Race Weekend Central

MNR Review: Adam Cabot Throws His Hat Into Playoff Hunt, Blake McCandless Competitive in Debut

This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing. 

On Monday, Dec. 19, the Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series ran the Next Level Racing Throwback 200, the seventh race of season six and the next-to-last race of the regular season. The drivers piloted the old 1987 NASCAR Cup Series cars around the two-mile Auto Club Speedway.

Adam Cabot, MNR season four champion, got his first win of season six and the fourth of his MNR career, locking up his spot in the playoffs. Nick Olsen took home the runner-up spot, Presley Sorah was third, Leighton Sibille finished fourth and Will Rodgers rounded out the top five.

Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. Also, you can view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show featuring Brandon Hauff and Jared Haas, on the Frontstretch YouTube Channel. Haas filled in for usual co-host Michael Massie this week, but Massie still raced, finishing a season-best 13th in a Delma Cowart throwback.

Here are five main points from an exciting race:

1) Cabot Punches Playoff Ticket from the Pole

Coming into Auto Club, Cabot was having a remarkably consistent season, with a worst finish of sixth place in the opening six races. However, there was one key item missing from his season six resume: a checkered flag.

See also
Adam Cabot Grabs Win at Auto Club in Monday Night Racing

“On one hand, I’ve kind of been on a hot streak the past weeks,” Cabot told Haas and Hauff on the Frontstretch post-race show. “The last four months before a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t won anything.”

Cabot was on a mission to win, as he immediately established himself as a race favorite by being one of the fastest in practice and claiming the Roasted Gems Coffee pole. The race itself proved to be far from a smooth ride, as Cabot would have to dodge massive wrecks, think through ever-shifting pit strategy and fend off a host of strong competitors.

After leading the early laps, Cabot settled into the top five for much of the middle section of the race. Depending on the pit strategy, the driver of the No. 17 would at times be in the middle of the pack based on who pitted and who stayed out.

Cabot found himself toward the front as the laps wound down, but there were guys with fresher tires trying to make their way through the pack. A series of cautions kept those with newer rubber from moving up.

A huge wreck in the second overtime capped a barrage of late cautions, and Cabot was just barely the leader over Sorah at the moment of caution. On the last overtime restart, Cabot got a good restart on the inside lane and held back the pack for the final miles to get his first win of season six and a ticket to the playoffs.

“You just try to work the race backwards,” Cabot said. “I definitely had the good fortune of cautions at the end that kept those faster guys from moving up.”

2) Blake McCandless Trades in Microphone for Steering Wheel

Normally, Blake McCandless is focused solely on the broadcasting side of MNR as a race analyst for Podium eSports. But this week was different, as McCandless added his name to the entry list, piloting the No. 71 car in his MNR debut.

McCandless is a big fan of the 1987 Cup cars on iRacing, and it showed in his on-track performance. After voluntarily not turning a qualifying lap, McCandless started 31st in the 36-car field. He would not stay back there, slowly chipping away at the gap between himself and the front runners.

By the halfway point, McCandless was going bumper-to-bumper with the best in MNR, even leading a few laps. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side in the later laps, as a lap 86 crash cost him his track position. McCandless spun again six laps later, and a wreck during the first overtime forced him to retire from the race for good, placing 34th. Despite the sour end result, McCandless had fun and is open to making another MNR appearance in the 87s.

“Tonight, it was just about having fun for me,” McCandless said. “Anytime they bring out the 87s and it’s a regular season race, I’d love to be a part of it.”

3) Slipping, Sliding & Great Racing in the 87s

The unique combination of the 1987 Cup Series cars on the older asphalt at Auto Club produced arguably the best racing of a stellar MNR season.

The 87s are tough to handle even on fresh tires. With worn tires on Auto Club’s rough surface, all 36 drivers had their hands full. There were 10 cautions in the 100 laps plus overtime that made up the Next Level Racing Throwback 200, and that doesn’t include several single-car spins that did not prompt a yellow flag. On the Frontstretch post-race show, fourth-place finisher Sibille commented on how difficult it was to drive the throwback Cup car.

“I got to say these cars don’t really drive like anything else that is on [iRacing],” Sebille said. “It was really hard to handle, especially once you got out there on old tires.”

In addition to testing the drivers’ skills with sub-par handling, the 87s also allowed for a lot of closed-quarters, side-by-side racing for the lead. A total of 10 drivers led at some point in the race, compared to only four leaders in last week’s race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

The car/track combination created opportunities for multi-groove racing, with some riding the top and others diving to the bottom. All told, it was the kind of racing that MNR and its fans want to see on a week-to-week basis.

“I think that was the best race iRacing has ever put on,” Cabot said.

4) Whose Championship Is It Anyway?

Cabot’s victory means that we have had seven different winners in seven races this season. Race winners now take up half of the 12 playoff spots, as last week’s winner Sage Karam is ineligible due to not starting enough races.

Outside of those six winners, Collin Fern has also clinched a playoff spot based on his points. Joey Padgett is not technically locked in, but at 39 points above the cut line, he should be feeling pretty comfortable.

Outside of those eight, it is a dog fight for the final four playoff spots with just one regular season race to go. Rodgers, Olsen, Matt Stallknecht and Ryan Vargas hold those final playoff spots at the moment, but there are eight other drivers within 20 points of the cut line.

That group is led by Justin Melillo, who is only seven points away from Vargas. Melillo has had bad luck in regular season finale races in the past, and he will look to reverse that curse in two weeks, though he is not sure how to do it.

“I don’t know,” Melillo told Podium’s Kenneth Bueno and Jacob Hitz when asked about this strategy in the next race. “It’s a different race every year, but superspeedways are my best on the service.”

It has been a parity-filled season where anything can happen and anyone can win on any given Monday night. I expect that theme to continue to end the regular season and through the playoffs.

5) Next Up: Regular Season Finale – Next Gens at Talladega

After driving the 87s on a track that opened in 1997, MNR will roll out a more common car/track combination for the final race of the regular season when the series returns to Talladega Superspeedway, this time in the Next Gen Cup cars.

Season six opened at the 2.66-mile oval in Alabama, with the Cup Series Car of Tomorrow that ran from 2007-12. NASCAR regular Garrett Smithley went to victory lane that day, and he will look to do it again to become the first repeat winner of season six heading into the playoffs.

While the drivers will likely not have as much trouble handling a more familiar car, there are still the many perils that come with superspeedway racing, such as losing the draft or getting caught up on the Big One. Whoever can navigate that chaos the best could find themselves in the playoffs.

The drivers of MNR take to high banks of Talladega on Monday, Jan. 2, following a bye week to celebrate the holiday season.

About the author

Profile Pic

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He works as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via