JOANIDES CONTINUES TO DEFY THE ODDS!
- IRWINDALE, California - BY TIM KENNEDY - Eleven years ago to this
exact date, Irwindale Speedway opened with a night of USAC open-wheel
competition in front of a sell-out crowd of 6,500+. The track, now known
as Toyota Speedway @ Irwindale, began season 12 of NASCAR series point
racing Saturday with seven classes and 101 racing vehicles in action.
After a mid-80s afternoon, about 5,000 spectators attended the first of
30 weekly races with a 100-lap NASCAR AC Delco Super Late Model race on
the progressively banked half-mile the featured attraction. Nick
Joanides, a 17-time main event winner at Irwindale last year and 2009
double track champion in the SLM and Auto Club Late Model series,
started twelfth and became the fifth race leader on lap 84. He won the
100-lap, 49 minute contest that had one red flag and six yellows. It was
the 35th feature triumph at the track for the personable Woodland Hills
resident. He now ranks fifth among all-time feature winners at the
track. It was also his seventh consecutive victory in 100 lap special
King passed Michels for third on lap 86 and as Joanides opened a 40-yard lead the second through fourth place battle intensified. Michels retook third from King on lap 96 and a lap later Michels passed Johnson on the inside entering the first turn. Joanides won by 2.150 seconds over long-time rival Michels. "That Nick is something," Michels said when interviewed at the finish line. "He was playing possum 'with everybody. He just hit the switch and drove by everybody." Joanides, the 2009 SLM track and California State champion, and third in NASCAR Whelen Weekly Racing Series National standings, admitted he was saving his tires for the closing laps. He praised the level of competition. Johnson withheld King's closing attempts to take third and finished 3.165 seconds behind Joanides, with King fourth, 3.414 back. Newcomer Parker, who started 16th in his Irwindale debut, charged into fifth by lap 80 and finished fifth, 4.251 seconds in back of Joanides. Dennis Schlarbaum, Dodd, Esau, Reed and 18-year old Christian Copley, a truck and modified veteran, rounded out the top ten. The top eight drivers completed 100 laps.
TEAM PRESS RELEASE
(03-27-10) Just a week and a half ago, driver Nick Joanides, was not going to be racing at the season opening event. The team had not been able to find sponsorship for the two-time reigning championship driver. After becoming the first driver to win championships in the top two series at Toyota Speedway, in the same year no less, Joanides planned on watching from the sidelines and spending time to help his protégé, 11 year old Christian McGhee, in his Bandolero.
Last Thursday, Nick got the call that team owner, Loyd McGhee, had found sponsorship to compete in the first two Super Late Model events and the first Late Model event. With little time to prepare, the team was not able to do any pre-season testing and the results showed in qualifying. They posted their worst qualifying effort in more than two years.
The Jackson Race Cars team relied heavily on their experience for the race setup. Joanides felt confident that with 100 laps to race, he could move his way to the front. He had in fact won the past six 100 lap special event races. Furthermore, he was currently riding a streak of 33 consecutive weeks atop the point standings. This being the opening night event, the only way for that to continue, was to win. He also had a streak of 22 consecutive top 5 finishes and 41 consecutive top 10 finishes on the line.
From the drop of the green flag, all of the streaks appeared in serious jeopardy as Joanides ran in the 12th position through the first 20 laps. With cars bouncing off of each other in front of him, Joanides wanted to remain patient, however as the laps wore down, he knew it was time to make a move. He simultaneously passed the 10th and 11th place cars and did so just in time as one lap later, both of those cars wrecked each other.
Three laps later, he took over the 9th position and stayed there through lap 36. By lap 40, he picked off another two positions to move up to 7th. After a five lap side by side battle, he took over the 6th position for good on lap 46 and took 5th just three laps later.
The 3rd and 4th place cars were in a heated battle for position through the next 12 laps. Joanides stayed close but left himself a little breathing room, just in case! That decision proved to be the winning move. On lap 61, the two cars made contact and spun. As one car spun low and the other high, Joanides was hard on the brakes to avoid them. The field behind was closing in fast with three cars behind spinning to avoid the wreck. Joanides then gassed it up, pitched the car sideways to the right to avoid the high car, then pitched it back sideways to the left to avoid the low car, narrowly missing both cars as four more cars behind piled into the wreck. “That has to rank as one of the best saves I’ve made in my 20 years of racing” Joanides said.
All time Irwindale win leader, Rip Michels, was in a heated battle with Justin Johnson for the lead. Joanides laid back to try and let them sort it out. While still in a side-by-side battle, at lap 75, Joanides decided it was time to go and joined the fray to make it a three-car battle for the lead.
He moved by Michels on the outside at lap 78 to take over the 2nd position. He chased down Johnson and made the winning pass on the outside at lap 83. He pulled out to a large lead and took the checkered 2.150 seconds ahead.
“Of my 35 wins in the past two years, this is the one I’m most proud of” said Joanides. “It was no gimmie and we had to work hard for it, coming from the back. That was one of the most competitive Super Late races I think I’ve ever seen here”. The stats back up Joanides’ claim as there were six different leaders and twelve drivers ran in the top five at one point or another.
Joanides and his team will head back to the track for the next two events and hope that somehow they can find funding to continue beyond that and chase an unprecedented third consecutive championship.
Meanwhile, Bandolero driver Christian McGhee returned for the start of his second full season. With a new crew chief, the results were promising. McGhee was among the fastest cars in practice, however only posted the 7th fastest lap in qualifying. He steadily moved his way toward the front. While gaining on the leader, he was in a heated side by side battle at the finish and fell just 0.019 seconds short of a second place finish.