Blaney Wins, Gaughan Nails Second at I-55 Night of Stars UMP Modified Race
This year's M&Ms NASCAR Night of Stars at I-55 Raceway was promoted as a shootout between some of the top drivers in racing and Wednesday night's event didn't disappoint. In a race that saw three-wide passing and plenty of beating and banging, former Knoxville Nationals and Chili Bowl winner Dave Blaney ended the night in Victory Lane.
Brendan Gaughan, Terry Labonte, and Tony Stewart provided a spirited battle for the runner-up slot, with Gaughan edging past the pair of two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion for second. Rounding out the field were Kenny Schrader, Dennis Setzer, Justin Labonte, and Ron Hornaday.
"I love coming out here," said Blaney, the 1997 World of Outlaws champion. "I'll do whatever for Kenny. He's got a great race track here and great fans. Even when I came here and raced with the (World of Outlaws series) in the '80s and '90s, it was a great place to come. I really enjoyed it and want to thank everyone for coming out; I hope they had fun."
Gaughan, an eight-time winner in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was strong early on in the event. He may have been the runner-up, but he was still pleased with his performance.
"All I know is, I came out here two years ago and I looked awful," the Las Vegas native said. "(Tonight) the only guy I lost to is Blaney. I'll take that any day of the week!"
Fans couldn't have asked for a better night for racing with cooler temps and low humidity providing a break for residents dealing with scorching heat and rain in recent weeks. In addition to the UMP Modifieds driven by the NASCAR stars, I-55 Raceway also hosted UMP Late Models and the O'
Reilly POWRi Series, which featured its midget series and its 600cc outlaw sprints. Proceeds from the event were donated to the Special Olympics.
Schrader took the top spot in qualifying, followed by Stewart and Setzer, making his first-ever appearance in a dirt car. The field was inverted, however, for the heats, with Stewart winning his heat by nearly half a straightaway and Blaney taking the win in his heat over Schrader.
For the feature, the field was inverted again, putting Stewart and Blaney at the back of the pack and giving Gaughan the pole position. The action was heated from the beginning with Schrader diving hard into Turn 3 on Lap 3, causing his car to move up into Blaney's. The accident also caused damage to the modifieds of Stewart and Justin Labonte. All four went to the pits for work with Stewart, a two-time Chili Bowl winner, on the receiving end of the most damage.
After the race, Schrader gave his assessment of what happened in Turn 3, as well as what he planned to do about it. "I'm going to go back to the shop and kick my driver's (behind) because he really did a dumb stunt there and almost cleaned out all my (stuff)," the Fenton, Mo.-native said good-naturedly. Both he and Stewart piloted cars from the Ken Schrader Racing stable.
Stewart took the comments in stride, acknowledging that strange things tend to happen when he drives KSR equipment at I-55. "Every time I've come here and run one of Kenny's cars, I make it to the white flag and then something happens," he said, laughing. "I asked him, 'You're not going to blame me for this one, are you?' He's the one who spun out."
After tire changes and some repairs to bent sheet metal, the green flag flew, with Gaughan still on point and Stewart now bringing up the rear. Blaney re-started fourth, but it didn't take him long to get to the front.
Two quick cautions brought out by Hornaday were the only interruptions for the remainder of the race. While Blaney was up front fighting off Terry Labonte and Gaughan, Schrader and Stewart were side-by-side racing for position as well.
In the closing laps, Blaney had the race all but won as Gaughan, Labonte, and Stewart, who had finally passed Schrader, fought for second. At the white flag, Labonte passed Gaughan for the No. 2 spot, but Gaughan was able to get the spot back at the checkers.
Everyone races to be the one holding the trophy at the end, but it was evident the drivers involved had a great time for a great cause. "It's always fun to come out here," Stewart said. "This is one of the best short tracks in the country. It's so fun to come here. This is something we don't get to do enough of, that's for sure. Glad we got to come tonight.
"Blaney got ahead of all of us, but we had a heckuva battle for second. We had a lot of fun tonight."
Schrader and I-55 Raceway co-owner Ray Marler have hosted NASCAR Nights for several years, ensuring fans get to see great racing by great racers in Pevely. Wednesday night was no different and the racing veteran was appreciative of everyone involved. "I can't thank the drivers enough for coming out and all the fans coming out and supporting the event," Schrader said.
Fans who came to watch the NASCAR drivers race modifieds were giving an additional treat as Stewart also raced a POWRi midget provided by defending series champion and eventual Wednesday feature winner, Brad Loyet. Stewart, who got his start in the sport racing midgets and sprints, finished sixth after starting fifth, but for the first-ever USAC Triple Crown winner, it wasn't about where he finished; it was about having fun in front of a great crowd.
"At this track, it doesn't matter if you a late model or a midget or a modified, it's just one of those tracks where it's always going to be good racing."
For a complete rundown of results from the 2008 M&Ms NASCAR Night of Stars as well as photos from the event, visit STLRacing.com. To get more information on future events at I-55 Raceway and for ticket information, call 636-479-3219 or visit them on the Web at www.I55Raceway.com