By Justin Boyd
Killeen Daily Herald
With the 2004 season drawing to a close and track championships still undecided in almost every class, emotions ran high and the intensity level was even higher Saturday night at Texas Thunder Speedway.
In no class was the heightened level of competition more apparent than the IMCA Modified division, which ran two feature races, making up for the rained out event Aug. 28.
In the first race, Leander racer Greg Atwood tallied his third win of the year, but not without incident.
On lap 19, Atwood took over the top spot as he passed leader Brian Killingsworth in turn four. The two cars bumped during the passing attempt, allowing Atwood's No. 23 to get past Killingsworth and take the checkered flag. Killingsworth recovered to finish second.
"The first race, the track was fast," Atwood said. "It was a good race. I got up there to the front and then the leader, Brian, started driving a little softer and I was getting the run on him. So I was trying to work him on the bottom of the track. His car got loose on him and he kind of cut back down across and I was already committed down there and we kind of bumped and it was just one of those racing things."
After the win, Atwood apologized to Killingsworth, saying that he didn't purposely nudge Killingsworth out of the way.
"I thought we had it all solved," Atwood said. "I went out and talked to him on the track and then after the feature he came over to the pits and talked to me and said that everything was cool. But obviously it wasn't."
Obviously indeed, as the two cars locked up in the second feature, with Atwood on the receiving end this time.
With four laps remaining, Killingsworth, aided by some lapped traffic, caught up with Atwood, who had passed Killingsworth 10 laps earlier for the lead.
Atwood entered turn four with Killingsworth directly behind him. The two cars once again touched and Atwood spun out, bringing out the yellow flag. Due to track rules, Atwood was sent to the back of the field because he brought out the caution. Killingsworth, however, was also sent to the rear, penalized for rough driving.
The race restarted and the biggest winner in the Atwood-Killingsworth clash was Hardy Henderson, who picked up his first victory of the season.
Killingsworth took seventh while Atwood finished 13th.
"I hated that it happened," Atwood said of the wreck with Killingsworth. "I really wanted to win that second feature. I felt like I had it won. There were only four laps left. But I guess that's just the way it is. But what comes around goes around though."
For Henderson, the win was more than just an exclamation point on a season that has seen him remain near the top of the point standings, due mainly to 10 top-five finishes, but also a sign of things to come.
"This is just what I needed," the Round Rock native said of the win. "Usually when I break my bad-luck spell, I'm good to go for awhile. We'll get it going now."
Henderson is second in the point standings, 39 points back of two-time defending champion Keith White. Before the two races, White held a comfortable 67-point lead, but due to two sub-par performances a 19th- and a 14th-place finish Henderson has a shot, however remote, of unseating White. But that could only happen if the Academy driver fails to qualify for the final feature event Saturday night.
While the Modified division crown is still officially up for grabs, the Street Stock championship isn't.
Evant driver Andrew Simmerman clinched the 2004 title with a runner-up finish to Mike McLaughlin in the feature event.
Simmerman has won seven races this season and plans to move up to the Modified class in 2005.
For McLaughlin the win not only ended a near two-year feature win drought but also ended a streak of finishing second to the Simmerman family this year at TTS.
"The monkey is finally off my back," McLaughlin said with a smile. "This win feels good. I've come so close this year to only finish second to the (No.) 21 car (Robert Simmerman) and the 8 car (Andrew Simmerman) and tonight I thought the same thing was gonna happen because I had one in front of me that wouldn't get out of my way and one behind that was beating on my bumper."
McLaughlin believes the momentum gained from the win, coupled with the exit of Andrew Simmerman to the Modified class, could result in a more successful campaign in 2005.
"It's been like a three-car race every Saturday," McLaughlin said. "Me, the 21 and the 8. We're getting rid of the 8 next year. He's going to the modifieds, so hopefully there won't be but just the two of us to split all the wins."
Veteran driver Buck Owens also scored his first victory of the year, topping Jason Bogard and Preston Ellis in the I-Stock feature.
Following the race, Owens' engine was claimed by Billy Lorenz, who finished 11th.
The I-Stock standings are tight heading into the final race night. Leader Anthony Otken holds a slim three-point advantage (631-628) over Chris Moore, with Richard Reilly in third place with 595 points.
Shad Stevens, who is fourth in the I-Stock standings with 588 points, led the Mini-Stock feature flag-to-flag en route to his first Mini-Stock win of the season.
Points leader and defending champion Jason Hoffman, of Harker Heights, holds a 30-point lead (725-695) over Kenny Ware with just one I-Stock feature remaining.
In the Thunder Stock feature, Killeen driver Bobby Norton narrowly edged Michael Legore at the start/finish line to notch his fourth victory of the season.
Jessie James Cox Jr. and defending class champion Trevor Sparkman, tied for the points lead heading into Saturday night's feature, finished eight and ninth, respectively. With the finish, Cox holds the smallest of margins (696-695) over Sparkman going into the final race.
Contact Justin Boyd at email@example.com