Sage Karam earned his second Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series race in the Roasted Gems Challenge from Watkins Glen on Jan. 23. The Alpha Prime Racing, NASCAR Xfinity Series driver, dominated the evening as he started from pole position and withstood strategic challenges and in-race repairs.
Chase Cabre was second and DJ Cummings pulled off an impressive strategy call in the race’s final minutes to move from well outside the top 15 to the podium. With the playoff cutoff looming, the Porsche 911 RSR from Watkins Glen was a more chaotic combination than last weekend’s ARCA race from Daytona.
“I really like driving around that track,” Karam said. “I’ve had some success there in real life and in the sim as well. It’s definitely one I was looking forward to coming to and running with these guys. I was able to put together a good qualifying and the race went almost the way I expected it to.
“I had some damage from a lap car pretty early on in the race, so I took some optional repairs on that first stop and that’s why I kind of got shuffled back. From there I just tried to get through as cleanly as I could and put my head down there at the end and put in some good laps,” Karam explained.
James Bickford finished fourth and the only driver able to mount much of a challenge to Karam, Corey Heim, rounded out the top five. Heim had gained the lead at the start of the race, but Karam reeled him back in as the race settled in. Once Karam was close, Heim yielded the lead to Karam on the front stretch.
Pending the certification of the results, the eight drivers in the next round of the playoffs will be the aforementioned Cabre, last week’s winner Presley Sorah, Adam Cabot, Corey Heim, Leighton Sibille, Joey Padgett, Ryan Vargas, and Matt Stallknecht.
Playoff drivers had only completed two turns of the race before one of them found trouble. Vargas was the first victim as he was collected in a lap one wreck in the esses. The crash left him with rear-end damage.
Hamstrung by a damaged rear wing, Vargas spent most of the race marred in the middle of the pack. With less than thirty minutes to run Brandon Brown chopped off the nose of Alex Labbe exiting the boot section, knocking them off the wall and directly into the path of Vargas causing a track blockage that necessitated a caution.
Thankfully for Vargas, it turned out that thirty minutes left was an eternity that left plenty of time for others to find themselves in trouble.
Matt Stallknecht was the next playoff driver to find trouble. He was spun in the heel of the boot by Labbe, leading to damage. His night then went from bad to worse when Justin Melillo, who was reversing on track at the exit of turn one after spinning, reversed into the path of Stallknecht.
Stallknecht, whose car was now heavily damaged, spun on his own as he tried to make his way back to the pits. He briefly drove backward while looking for a spot to turn around, causing him to be disqualified.
That collection of chaos was about to be topped by Garrett Smithley, who was hit by four cars in less than fifteen seconds in the final minutes of the race.
Smithley was tentatively through to the next round when he was tagged by Bailey Turner in the carousel. Smithley then rejoined the track into the path of Robby Lyons who hit him, sending Smithley spinning into the path of Anthony Alfredo. Smithley’s car came to a stop in a blind spot for Gary Sexton who was unable to avoid him.
With Smithley out of the race, Vargas and Stallknecht emerged from their own night of chaos to become the final two drivers to qualify for the next round of the playoffs.
Despite the result, Stallknecht was far from pleased with himself.
“I wish that I could say that I impacted the results,” Stallknecht said on the Frontstretch post-race show. “That was not the case. A lot of incompetence on my part. A lot of putting myself in bad situations that I didn’t need to be in. I was running top twelve, top fifteen, going into the break. I put myself in a bad spot and got some damage right before the break. It was just like a series of unfortunate events.”
Pocono and Chicagoland now stand before the eight drivers looking for a shot at the season six championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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