Cotto, Hicks, Barnhill & Balkum Claim Championships

 

Champions Crowned: Cotto Ends Slump with Outlaws Track Title;

Hicks on the Rise with Pro Trucks Crown

By Chuck Corder

It had been a dozen years since Chris Cotto ended a season at Five Flags Speedway with a smile on his face.

That long drought ended Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway on Championship Night.

The veteran Milton driver won his fourth Faith Chapel Outlaws feature Friday night to clinch the Outlaws track championship. It was Cotto’s second career track title at Pensacola’s high banks, but first since his Super Stocks championship since 2007.

“It has been a helluva year,” Cotto said. “We had a good car. It started getting a little slippery, we backed it down, and paced ourselves. But I couldn’t count laps down fast enough.”

Thankfully, he didn’t have to count too fast. Cotto had little stress down the stretch of the 50 lapper, as neither 2018 Outlaw tracks champion Kody Brusso nor Josh Hicks had a machine to give Cotto a scare.

Hicks finished second and  Kody Brusso finished third, respectively.

This season saw a slight style change for Cotto. He was a more patient driver, and the results earned him plenty of success.

But with the track crown on the line, and nursing just a 12-point lead against Bill Tutchtone II, Cotto return to an aggressive brand of racing that define his early years at the famed half-mile asphalt oval.

He started fifth, but was on the move from the drop of the green flag. Cotto eventually took the lead from Brusso on Lap 11 and never let off the throttle.

“Once we got up 10 or 15 car lengths, we relaxed and paced ourselves and tried to maintain that,” he said.

Cotto’s team and friends celebrate their driver’s historic victory by dousing him with cold water and warm embraces.

A neat fact to come out of the Outlaws finale was that the top three cars were all built, at one point, by Donny Brusso, Kody’s father.

Cotto’s was an older edition while Hicks drove one of the two Outlaws the Brussos have in their shop.

Hicks, who would go on to easily win the WCIparts.com Pro Trucks crown later in the night, quickly found success in the opportune ride. He set the fast time in qualifying and contended all night before yielding to Cotto.

“I want to thank the whole Brusso family so much,” said Hicks, who had never driven an Outlaw before Saturday. “It’s a lotta hard work. You just try and concentrate. You don’t know how far you can push it until you reach that limit.”

WCIparts.com Pro Trucks

Josh Hicks has proven to be a name short-track racing fans must get to know.

He’s a Legends and Bandolero champion, and routinely dominates the competition at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

On Saturday, Hicks was asked to drive the second Brusso car in the Faith Chapel Outlaws season finale, and not only set the fast time in qualifying but finished second to eventual winner and track champion Chris Cotto.

What Five Flags Speedway fans already knew about the teenager from Senoia, Ga. – the same hometown of Bubba Pollard – was that he was one heckuva Pro Trucks wheelman.

Following the DQ of unofficial race winner Steven Davis, Hicks was awarded his fifth consecutive WCIparts.com Pro Trucks feature win and sixth overall of the season.

With a healthy lead, Hicks had already sewed up his first career Pro Trucks track title at Five Flags Speedway coming into Saturday night.

His performance was just icing on the cake.

“It feels really good,” said Hicks, who also won the Trucks Snowball Derby last December. “I can’t thank Curt Britt Motorsports enough for all the work he puts into it. The truck was fast when I got here.

“There were some tough trips coming down here every now and then. Sometimes I’d leave straight from school and parents would meet me later. My daddy missed some of the races so he could make the money, and I could spend it on racecars.”

Last year’s track champion Logan Boyett finished second and Darryl Rudd rounded out the podium.

The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen

The race got off to a strange start, perhaps a Friday the 13th hangover.

With Mark Barnhill enjoying a solid 24-point lead entering Saturday’s The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen finale, it was nearly mathematical that he would successfully defend his Sportsmen track championship.

But racing is never predictable, and when Barnhill came to the pits and parked his No. 3 late in the 30-lap feature race Saturday, the door sat slightly ajar for Tommie Blocker.

Blocker would’ve needed to win outright and some numbers would’ve still need to be crunched. While Blocker came close, finishing with another podium finish, Shanna Ard got his second victory of the season and B.J. Leytham finished runner-up.

Barnhill did manage to win the title, going back-to-back at both Five Flags and Mobile International Speedway.

“It has been a pretty good year. Actually, it has been a pretty good two years,” Barnhill said.

 

The 30 lapper got of to a peculiar start when Chad Robinson jumped the start of the race and was immediately black-flagged and eventually was forced back to the pits.

But, instead of immediately coming to the pits, Robinson stayed out on the track and was easily one of the fastest hotrods on Pensacola’s high banks. He set the fast qualifying time, but didn’t start on the pole because of a die roll invert.

Once Robinson finally did exit, the battle between Ard and Leytham ensued. The pair were bumper-to-bumper, racing each other hard, yet their mutual respect for one another wouldn’t allow things to get too heated.

“That’s one of the hardest races I’ve raced in years,” Ard said. “One mistake, and he could’ve got me. Man, my beautiful wife. It’s our 17-year anniversary tonight. This is your win, thank you.”

Leytham added: “I was not about to wreck that man because he always races me clean.”

Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks

Leave it to the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks to inject a bit of drama in their season finale.

The series, which is widely considered to be the most competitive division at Five Flags year-in and year-out. It’s also known for being the most combative at times.

While Daryl McDonald III came home with the 25-lap feature victory and

Pensacola’s Robert Balkum captured his second Pure Stocks track championship in a row, runner-up Michael Moody thought there might have been some shenanigans at play between “D III” and Balkum.

“To me it looked like (McDonald) and (Balkum) were using hand signals and block me on purpose,” said Moody finished runner-up in the points standings, as well, failing just three points shy of fist despite six feature wins this year.

Balkum and Moody’s teams got into a shouting match following the race but were quickly separated by local law enforcement.

“I’m speechless after that race,” said Balkum, who won his second consecutive title by just three points. “It was pretty scary, but I got to keep the car on the podium.”