TULSA, Okla. — Thursday night’s Donnie Ray Crawford Sooner State 55 at Port City Raceway marked the final turning point in the battle for the Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget League championship.
Point leader Jake Neuman and runner-up Ace McCarthy entered the 55-lap feature at the eighth-mile dirt oval separated by 440 points.
With 900 points on the table, there remained a mathematical possibility that McCarthy could rally to win the title if Neuman encountered major issues.
That slim chance evaporated on the final lap at Port City, when Neuman and McCarthy got together in the final corner while racing for the runner-up position.
McCarthy was running second entering the third turn, but left just enough room on the bottom of the race track for Neuman to slip his front bumper into the fray. As McCarthy tried to cover the spot, his No. 28 and Neuman’s No. 3n made contact, leading to McCarthy spinning to a stop at the exit of turn four.
Neuman finished second, while McCarthy was relegated from second to 16th.
The swing in points was dramatic. McCarthy went from gaining 10 points on Neuman to losing 150 points, leaving the New Berlin, Ill., driver with a massive 590-point margin entering Friday and Saturday’s season-ending doubleheader at I-44 Riverside Speedway in Oklahoma City, Okla.
With only 600 points still available, all Neuman has to do is start one of the two remaining features and he’ll clinch his first Lucas Oil POWRi National Midget League championship.
After the race, Neuman offered his take on what happened, keeping his description simple and to the point.
“There on that last lap, I showed Ace my nose going down the backstretch and he pinched me down a little bit (going into the corner). It was either run over the (infield) tire, or shove him a little bit,” Neuman said of the contact. “In my eyes, it’s a racing deal on a one-groove race track.
“It’s not how you want to gain points, for sure, but we’re hoping to close things out this weekend and finally get that title. It’s been a long time coming for our whole team.”
On the flip side of the coin, McCarthy noted he was “frustrated at first” with the pass that Neuman made, but later changed his mind about the incident.
“I was a little surprised (at the move), but at the same time, after watching the video I realize it was a racing deal,” McCarthy admitted. “Jake didn’t do anything on purpose; if anything, I left the door open just a little too much. It was an aggressive pass for sure, but I should have hit the bottom better and I gave him the opportunity to be there. I was definitely frustrated and on the last lap racing for second is a little different than racing for a win … I’d be even more understanding in that case, but second or third, it’s basically the same thing. It’s just a heartbreaker for my whole team.
“My guys do this for a living and they get paid when I get paid, and we didn’t get paid (well) last night, so that hurts. But I get the whole deal.”
Though McCarthy was understandably down about his points situation, he was quick to offer a bit of perspective going into the final two nights of the POWRi season.
“We know that last night pretty much wraps it up for Jake,” McCarthy noted. “That’s good for them; they’ve been chasing a national championship for a while. But we definitely had a chance at it and I came into the weekend thinking we could still win it. Had the roles been reversed, and I finished second where he spun, the points would have been very close. But they’re not, and we just have to bite the bullet.
“It’s just a bummer all around.”