saw battle for the lead with Chip Grenier for the first half of the race. Sweet lined up second next to Grenier before a lap 52 restart, but was forced to duck into the pit area to replace a flat right-front tire, rejoining the field in 22nd place just seconds before falling a lap behind.
Hunter Bates picked up where Sweet left off, trading the lead – and a few jabs – with Grenier for the next 30 laps while Sweet weaved his way back through traffic during the caution-filled event. Closely behind the Grenier-Bates fight, rookies Josh Masterson, Brandon Atkins and Travis Stearns showed muscle by running in or near the top-five much of the day.
Sweet reentered the picture during a long green-flag run, passing cars in both the inside and outside lanes. He moved in on Bates and Grenier with 15 laps remaining, taking the lead from Bates at lap 89. A final lap 98 restart was no challenge for Sweet, and he cruised to his first Late Model victory outside his home track at Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl in Barre, Vt.
“This is one that I’m going to cherish for a while,” Sweet said in victory lane. “This is a tough track to have come from the back at, and Chip and the rest of those guys made me work for it.”
Grenier finished second for the second time in as many Vermont State Late Model Championship Series events at Devil’s Bowl, dating back to the Vermont 200 Weekend in September 2012. Masterson, in only his fourth start in a Late Model, finished third. Bates and Stearns were scored fourth and fifth, respectively, after Stearns was given a one-position penalty for rough riding on the final lap. Atkins finished sixth, followed by Emily Packard, Trampas Demers, Eric Chase, and Dan Petronis.
Mueller produced the most impressive drive of his young career in the 35-lap Bond Auto Parts Modified feature. The 18 year-old started in 15th place on the 20-car grid and drove through the field toward the front as Joe Williams held a huge lead.
As Williams navigated heavy lapped traffic in the closing laps, his car’s left-rear tire began losing air, allowing a five-car group that included Mueller to close in. Mueller took to the outside lane as Leon Gonyo, Vince Quenneville, Jr., Ron Proctor, and Todd Stone all fought for position, and flew into second place with two laps remaining. Mueller made a last-corner commitment to the inside lane and was able to beat Williams in a drag race to the finish line, taking the win by 26-thousandths (.026) of a second.
Quenneville finished third behind Williams, with Gonyo fourth. Stone nipped Proctor at the line for fifth place. Jeff Haskins, rookie Jamie LaFountain, Cody Sargen, and pole sitter Jim Introne, Jr. completed the top ten finishers.
Mike Whalen, Jr. bounced back from a four-time rollover last week to notch the first victory of his career in the 15-lap Central Vermont Motorcycles Mini Stock feature. The Plattsburgh, N.Y. driver dominated the race and outdistanced rookie Chuck Bradford and Jake Noble for the win. Garry Bashaw and rookie Jason Sabourin were next in line.