OSWEGO, N.Y. — Recap by Race Chaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Clint Miller/Turn 5 Live photo –The 64th Annual Sunoco Race of Champions weekend got off to a wet start as rain swept in from the Midwest and washed out all of the Saturday events.
The foul weather pushed everything back to Sunday, meaning a full seven division race card would be completed in one day.
A decision was made to keep the Saturday portion of the weekend seperate and run it later Sunday following the planned Sunday schedule, so the RoC Modifieds, RoC Super Stocks and Supermodifieds pulled into the track first for their racing events.
After qualifying for the 3 divisions was complete, the 75-lap Novelis Supermodified Championship race got underway with Brandon Bellinger and Daniel Connors starting on the front row.
Points leader Otto Sitterly was 13 markers up on Dave Gruel with the track title on the line. Gruel would start 7th and Sitterly right behind him in 9th. Joe Gosek, fifth in the standings, had to use a provisional to start in the 25th and final starting spot.
Connors took the lead at the drop of the green. Gosek went pitside and out of the race on lap two as his mechanical woes continued.
With three laps down it was Connors leading Brandon Bellinger, Michael Muldoon, Randy Ritskes and Stephen Gioia. Sixth through tenth were Pat Lavery, Tim Devendorf, Sitterly, Gruel and Dave Danzer.
Ten laps into the event, Sitterly made a move to the outside and took over seventh from Devendorf. This put him two spots ahead of his closest points challenger Gruel as Connors and Bellinger continued to pace the field.
Bellinger began to fall off the lead pace around lap 14 as Muldoon and Ritskes closed in and traffic loomed ahead. Gene Lee Gibson took his No. 75 to the pits at this point and retired from the event.
Sitterly made a huge low move in traffic and grabbed two spots down low as he moved to fifth while Muldoon got by Bellinger for second as the top ten sliced through a maze of slower cars.
A major crash stopped the race on lap 20 when the No. 9 of Gioia caught a wheel from a lapped car. Gioia, the No. 90 of Kody Graham, the No. 2 of D.J. Shullick and the No. 50 of Dave Gruel all made contact with the first turn wall, with Gioia hitting the hardest.
All the drivers were OK. Gruel, Gioia and Graham went off on the hook. Shullick was pushed in with rear end damage.
While the track cleanup was going on, Bellinger, Lavery and Bobby Santos all pitted. Lavery did not come back out as the team found a terminal broken rear end bracket. Santos and Bellinger did.
The No. 01 of Connors was still the leader with Muldoon second. Ritskes, Sitterly and Danzer now rounded out the top five as the race got back underway on lap 20. Sixth through tenth at this time were Joey Payne, Devendorf, Michael Barnes, Bobby Haynes and Shaun Gosselin.
When the race resumed, Ritskes went right to work on leader Connors as Muldoon, Sitterly and Danzer trailed. Connors was able to open up a car length once a few laps had been completed but that’s as far away as the No. 37 of Ritskes would let him get.
Sitterly passed Muldoon for third on lap 29, and fifth place Danzer began applying pressure. Sitterly took off after the two leaders and began closing ground immediately. By lap 32 he was right behind Ritskes, who now trailed leader Connors by three car lengths.
Lap 33 saw Sitterly squeeze tightly under Ritskes off turn four and take second, causing Ritskes to take evasive action in turn one. He hung on to third.
Sitterly closed right in on Connors and the battle for the lead began. Sitterly was trying to win the battle (race) and the war (track championship). Danzer took fourth and caught up to third place Ritskes as the two leaders battled, and Joey Payne put his No. 99 into fifth.
The caution flag flew again on lap 42 when Howie Page spun his No. 18 in turn one.
Connors, Sitterly, Ritskes, Danzer and Payne were the top five cars while Muldoon, Barnes, Devendorf, Gosselin and Haynes rounded out the top 10.
On the ensuring restart, Gruel turned on the yellow lights yet again as Gruel hit the foam blocks in front of the third turn wall. He had picked up some damage to the front wing on his No.50 earlier in the event and had pitted a couple of times for repairs. It was not the ending that he had hoped for, as he went into the race just 13 points behind Otto Sitterly in his quest for the track championship.
Sitterly got the lead with an inside move on lap 44 as Connors got freight-trained all the way back to fourth and then pitted. It was now Sitterly, Danzer, Ritskes, Payne and Muldoon in the top five. Barnes, Devendorf, Gosselin, Bellinger and the No. 21 of Santos rounded out the top ten. The only other car on the track was eleventh place Bobby Haynes.
Lap 51 was eventful once again for Ritskes as Kody Graham said “Exsqueeze me” when he slithered underneath and by the No. 37 going down the front straightaway. It was the same exact situation Ritskes had found himself in when Sitterly went by. Both times Randy had to take evasive action and save the car to keep going.
Danzer was closing on Sitterly as the race moved toward lap 57. Danzer shot under him in traffic on lap 58 and took over the lead.
Sitterly now ran second with Payne, Ritskes and Muldoon comprising third through fifth. Danzer put seventh place Gosselin down a lap with 11 circuits left and Sitterly tried to close as the leaders closed in on Muldoon and Barnes, who were running fifth and sixth.
It was to no avail, as Danzer saw daylight and had only fourth place Ritskes in front of him with 7 laps to go. He caught him in one lap and blew around him on the outside to secure a straightaway lead and, ultimately, the 75-lap Race of Champions victory!
It was Danzer who had opened the 2014 season with a win at Oswego and now would close the season the same way. He also won the $10,000 to win Mr. Supermodified feature event during the summer.
When the checkers waved it was Danzer streaking across the line with his No. 52. Sitterly finished second, four seconds behind. Payne was the only other car on the lead lap in third. Gosselin and Ritskes completed the top five. Sixth through tenth were Muldoon, Devendorf, Barnes, Bellinger and Haynes.
OFFICIAL FINISH: Supermodified 75 – Dave Danzer, Otto Sitterly, Joey Payne, Shaun Gosselin, Randy Ritskes, Michael Muldoon, Tim Devendorf, Michael Barnes, Brandon Bellinger, Bobby Haynes,Jr., Bobby Santos, Dan Connors, Shawn Muldoon, David Gruel, Howard Page, Jerry Curran, Lou LaVea, Jr., Pat Lavery, Stephen Gioia III, Dave Shullick Jr., Kody Graham, Lou Lavea, Sr., Gene Lee Gibson and Hal LaTulip.