Finch Holds on for Outlaws Title; Johnson, Pokrant, Loper All Secure Championshipsadmin
Night of Champions No. 1: Finch Holds on for Outlaws Title; Johnson, Pokrant, Loper All Secure Championships
By Chuck Corder
Jake Finch couldn’t stop pacing.
Parked for the night after his No. 51 was dismantled in a vicious crash, the Faith Chapel Outlaws points leader walked between his pit and his hauler. Finch vacillated between crossing his arms and hands hugging his hips. There was nothing he could do on the Night of Champions. It was his title to lose, and the track championship seemed to be slipping through his fingers as the laps slipped away in the 35-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
But the racing gods giveth and taketh away. On this evening, they gave young Finch a reprieve. Despite not finishing the race, Finch still brought home the Faith Chapel Outlaws track championship when his closest competitors endured rough nights, too.
“It was a fun night, I guess,” a disheartened Finch said. “We did everything we could. I wasn’t nervous at all.”
No one bought that, including close family friend and 2005 Snowball Derby winner Eddie Mercer, who teased the teenager within earshot.
Budding Late Model star Connor Okzresik blew the doors off the 24-car field in a George Bragg-owned Outlaws to win the 35 lapper. Okrzesik had just 12 laps in the Bragg Outlaw before his dominant performance Friday. Timothy Waston, close friends with both Okrzesik and Finch, finished second and Cameron Henderson rounded out the podium.
“I can’t thank George Bragg enough for given me the opportunity,” Okrzesik said. “I hadn’t sat in the car until (Thursday). We have more to do for the (Snowball) Derby, but I think we’ll be fast.”
Both Bubba Winslow and Conner Sutton had their shots to capture the track championship with Finch sidelined. Winslow had to make up a 25-point gap while Sutton had a 35-point deficit to overcome. Unfortunately, the pair struggled mightily, too, and failed to make up the necessary ground.
Finch’s night ended just 11 laps in on a restart. Sutton missed a shift in the row ahead of Finch. That caused Kody Brusso to slam on the brakes. Instead of slamming into Sutton, Brusso careened toward the inside wall and collected the entire nose of Finch’s No. 51 in the process.
Finch’s team went to work under caution, jacking up each side to get underneath the Phoenix Construction-sponsored Outlaw. It was terminal, though, and a disgusted Finch plodded into his hauler.
Proxy Equipment Pro Trucks
Hunter Johnson knew he had it in the bag the whole time.
It was the only explanation after it appeared that Johnson’s track championship hopes had been dashed. A strange sequence of events just under the flag stand sent him to the back of the 15-truck field early in the Proxy Equipment Pro Trucks 30-lap feature Friday night at Five Flags Speedway.
But Johnson recovered to finish third and clinch his first career title at the famed half-mile asphalt oval. Pensacola’s Kody Brusso ran a superb race in a Curt Britt truck en route to the feature victory and Texan John Heil finished second.
“I made it exciting for y’all, didn’t I?” joked Johnson, also in a Curt Britt truck. “I had an issue with the window net. I noticed it and didn’t wanna say anything, but it came completely off. So, I had to have some help.”
Help came from one of his crew members, who hopped over the inside wall and repaired the window net on the front stretch. The problem was the on-track fix came under caution, causing the infraction. Race officials wasted no time in sending Johnson to the tail end.
“I think it gave me more adrenaline to go back and come through the field,” Johnson said. “This makes me feel amazing. Everybody at Curt Britt does a great job. He does more than anybody else on the team.”
Brusso started on the pole after the die roll invert. She drover masterfully, yielding the lead only once to Heil on Lap 27. Brusso didn’t let Heil out of her sights and pulled off a slingshot a lap later in Turn No. 3 to reclaim the lead for good.
“This thing is a monster,” Brusso said. “It’s an awesome piece. And I’m super excited to drive this. It’s an honor.”
The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen
The wait appears to be finally over for Jim Pokrant.
A track championship. A purple Hoosier Tires jacket. A date with immortality at Five Flags Speedway.
After nearly 30 years, Pokrant must temper his unbridled excitement a few more days until it’s official following another driver filing a protest on the crankshaft in his No. 07.
Pokrant finished third in The Dock on Pensacola Beach Sportsmen 25-lap season finale Friday night at Pensacola’s high banks. It was plenty good enough to hold off Brannon Fowler, who won his seventh feature in 2021 on Friday. Dirt tracker Kevin Mitchell finished runner-up.
“This is pretty cool,” a hoarse and worn-out Pokrant said. “It took me 27 years to get here. So, we’re here. Without my guys, I wouldn’t be here.”
Fowler took the lead on Lap 2 and was quickly in the wind. After opening the season with five consecutive wins, Fowler has rebounded late in the season with two consecutive victories.
“That’s No. 7 this year. Wow!” an exuberant Fowler said. “It’s a testament to my dad through all the hard work and effort and knowledge behind this. Certainly, my crew chief (young son, Colin). This is my No. 1 right here. He’s the only one I got. He makes me prouder every day. He’s the best son a father could have.”
Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks
Robert Loper ran down adversity a little more than a month ago when he battled and ultimately recovered from COVID-19.
The Theodore, Ala., driver ran down a track championship Friday night at Five Flags Speedway. Loper overcame a 26-point deficit and secured the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks title when he won the 20-lap feature. It is Loper’s first season championship and Hoosier Tires purple jacket will certainly look good alongside his two Pure Stocks Snowball Derby crowns (2015, 2017).
“This is such a great running car,” said Loper, who celebrated in Victory Lane for the fifth time in 2021.
“I thought (COVID) took me out, but all I can always do is to keep trying. No matter what I do.”
Cameron Leytham, Loper’s teammate, came into the night with the lead. Twenty-six points might sound like a lot, but Friday was double points night. Despite his team working tirelessly on his engine the last weeks, Leytham still had issues and qualified dead last. His nightmarish night continued in the feature, as he watched Loper lap him twice.
Jimmy Hollingsworth finished second and teenager Parker McDonald rounded out the podium for the Lloyd’s Glass Pure Stocks season finale.