RPW Column: Marc Johnson Delivered On Kevin Starchak’s Investment Saturday Night At Lebanon Valley

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – During the off-season, Marc Johnson and Kevin Starchak worked out a deal to see the former Albany-Saratoga Speedway Modified champion drive the potent S&S Asphalt Paving #9 weekly on the high banks of the Lebanon Valley Speedway.

The goal, win races and contend for a championship. Saturday night, they accomplished the first part of that goal as Johnson parked the team’s Bicknell in victory lane, and in doing so, put an end to Andy Bachetti’s streak of victories to start the 2022 season.

Johnson started to the inside of Paul Gilardi on the front row for the 30-lap Modified main event and grabbed the lead as the field completed lap one.

From that point on, the Guilderland, NY driver had his car on cruise control, lengthening his lead to nearly ¾ of a straightaway at times. In short, there was nobody catching Johnson on this night.

“It’s an honor to drive this #9 car for Kevin, Garry Waters, Joe Matthews and all the guys involved on this team,” Johnson said. “To click off a win here really means a lot to me and we’ve made a family with our team last year for Scott Hamlin and Kevin’s this year. It’s just an honor.”

Johnson has struggled a bit to start the 2022 season at Lebanon. The pairing sat 13th in points heading into Saturday night, so to be able to click off a win in week three must feel pretty special.

“It does because we’ve been working hard to get things going with this car,” he said. “We missed it a little bit in the heat race so the guys went to work. Joe was wrenching on the shocks and springs right before the feature and we’ve been learning a lot. Now, I think we’re on to some good things.”

Marc was quick to give thanks to his car owner for the opportunity to drive the #9 car this year at the Valley.

“I’m absolutely blessed to be driving this thing,” he said. “Kevin is an awesome guy and I’m just happy to be the guy behind the wheel.”

Kyle Sheldon, still running last year’s machine for the Alex Thomson-owned team, put together a solid run to bring his #42 home with a strong second place finish. Bobby Hackel, made it two PMC’s in the top three with a fine third place finish.

Brett Haas, who started eighth but fell back to tenth, had a car that didn’t come to life until the midway point of the feature. However, when it did, the Dave Prime Mac Tools #55 was on fire as Haas drove through the field and eventually crossed the line in fourth.

Keith Flach had a nice race to record his first top five of the season.

Defending Sportsman champion John Virgilio hasn’t had the start to the 2022 season he’s been accustomed to.

Heading into Saturday evening, he sat seventh in track points after two races, but the consistency just hasn’t been there with his new car as the team continues to get the right set-up for it.

On lap six of the 20-lap feature, Virgilio was able to make his move by leader Keith Johannessen and set sail after his first victory on the 2022 season, but third-straight win on Boomer’s night.

He’d get it, and do so in commanding fashion, picking up career win #20 in the process. Not only that, it was the second win on the night for a car carrying S&S Asphalt Paving on the quarter panels.

“I really need to thank everybody for working hard on this new car,” Virgilio said. “We’ve been struggling with it during the first two races this season. Even up to the heat race tonight, I wasn’t really sure if we were going to be a top five car tonight.”

Between the heat and the feature, the team figured some things out that helped in the main event, and Virgilio was hooked up.

“We made a couple little adjustments thanks to Joe Matthews at JAM Performance,” he said. “Now, we got her rolling pretty good.”

Virgilio didn’t wait long to make his move to the lead. He was paying attention to how the leader, Keith Johannessen, was running on the track.

As soon as he was able to see his opening, Virgilio took it.

“I kind of had to wait for Keith to miss the bottom just a hair,” he said. “He was driving a really good race. However, starting behind the eight-ball and having guys like Tim Hartman, Jeff Watson and Whitey Slavin in the class, you have to throw patience out the window and dial it up to get to the front before they do.”

Hartman brought his #22 to the line in second at the finish with opening night winner Slavin in third.

Johannessen completed his strong run on Saturday with a fourth place finish and Chris Lynch rounded out the top five.

Defending Pro Stock track Champion Chad Jeseo hasn’t found victory lane through the first two weeks of the 2022 season. That’s very uncharacteristic for the #25 team.

However, that all changed on Saturday as Jeseo crushed the field to grab his first win of the 2022 season.

After starting seventh on the original grid, Jeseo took advantage of a lap one issue by leader Chris Stalker that moved the #25 to third.

He then scooted by Nick Hilt for second on the restart and took the lead from Shawn Perez as the lap counter clicked three.

From there, Jeseo was on cruise control to take the checkers.

“It was definitely an awesome track tonight,” Jeseo said. “After the original start situation with the leaders, we moved up and made the best of our luck.”

No matter what, after winning back-to-back titles the last two years, Jeseo is the man currently on the top of the hill. Even with the win Saturday, he knows he has to look over his shoulder at the guys coming up.

“I’ve been watching Steven Larochelle a lot,” he said. “Steve’s the next up-and-coming guy along with Zach Seyerlein. These guys are tough and I’m sure I’m going to be having to fend them off weekly.”

Seyerlein came home in the runner-up spot with Larochelle in third. Zach Sorrentino rebounded after being involved in the opening-lap caution with Stalker and a pit stop to come home a career-best fourth with Shawn Perez completing the top five.

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