This MNR Review is presented by Monday Night Racing.
Monday, Jan. 30 marked the 11th race of season six of The Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series as well as the opening race of the Round of 8 in the playoffs with the running of the Out of the Groove 200 in the NASCAR Next Gen Cup cars at Pocono Raceway. Corey Heim took the checkered flag in his No. 51 Toyota with a dramatic pass to the inside of runner-up Bailey Turner in the final corner of the three-turn Tricky Triangle to punch his ticket to the Championship 4. Playoff drivers Adam Cabot and Chase Cabre finished third and fourth while last week’s winner Sage Karam completed the top five.
Check out the race recap from Frontstretch’s Joy Tomlinson here. You can also view the full race broadcast, along with the Frontstretch post-race show, featuring Brandon Hauff and Michael Massie, on the Frontstretch YouTube Channel. Here are the top five points to ponder from Pocono:
1) Heim Comes Through in the Clutch
Heim wasted no time asserting himself as a contender, putting down fast practice times and qualifying on pole. The two-time Craftsman Truck Series winner would turn the top spot into early dominance, leading the first 22 laps of the 80-lap race before the opening caution flew for a front stretch spin by David Schildhouse.
At this point, pit road put Heim behind the eight ball, as a few drivers were faster on their yellow flag pit stops, pushing Heim back to fifth. Heim would then be shuffled back a bit more on the restart, falling back to ninth.
It looked like Heim’s night might be derailed when he made contact with Presley Sorah in the No. 98 on lap 34, but his damage wound up being minimal.
From there, Heim would stage a furious rally throughout the second half of the race, gradually ascending back up the top 10 to be second on the final restart with three laps to go. Coming to the white, Heim was third behind Cabot and Turner, went around the outside of Cabot in turn 1, and then set up on the bumper of Turner to duck to the inside in turn 3, move Turner up the racetrack, and clear him off the corner to seal the win.
“Props, this was a lot of fun,” Heim said in his post-race interview with Eric Estep. “I didn’t really know how to approach the last lap. My plan was to push Bailey [Turner] in the final two corners and see if could slide up and lose his momentum. He kind of guarded his entry into turn three, so I drove in deep and used him up a little bit.”
2) Feast or Famine For Playoff Drivers
If you were one of the eight playoff drivers at Pocono, you had about a 50/50 chance of having either a good race or a bad race.
In addition to Heim’s victory, Cabot and Cabre both stood out as two of the most competitive drivers in the 36-car field on Monday, staying in or around the top five for almost the entire race and both taking turns in the race lead. With their top five finishes, Cabot and Cabre will not be able to relax at Chicagoland, but they will have a margin for error. The points standings have Cabot at 17 points above the cutline and Cabre at 14 points ahead going into the final race of the Round of 8. Joey Padgett was also able to avoid big mistakes in his No. 83 car to bring home a solid ninth-place showing; however, he only has a six-point cushion leading into Chicagoland.
The remaining four playoff drivers did not enjoy a pleasant evening in the Pocono Mountains. Ryan Vargas started from sixth in his No. 26 car, but he slid back throughout the race, eventually settling for 17th place. Unofficially, Vargas finds himself 10 points below the cutline for Chicagoland.
Defending series champion Sorah also finds himself in trouble after he lost track position due to a spin and contact with Heim on lap 34. During the last pit cycle, Sorah attempted to stay out longer and catch a caution to gain back track position, butit was to no avail as he eventually had to pit for fuel. Sorah went on to finish 23rd, putting him six points in the hole. While it is not a must-win situation, Sorah will almost certainly need to be on his “A” game at Chicagoland if he wishes to defend his MNR title in the season finale at Homestead.
The greatest playoff misfortune was reserved for Leighton Sibille and Matt Stallknecht. Sibille appeared to be on his way to a solid if unspectacular finish before he spun coming to the checkered flag and hit the inside retaining wall, an incident that sent him plummeting to 32nd in the final running order.
Stallknecht, meanwhile, was plagued by bad luck from start to finish, having to stay on pit road longer under the first caution. The driver of the No. 41 then got pegged for speeding down pit road under the final green flag pit cycle, leading to a black flag pass through penalty. To make matters worse, Stallknecht got caught up in a crash with teammate Ford Martin with only seven laps to go. All of this resulted in a 35th-place finish.
Suffice it to say, both Sibille and Stallknecht find themselves in must-win situations for Chicagoland. Will one of them be able to dig deep for a walk-off win to make the Championship 4?
3) Pocono Produces Great Racing in MNR Debut
Although NASCAR fans are familiar with Pocono Raceway, Monday’s race marked the first time that MNR has visited the unique 2.5-mile triangle-shaped oval in Pennsylvania.
Based on how the race played out, there is a decent chance that Pocono will become a mainstay on the MNR schedule going forward. Indeed, the Out of the Groove 200 featured a lot of elements of an entertaining race: close battles for the lead, competitive racing throughout the pack, and a dramatic last-corner pass for the win.
Furthermore, it was mostly clean racing as the yellow flag came out only five times. This also continues a trend of fewer incidents since the no fast repair rule went into effect at the beginning of the playoffs.
Monday’s race was a showcase of how great MNR can be, and it could open the door for the Tricky Triangle to obtain a regular spot in the series’ rotation of tracks.
4) Paint Scheme of the Race
The day before the race, the Philadelphia Eagles earned a spot in Super Bowl LVII with a convincing 31-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship.
This was much to the delight of MNR driver and Eagles fan Gary Sexton, who commemorated the occasion with a special green-and-white Eagles paint job on his No. 13 car for 80 laps around the Pennsylvania track. The new look brought Sexton good fortune as he navigated his way to a sixth-place finish.
5) Next Up: Trucks at Chicagoland
Next Monday, The MNR Pro Series will shift from the Next Gen Car to the Trucks at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. This will be the second—and final—race of the Round of 8 before the Championship race two weeks from now in the Xfinity Series cars at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The abbreviated Round of 8 further accentuates the sub-par finishes for Sorah, Vargas, Sibille, and Stallknecht at Pocono.
The car and track combination will likely create a certain level of comfort among the MNR’s drivers. This will be the four race in the past two seasons in the Trucks, and it will also be the eighth race on a 1.5-mile track in the past two seasons.
The playoff urgency and the familiar environment lends itself to potentially aggressive and intense racing next week. With his background in trucks, Heim figures to be one of the favorites again.
“I guess I just need to have a kind of what I did last week [at Watkins Glen], nothing crazy, top 5 or top 10,” Cabot said about his approach to Chicagoland. “I hope I can seal the deal, get the points I need, and join Corey [Heim] in the Championship 4.”
Can Heim go back-to-back and sweep the Round of 8? Which three drivers will join him in the fight for the championship? This time next week, we will have the answers to both of those questions.
About the author
Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College and the University of Richmond. He is a high school history teacher and cross country/track & field coach for his day job.
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