Story By: TOM BOGGIE / ALBANY-SARATOGA SPEEDWAY – MALTA, NY – Friday night was Champions Night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, so it was only fitting that a past champion showed he hasn’t lost his touch.
Two-time champion Marc Johnson, mired in one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, finally exorcised the demons that have haunted him all year by winning the 35-lap NAPA Modified feature, walking off with a payday of $3,000.
Johnson’s win, his first victory of the season at the historic Malta track, was just part of a drama-filled night in which Albany-Saratoga crowned three first-time champions: Demetrios Drellos (modified), Andrew Buff (sportsman) and Rich Crane (pro stocks).
“It’s about damn time,” said Johnson after climbing out of his car in victory lane. “I’ve been struggling all year, and I was starting to get worried that I wasn’t going to win one, which hasn’t happened in a long time.”
The last time Johnson had a winless season at Albany-Saratoga was 2015.
There was no shortage of drama in the 35-lap modified feature. On the second lap, defending track champion Matt DeLorenzo, who still had a shot at retaining his title, was punted off the second turn and wound up near the tree line off the backstretch. That put him at the rear of the field.
Matt Depew set a torrid pace out front, with Don Ronca and Jack Speshock battling for second, but on lap 22, Speshock went around in the second turn, bringing out the second caution of the feature.
That caution came at a perfect time for Depew, who had just caught the tail end of the field. But the caution cleared the path in front of Depew’s No. 667, and on the subsequent restart, Ronca slipped high in the second turn, allowing Neil Stratton to grab the No. 2 spot.
Johnson, who started 13th, had carefully worked his way through the pack, and when Adam Pierson suffered a flat tire on lap 28, Johnson was sitting fourth on the grid.
On that restart, Stratton and Depew made contact, which allowed Johnson to dive to the inside and momentarily move into second, but Stratton was back in the runner-up position by the end of lap 29.
Then, more drama, as Drellos shredded his right rear tire on lap 30, bringing out another caution. When Drellos rejoined the field, he was sitting 20th, while DeLorenzo was making a bid for a top-five finish.
More restart drama. Heading down the backstretch, Depew and Stratton were side-by-side, and as they entered the fourth turn, Stratton slid up in front of Depew. But that also opened up the inside for Johnson, who darted the opening and had the lead by the time the three leaders got to the flagstand.
Another yellow with two to go again bunched the field, but Johnson easily got the win, with Stratton second and DeLorenzo third.
Johnson admitted he wasn’t sure which way to go on the lap-30 restart.
“You never know what Depew is going to do,” he said. “But it worked in our favor tonight.”
Drellos, who earlier in the night won the Four States Enterprises Dash for Cash, worth $200, rebounded from his flat tire and finished 11th, which gave him a seven-point advantage over DeLorenzo in the battle for the modified championship.
“We had our share of highs and lows tonight,” he said in an interview on the front stretch after the race. “When I pulled off the track, I didn’t know if I had won (the championship) or not.”
Tim Hartman Jr., who was battling for his third straight sportsman championship, notched his third win of the year in the 25-lap sportsman feature, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Buff from coming away with his first title.
Oh, yes, there was also drama in this one. Buff only finished fifth in his heat, after battling motor problems, and had to pull out his backup car, which put him last in the bulky 30-car sportsman field. But he avoided a couple of wrecks in front of him and worked his way up to fifth, which was more than enough to win the title.
“It sucks to have our streak end,” said Hartman, who pocketed $1,000 through sponsorship from West End Towing and Repair, which is also the primary sponsor on Buff’s car, “but I hope we can start another one next year.”
Hartman, who started 16th, worked his way through the field and was sitting second when Brendon Darrah brought out a caution of lap 19, which put Hartman next to Travis Witbeck for the restart. Hartman then drove around the top coming out of the fourth turn to get the lead and went on to pick up his 39th career victory. Witbeck finished second, with Scott Bennett getting up for third.
“After the heat race, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Buff. “I just pulled put the back-up car, started at the tail end of the field and tried to keep my nose clean.”
Third-generation driver Kyle Hoard drove to his first career win in the 25-lap pro stock feature. Hoard started on the pole and with the race only being yellowed once, for debris on the track, Hoard remained out front for all 25 laps. Jaxson Ryan, who moved up from the four-cylinder division last year, had his best career finish, crossing the finish line second, while Crane came from his 12th starting position to finish third, locking up his first track championship.
“I’ve had three firsts this year,” said Hoard in victory lane. “Until this year, I’d never flipped, never been on fire and never won a race. Now, I’ve done all three.”
The wreck that involved a fire came early in August.
Pat Miner, a regular at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Vermont, chalked up his first career win in the 20-lap limited sportsman feature. He started on the outside pole and took the lead away from David Zelker on a restart on lap four.
Points leader Dylan Grogan, who started 10th, sliced through the field and was running second when another yellow came out on lap 13. Grogan snatched the lead away from Miner on the restart, but Miner, running the outside groove, never backed off and regained the lead coming out of the fourth turn one lap later. He finished over two seconds ahead of Grogan, with Steve Burch third.
Matt Mosher also used a front-row starting position to notch his first win of the year in the 20-lap street stock feature. He battled with Nike Napoli through the first half of the race, but when Napoli slipped off the backstretch on lap 11, Mosher pulled even and the next time around, took the lead going down the backstretch on lap 11.
Mosher then had to fight off a challenge from P.J. Cram Jr., before Cram fell off the pace, and then withstood one final challenge from Jeff Meltz Sr. before getting the victory. Points leader Jimmy Duncan took another step toward the street stock championship by finishing third.
Adam Montville was an easy winner in the 15-lap four-cylinder feature, holding off David Frame. in a late excursion through lapped traffic. Kyle Lanfear finished third overall and was the single-cam division winner, putting the seventh notch of the season into his belt.
NAPA MODIFIEDS: MARC JOHNSON, Neil Stratton, Matt DeLorenzo, Jack Lehner, Matt Depew, Justin Stone, Ken Tremont Jr., Josh Hohenforst, CG Morey, Keith Flach, Demetrios Drellos, Robert Bublak, Jeremy Pitts, Adam Pierson, Rob Pitcher, Jack Speshock, Don Ronca, Garrett Poland, Brian Calabrese, Rich Ronca, Derek Bornt, Ryan McCartney, Ronnie Johnson, Mike Mahaney, Brandon Daley.
NORTHEAST PAVING AND SEALCOATING SPORTSMAN: TIM HARTMAN JR., Travis Witbeck, Scott Bennett, Craig Wholey, Andrew Buff, Elliot Lussier, Mike Benson, David Boisclair, Mike Coffey Jr., Tommy D’Angelo, Dylan Madsen, Jon Miller, Joey Scarborough, Floyd Billington, Chris Jakubiak, Dave Baranowski Jr., Eric Mack, Jim Osgood, Chad Edwards, Taylor LaPlante, Dan Grignon, Tyler Rapp, Mike Jeske, Brandon Darrah, Drew Cormie, Zach Buff, Taylor Wason, Cody Ochs, Michael Wagner Fitzgerald, Ron Proctor.
SARATOGA MASONRY SUPPLY PRO STOCKS: KYLE HOARD, Jaxson Ryan, Rich Crane, Jay Corbin, Chucky Dumblewski, Jay Casey, Jason Casey, Josh Bussino, Shane Henderson, Slater Baker, Kim Duell, Chad Jeseo, Beau Ballard, Pete Vila, Devon Camenga, Bob Sleight, Jordan Modiano, Jimmy Eaton, Brandon Emigh, Caden Dumblewski.
HAUN WELDING LIMITED SPORTSMAN: PAT MINER, Dylan Grogan, Steve Burch, Connor Crane, Dan Seguin, Nick Auspelmyer, Walter Cook, Cordell Younger, Nick Arnold, Mike Parodi, Steve Miller, Ron Delease, Dakota Green, Mike Baker, Chasse Zimmer, Zachary Graham, Phil Arnold, Mike Arnold, Chayton Young, John Santolin, David Zelker, Alex Smith, Kyle Swart, James Galarneau.
LAKE AUTO PARTS STREET STOCKS: MATT MOSHER, Jeff Meltz Sr., Jimmy Duncan, Jason Meltz, Nick Napoli, Dana Van Veghten, Josh Samrov, Dan Madigan, Josh Bussino (subbing for Chris Stalker), Mike Bussino, PJ Cram Jr., Ray Pierre Jr., Fred Shippee, Dan Buell, Josh Hemming, Mark Burch, Jason Samrov.
GREG’S TOWING FOUR-CYLINDERS: ADAM MONTVILLE, David Frame, Kyle Lanfear (first single-cam finisher), Josh Ramsey, John Mason, Tom Hill, David Mullineaux, Daniel Joubert, Andrew Palmer, Ashlynn Ramsey, Olivia Swinton, Brittany Ladd, Chris Danylieko.