RPW Column: Buff’s Got The Right Stuff; Wins DIRTcar Sportsman 50 At Albany-Saratoga

Column By: MARTY KELLY / RPW – MALTA, NY – Latham, New York’s Andrew Buff survived late race challenges from Tim Hartman Jr. and Scott Duell to win the DIRTcar Sportsman Eastern Region 50-lap contest at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday, September 10th.

2021 Fonda Speedway sportsman champion Chad Edwards and Darryl Nutting led the 30-car starting field to green for the extra-distance affair with Edwards jumping out to an early lead on the bottom. Altamont, NY driver Pat Jones flexed his muscles early, launching from his 4th place starting spot on the outside lane, clearing Dick Bisson and Darryl Nutting, but a lap one caution delayed Jones’ charge when a jingle in turn four left Mike Ballastero and Darryl Nutting sitting idle in the North end.

Edwards and Pownal, Vermont’s Dick Bisson led the field to the restart with Jones firing off from 3rd to immediately secure the runner-up spot from Bisson while Edwards ran away out front. Buff had already laddered up to 6th.

While most of the field ran the bottom, Jones hustled the middle, driving into the corners extremely hard trying to catch Edwards for the next 16 laps, until Michael Wagner Fitzgerald’s halted racer brought out the caution once more on the 17th circuit.

On the restart, Bisson and Jeff Washburn got together, bringing out another yellow flag in turn two.

By this time, heavy hitters like Scott Duell, Brian Calabrese, Andrew Buff, and Tim Hartman Jr. had entered the fray, making up the 2nd and 3rd rows behind Edwards and Jones.

Jones spun out a few laps later in turn three trying to track down Edwards, and he collected Travis Witbeck, Travis Bruno, Jason Gray, David Boisclair, and Matt Lashua in a messy, multi-car incident that brought several competitors behind the wall.

When the race resumed, Washburn and recent limited sportsman division graduate Tyler Rapp brought out the caution on lap 21.

Buff made use of Pat Jones’ middle lane on the restart and passed Calabrese on lap 22 and Duell on the 23rd circuit and found himself starting at the bumper of Edwards in the 10% car. For 12 laps Buff stalked Edwards, trying the middle and bottom sides of the speedway while Edwards continued to run inches off the inside wall. Edwards kept his distance from Buff, and on lap 35 he entered lapped traffic with Bisson and Lashua in view of his rock screen.

Then, on lap 38, as Edwards pulled alongside Bisson in turn one, the 10% abruptly changed attitude, settling down flat and rolling to a slow stop at the exit of turn two, bringing caution out once more, retiring from the event, and handing command of the field to Buff’s West End Towing sponsored #92.

The ensuing restart saw a three-wide battle for the second position between Duell, Hartman, and Calabrese. Buff pulled away while they settled behind him in that order.

Four laps later, on lap 42, the caution was out again for Witbeck spinning in turn two. With eight laps remaining, Buff, Duell, and Hartman would settle it all.

Buff led the way while Duell exercised great discipline on the inside lane. Hartman let it all hang out on the outside, desperately trying to claw past Duell. The trio danced around the 4/10 mile oval with Buff in the lead, Duell and Hartman chasing close behind. Hartman cleared Duell on lap 46 but was unable to challenge Buff in the final four laps. Duell remained third, while Calabrese and Robert Bublak held the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.

For Buff, it was only win #2 on the season at the Malta track. He added checkered flags at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park and Fulton Speedway.

“The middle of the track really came to life in the middle of the race,” Buff said, adding that he knew Edwards had a very fast car. Buff talked about trying the middle and bottom groves in his pursuit of Edwards, admitting that he got out of his rhythm. “Would have liked to have seen me get back to my rhythm there and see if we could have ran him down in lapped traffic. I heard [Edwards] lost oil pressure there, that’s a shame leading a race like that. Hell of a year we had, lot of DNFs, lot of stuff not going our way. I’m glad we could end the season on top like this.”

“Transmission. I think it wiped out the motor, too. It was vibrating pretty bad since around lap 20,” Edwards said. “I was trying to baby it. I thought it was the driveshaft maybe, but it let loose. We always ran pretty good here…We actually just switched to coils three weeks ago since the Fonda points ended so we’ve been just testing on those and trying to figure it out.” Edwards was the fastest time-trialer in his group, and 4th quick overall. He also won his heat race.

While Edwards was certainly disappointed, he was not the only one. The 2021 Sportsman Champion at Malta, Tim Hartman Jr. wasn’t thrilled with his runner-up effort.

“Yeah I tried rolling the middle, I thought that might do something. It was working a little bit, but I needed to hit it perfect, and I had some damage,” a dejected Tim Hartman Jr. said. “It sucks, I hate finishing second. Wish we got another caution, but it’s better than it could be, I guess.”

Hartman’s Albany-Saratoga win total remains 32 for his career, tying him with Mike Ballastero for the all-time mark in sportsman competition.

“I want that record,” he said.

Scott Duell’s third place run was a strong cap to a season in which he won three sportsman features at the Malta oval.

“I got to Buff there with three to go I think it was and he opened the door enough to get to him- but not really get in there, and I’m not the guy that’s gonna move him,” he said.

The win propelled Buff to the 2021 DIRTcar Sportsman Eastern Region championship, beating out Bradford, Vermont driver Kevin Chaffee by 28 points. Robert Tucker, Todd Buckwold and Mike Wright rounded out the top five in series points.

The Sportsman Modifieds will visit Albany-Saratoga one more time this season, accompanying the small-block modified “Fall Foliage 358 Spectacular,” on September 24th.

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