HAMPTON, Ga. — With championship night fast approaching, time is running out for the drivers of Thursday Thunder presented by Papa John’s to accumulate the points they’ll need to reach the top of their division.
Title contenders were keenly aware of that fact and the action on track during round eight Wednesday night reflected that; in several divisions championship hopefuls sparred for feature wins, resulting in some of the most intense racing of the season thus far.
Such was the case in the VP Racing Fuels Pro Division feature, which saw current runner-up in the standings Jensen Jorgensen square off against point leader Joshua Hicks on a late restart.
“I just kept my composure, I stayed smart behind the wheel, and I held him off,” Jorgensen said after winning the duel and the race. As he and Hicks raced wheel-to-wheel and even bounced off each other at times, Jorgensen said the opportunity to gain ground on Hicks for the championship was on his mind; in fact, it was on his mind before the green flag even flew.
“Qualifying didn’t go the way I would have liked, but I started 5th hoping I could grab some passing points,” Jorgensen said, referring to a unique caveat in the VP Racing Fuels Pro Division that awards drivers a point for each position they gain from their starting spot. With the feature win and four additional passing points to go with it, Jorgensen narrowed the gap between himself and Hicks to just five points with two races left.
“I closed in a lot tonight so these next two races are going to be interesting,” Jorgensen said. “I’m excited!”
Meanwhile in the CMS Group Environmental Services Semi-Pro Division, points leader DJ Canipe found his way to the lead 8 laps in, but quickly was challenged for the top spot by Nick Woodall, who’s also chasing Canipe for the championship.
“We got to the lead, but the car wasn’t really the way we wanted it to be when I got there,” Canipe said. “Then we had a restart and I got moved – I got back down and did the same thing back, but couldn’t get by him.”
Woodall wrestled the lead away on lap 16 and remained at the top of the pylon when the field took the white flag, but Canipe was right behind him.
“I saw the white flag and I knew I had to do what I had to do to keep the points lead,” Canipe said. In the final set of corners, Canipe drove his No. 29 in hard to get inside of Woodall, and then barely beat Woodall’s No. 72 to the line as the checkered flag waived.
The victory increased Canipe’s narrow lead over Woodall in the title fight, but with another night of racing just 24 hours away, the Fallston, N.C., driver’s focus quickly shifted to the next race.
“We have some work to do to find some more speed and make it better for the long run,” Canipe said.
Opportunity knocked again in the Racing Radios Outlaws Division feature as Trevor Wester and Parker Eatmon — who entered the race 2nd and 3rd in the division standings behind Carson Ramsay — batted for the lead and the chance to make up ground in the title hunt.
With two laps to go Wester was out front, at the white flag Eatmon had edged ahead, and on the final lap push came to shove and the duo collided. The contact knocked both drivers out of the race and potentially out of championship contention as Ramsay, who was running 3rd entering the final lap, took advantage of their misfortune and won the race, seizing max points for his championship hunt in the process.
“We got shuffled back at the beginning, but I thought we had a very fast car and it just fell into our hands at the end there,” Ramsay said after his fourth victory this season.
In The Associates Group Young Lions feature, points leader Lucas Ruark benefited from the misfortune of competitors ahead of him on the final lap to take the win and build on his already comfortable championship lead. Likewise in the Wallace Electric Masters Division Bill Plemons Jr. — who’s in his seventh year pursuing a season title — earned his seventh victory in eight starts, continuing what has been a dream season for the Locust Grove driver.
“Last year I was in a position where in the last race all I needed to do was finish the race and I was going to win. I was riding with a straightaway lead and it went away,” Plemons said, reflecting on the 2018 season that ended with him second in the division standings after a crash in the season finale. “I try to illustrate to the kids that come to race and watch the races that there’s going to be adversity in life, and this year I’ve tried to stay completely focused to fight through my adversity, which is exactly what they need to do.”
In the Racing Radios Bandits Division feature Lucas Vera grabbed his third victory of the season. Briana Freeman meanwhile took her fourth checkered flag of 2019 in the Racing Radios Rookie Bandoleros. In the Chargers feature a last lap pass vaulted Wilder Etheredge to victory.