MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Even with only one of nine nights officially in the books, the overall picture of PA Speedweek began to come into focus Friday night at Williams Grove Speedway.
Lance Dewease took the victory and the early point lead, but Kyle Larson placed himself atop the group of full-Speedweek contenders by charging to second and outrunning names like Danny Dietrich, Anthony Macri and Rico Abreu.
Below are the three main takeaways that Sprint Car & Midget’s on-site reporter, Kyle McFadden, took from the first night of action during Speedweek in the Keystone State.
1. There’s a fine line between destined and foiled.
When Sammy Swindell timed third of 38 cars in Friday’s Pennsylvania Speedweek opener at Williams Grove, it made people think: does the 64-year-old, former World of Outlaws champ have a real shot at winning the Speedweek title?
After all, his vintage speed at Williams Grove showed.
But right as heat races staged, the Trey Hoddick No. 1 team encountered issues that all but swatted Swindell’s title chances, inadvertently offering a reminder that there’s a fine line between drivers who are destined and ones who are foiled.
A faulty drivetrain ended Swindell’s night early. All he had to do was start the heat race and finish in the transfer spot to be eligible for the re-draw, but that didn’t happen.
So, thanks to the series format, Swindell was set to start on the pole for the B-Main. But he and his crew couldn’t fix it up and salvage something.
Meanwhile, just a few trailers down from Swindell, Logan Wagner experienced a different kind of shortcoming. Wagner timed 27th overall, nearly seven tenths off the pace set by Rico Abreu, and was never in the ballpark of his capabilities.
In his heat race, Wagner started seventh of nine cars and faded to last before pulling it into the pits to diagnose the problem.
As it turned out, Wagner’s steering box went out.
“We were fighting some steering issues,” Wagner said. “We’re having some issues there. We’ll figure it out and go from there.”
Wagner tried two laps in the 12-lap B-Main, but parked it once he knew the issue wasn’t resolved.
In addition to Swindell and Wagner – two drivers both planning on racing the full-week – three other competitors who plan to race all nine races failed to qualify for Friday’s feature: Cale Thomas, Dylan Cisney, and Jared Esh.
For Thomas, a Pennsylvania Speedweek rookie, he timed 28th but came two spots short of a transfer position in the B-main. Cisney, meanwhile, timed 26th, finished eighth in his heat and wrecked out of the B-main.
Esh raced into the top five of his heat briefly before fading to seventh. He then finished four spots shy of a transfer position in the B-main.
Let Swindell, Wagner, Cisney, Thomas, and Esh be reminders that, no matter the team’s level of morale, there’s a thin barrier between destined and foiled.
One mishap like those five had on Friday can send PA Speedweek title hopes down the drain at any given moment.
2. Larson is now the PA Speedweek title favorite.
If there was any indecisiveness when it came to pinpointing a favorite to take the cake in this year’s Pennsylvania Speedweek, Larson made the decision that much easier Friday.
Larson charged from fifth to second in 25 laps at what is arguably his worst track in the series. And it came on a juiced-up surface, too, where passing was tough in the early going.
Seriously, stop and ponder that for a minute.
There’s no denying Larson will go down as one of, if not, the best in terms of sheer, raw talent. His runner-up to Lance Dewease is believable if you weren’t in attendance.
Of Dewease’s 99 wins at Williams Grove, Larson has roughly a tenth of that at the track … in starts. If Friday was an extra five laps, the end result might’ve been different.
“It’s tough to say. … I felt like I was better than [Lance],” Larson said, revealing what could be the most potent words to the rest of the competitors over these remaining eight races. “Starting fifth, it’s tough to get going. I feel like you give up half the race just to get to second. And by that time we got into traffic.”
Larson exits Williams Grove as the de facto points leader, since Dewease isn’t running all nine races under any circumstance. On top of that, three of the next four races play into Larson’s wheelhouse – Lincoln twice on Saturday and Monday with Grandview on Tuesday.
Larson has three wins and two second places over his past six Pennsylvania Speedweek races at the two tracks, spelling trouble for everyone else.
While running in Pennsylvania can throw even the best for a loop, Larson hasn’t been fazed in his first two stops in the state.
He finished second on Wednesday in the All Star Circuit of Champions race at Port Royal Speedway after “not being that good,” he said, and posted another top two – his 14th straight – on Friday at Williams Grove.
“We found a package that’s been working a couple weeks ago and we’ve been sticking to it,” Larson said. “I felt good the whole race.”
3. Macri salvaged what could have been a bad night.
After missing out on a golden opportunity in his heat race and later slipping to 13th at one point in the 25-lap feature, Macri hunkered down before the last restart with 16 laps left to salvage a sixth-place finish.
It’s an effort that could be substantial when it comes to crowning a Pennsylvania Speedweek champion. Every point is uber important, and on that last restart, Macri charged from 11th to sixth, picking up an extra 25 points in the process.
“This isn’t a strong-suit track for us by any means,” Macri said. “We’re struggling to find a good baseline. … But we made due with what he had.”
The 21-year-old driver who rode a three-race win streak into Friday sits tied for fifth in the Pennsylvania Speedweek standings with Ryan Smith, 52 points behind leader Lance Dewease, but Dewease isn’t racing all nine events.
Factor out Dewease and Macri is tied for fourth amongst the full-week competitors, 23 points behind de facto leader Kyle Larson.
“To salvage sixth makes me happier, but I’m still not happy,” Macri said. “Luckily we have eight races left.”
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