Bryan Davis Keith · Monday October 11, 2010
When the green flag flew over Rockingham on Saturday afternoon, three men took the first lap as contenders for the 2010 ARCA Racing Series championship.
It didn’t take long to figure out who came to play.
For Patrick Sheltra and his self-owned team, the title that they scored this weekend was the culmination of a season-long assertion that they were the favorites, that it was their year. And while the No. 60 team didn’t truly establish themselves until the summer as the premier contender in what was a hotly contested season in the ARCA ranks, there was perhaps one defining trend of their run that flashed early in the season, became more and more evident as the summer progressed, and shone through in a big way Saturday.
Sheltra and his team didn’t compete for the ARCA title. They went out and took it.
That’s been the story of 2010 for the No. 60 team. Be it Sheltra refusing to get out of the gas and pounding the wall while preserving a top-5 finishing position in the spring race at Salem or his sixth-to-first-in-one-lap charge to win the dirt race in Springfield, the fourth-year ARCA veteran has proven relentless. He and his team staked a claim to the 2010 ARCA crown early in the season, and that ownership was readily apparent when push came to shove on finale weekend.
Even before the cars hit the track for practice on Friday, it was abundantly clear that Sheltra Motorsports came into the final race of the season expecting a championship. It wasn’t possible to go anywhere in the garage area without seeing Sheltra Motorsports crew. The driver’s entire family made the trip from Florida for the event. They had the largest contingent at the drivers’ meeting, as well as on pit road. Sheltra Motorsports was absolutely everywhere, and they made no secret about it.
And when the green flag did drop on Saturday, despite Sheltra being the points leader heading into the event, he drove as if fighting from behind. The No. 60 car didn’t settle in the top 10 after starting eighth, it roared to the front, with its driver making passes on both the high and low side of the track in a manner reminiscent of Jimmie Johnson’s early-race aggression at Loudon a few weeks back. By lap 61, Sheltra led his first lap. On lap 87, he took the lead again… and held it for 73 consecutive circuits. For awhile, it seemed that Sheltra’s run to the title was going to have a storybook ending.
Alas, the race’s final run didn’t work out that way. After the No. 60 crew turned in one of the best pit stops ARCA has seen all season to keep him in front when the final yellow flag of the afternoon flew on lap 147 (the SPEED telecast crew questioned whether Sheltra had just taken two tires given the speed of his stop), the driver suddenly started falling backwards, with the car developing a tight condition. First Ty Dillon, then Kevin Swindell, Steve Arpin, Chad Finley; the No. 60 that was untouchable in the race’s midsection suddenly looked vulnerable, just as the closest title contender to Sheltra, Craig Goess, made a valiant charge from outside the top 10 towards the top 5.
Nonetheless, for Goess, the charge was too little, too late. His No. 81 team was playing recovery for the last 100 miles of the ARCA season after fading from their third-place starting position early in the running. By the time Goess had caught Sheltra, his tires were long burned off, his chances for making the pass he needed to keep his title hopes alive dashed.
And all of that, the entire sequence of events that saw Sheltra both able to weather the storm of a suddenly ill-handling car during a long green-flag run, as well as to handle Goess’ impressive late-race charge, all came down to the fact that the No. 60 team chose to do what they’ve done as a team all year; to aggressively pursue the race.
With Craig Goess on the borders of the top 10 on the race’s final restart, over a dozen cars on the track behind Sheltra, track position provided a valuable cushion for the No. 60 team when the handle disappeared on their car over the last 40 laps. It didn’t matter that Goess got hot late, just as the No. 60 car fell vulnerable. Sheltra’s relentless early push to the front was just enough; Sheltra finished fourth, Goess fifth. Not to mention that had Goess even managed to pass Sheltra, he still needed three more positions on the track, thanks to the ten points the No. 60 earned for leading 74 circuits.
Racing as aggressively as Sheltra did in the early going, pursuing the race win as if points were no concern, was completely in character for ARCA’s “Mr. Showtime,” but completely out of character for a points leader. While the antithesis of the methodical approaches that both Goess and Tom Hessert appeared to be employing during Saturday’s American 200, it was perhaps the most obvious example of the swagger, the conviction, that the entire Sheltra Motorsports operation brought into the weekend.
That fire carried over to the crew, who were dealing with challenges of their own on pit road while their driver was busy slicing and dicing through the field. When the yellow flag flew on lap 49 and the leaders were preparing to come down pit road for their first stops of the event, the lapped car of Tanner Berryhill came down early with them… stopping directly in front of Sheltra’s pit stall. The unexpected presence of the No. 7 team triggered an irate reaction from the No. 60 crew, who proceeded to have a heated exchange with Berryhill’s crew chief prior to their car coming down pit road.
But as emotional as their reaction was, it was channeled into productivity. Because during the final cycle of pit stops under a lap 147 yellow, the crew turned in one of their best stops of the 2010 season, keeping their driver at the front, able to keep track position long enough to keep Goess at bay.
So no matter what they did on Saturday, Sheltra Motorsports as a whole came in owning the weekend. They showed up in large numbers, loud and proud. They were assertive and competitive with their competitors, be it the cars on the track or the crew surrounding them on pit road. They came in racing for the win as much as the championship trophy.
And they ended up owning the championship trophy as a result.
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