BECHTELSVILLE, Pa. – Pennsylvania Speedweek presented by Red Robin hit the halfway point Tuesday night, with the fifth of nine rounds thrilling fans at Grandview Speedway.
The half-mile dirt track played host to a fierce battle at the front of the field, with Kyle Larson ultimately prevailing for his first win of the nine-race mini series.
Reporter Kyle McFadden traced the top three storylines from race five of PA Speedweek and has compiled them below as action continues to heat up in the Keystone State.
1. A clash of the titans is brewing between Kyle Larson and Danny Dietrich.
The Pennsylvania Speedweek title bout has gone like this through five races: Larson took the de facto points lead after night one, then Dietrich struck back with wins in rounds two and three before Larson chipped away in round four and regained control in round five.
If this first half has provided any indication for how the final four races will conclude, it’s that that Dietrich vs. Larson heavyweight title bout is destined to be decided in the trickling laps at Port Royal Speedway on Saturday night.
While Dietrich is open about not paying much attention to the points race, proclaiming, “I don’t care about points. I just want to win every freaking race,” after his win Saturday at Lincoln, Larson badly wants to hoist the title.
And clearly, he’s kept tabs of Dietrich’s track record. Dietrich was the 2016 PA Speedweek champion and has that aforementioned pair of wins through five starts this week.
“I really want to win the points championship,” Larson said. “It pays the winner heavily. Dietrich has won two [Speedweek features] and I’ve lost a lot of points [to him over the past three races]. So, it’s good to make up a lot of points on him tonight.”
After starting the series with a narrow lead over the drivers expected to race the full week, Larson slipped to 43 points back two nights later after Dietrich rattled off back-to-back wins at Lincoln on Saturday and Selinsgrove on Sunday.
In the first Lincoln race, Larson controlled the pace until Dietrich snatched the lead late and ran away in a thriller. And despite a 17th straight podium, Sunday was another gut-punch for Larson, as Dietrich ultimately parked it again.
On Monday, Larson picked up 12 points in time trials on Dietrich another seven between his heat win and finishing one spot better than his fiercest competitor of the week in sixth.
Then, on Tuesday, Larson broke through and swung the title fight his way fervently, bettering Dietrich by more than 50 points on the night for a 28-point series lead heading into Port Royal on Wednesday.
But based on social media reaction, Larson’s needing five races for his first Pennsylvania win of the year is overdue. Larson, who did win eight straight races between the World of Outlaws, All Star Circuit of Champions, and USAC National Midgets, simply laughed.
“Everybody is acting like I’ve been getting my teeth kicked in,” said Larson with a chuckle. “But I’ve been finishing on the podium all those times. You can’t win every race. Especially here in Pennsylvania.”
Maybe Larson accomplished the astounding feat of eight wins in a row recently, but winning all four, let alone three, or two, or even one is no cruise. Not in Pennsylvania.
In fact, Larson has yet to win on a half-mile track in Pennsylvania. And what remains on the Speedweek schedule? Four dissimilar half-mile ovals: two at Port Royal Speedway, one at Hagerstown Speedway and the other at Williams Grove.
While Dietrich has never won a Speedweek race at Hagerstown, he’s been close and has ample experience and success at Williams Grove and Port Royal.
If Larson wants to become the first driver in the series’ 30-year history to win the Speedweek title without having Pennsylvania roots, he’ll need to buzzsaw his way through the teeth of the Posse in Dietrich and win at least one of those four races on a half-mile.
Some would argue Greg Hodnett (from Tennessee) and Steve Smith (from Florida) don’t have Pennsylvania roots, but let’s be real: when comparing Larson to those two, nobody in the state will claim Larson as their own like Pennsylvania did with Hodnett and Smith.
Last Wednesday, Larson finished runner-up to Anthony Macri in the Paul Silva No. 57 at Port Royal Speedway, which was their first trip together at the track.
They think they can do better than the second and third times around.
“I expect to be a lot better than what we were last week, and hopefully much closer to the speed that Macri has,” Larson said.
Either way, get ready for this Dietrich vs. Larson bout to come down to the wire.
2. Rico Abreu goes from the penthouse to the outhouse.
If Monday night marked a pivotal moment in Rico Abreu’s 2020 sprint car season, after he won the PA Speedweek main event at Lincoln Speedway, Tuesday was the direct opposite.
After starting last in his heat race and eventually having to race his way in out of the B-main, Abreu encountered issues on a lap-six restart in the feature, smacking the outside wall in turn three and collecting Kyle Reinhardt in the process. He finished 23rd of 24 cars.
In short, it was a long night for the driver of the familiar No. 24.
“Everything,” Abreu said when asked what went wrong. “It was just one of those nights.”
That night got off to a particularly sour start when Abreu was forced to change motors following qualifying, unable to turn a time-trial lap and ending up buried for the duration.
But as bad as Abreu’s night Tuesday went, he still believes in his crew and is confident that they’ll have speed for the remaining four rounds of PA Speedweek.
“That’s sprint car racing,” Abreu said. “We have to figure out how to balance everything. Our car is really good right now so I’m not too worried.”
“We’ll try again tomorrow,” he added.
3. Sammy Swindell earns a much-needed podium finish at Grandview.
Ageless veteran and three-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Sammy Swindell showed Tuesday that he’s still got what it takes to race among the best in the country – including the PA Posse.
Swindell notched a podium finish, running third at Grandview Speedway behind Larson and Freddie Rahmer, in his son Kevin’s recognizable No. 39 Swindell SpeedLab entry.
It was his best run of the year so far in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season, during which Swindell is trying to win a feature for the 50th consecutive year.
With speed at their disposal, it would be no sweeter than to see Swindell grab that victory he’s seeking – driving for his son – during one of the remaining PA Speedweek shows.
After all, he got awfully close Tuesday night.
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