Just one week after driving the NextGen Cup Cars at Daytona, the Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series took a step in the opposite direction by heading to Martinsville in Mazda Miatas. But the track wasn’t the only thing that changed; the format did too.
Instead of the traditional qualifying-race setup, MNR decided to run a qualifying session followed by a series of heat races.
There would be two separate 15 lap heats, one to set the inside row and one for the outside row of the starting grid, with each of the top twelve advancing from each heat to set the final starting grid. Then, there would be a Last Chance race for everyone outside of the top 12 in their respective events, in which the top six spots would find their way into the main event. Everyone else would go home.
Some big name drivers, including the likes of Brad Perez and Collin Fern, had to race their way in. Those two would finish comfortably within the transfer spots, with Perez coming home 1st and Fern 3rd.
But there was some serious added drama as the fight for the final transfer spot was unbelievably competitive. On the last lap, Steve Auffant absolutely sent his No. 11 machine into the final corner as a last ditch effort to make the main event. He ended up dumping Mark Rebilas, and the lost momentum from the move allowed Max Garcia to slip underneath both cars, and steal the final spot in the main event after a drag race to the checkered flag.
Due to the format and speed of the Miata’s, the feature would be just a short 65 laps at Martinsville. Heat one winner Shane Van Gisbergen would start on the pole, with heat two winner Presley Sorah outside of him. There would be a caution almost immediately after Ford Martin had a single car spin in turn four.
As Ford spun, Sorah lost second to Preston Pardus, as Sorah struggled to restart on the outside, a theme that was common early on on the race.
On the restart, Sorah, now on the inside line, would take the spot back from Pardus.
Just two laps after this green flag start, we’d have another wreck, this time inside the top five. Last season’s Monday Night Racing champion Adam Cabot would hang Pardus on the outside, and Gabe Wood would attempt to slip around Pardus as well. Pardus got loose up top, smacking into Wood and creating a four wide situation into three.
A number of front runners would wreck, including last season’s championship runner-up David Schildhouse and Will Rodgers. The track was blocked and a bunch of cars would just pile in.
The field made it six more laps before bringing out the caution, and again, it was another pair of top ten cars, as Daytona winner Anthony Alfredo turned Gary Sexton on the exit of turn two.
At this point, taking a look down the leaderboard showed two surprising names in the top ten; the aforementioned Perez and Fern who had worked their way through the field just 15 laps into the race.
With these next restart, Sorah battled Van Gisburgen hard on the outside, but began to fade after a few laps. By lap 22, Cabot was on Sorah’s inside, and would nose ahead as the caution came out for a spinning Nick Olsen and Ford Martin.
The next restart would be arguably the most influential of the night. Shane Van Gisbergen, who had led every lap up to this point, would be given a black flag for a lane change restart violation. Behind him, Sorah and Cabot were side by side in what was now the fight for the lead. After Bailey Turner took the leaders three wide, Sorah would find himself out in front.
The racing for the next ten laps or so after the lead change was surprisingly tame inside the top five, as the running order would remain Sorah, Turner, Cabot, Max Kennon, and Landon Huffman.
On lap 37, we saw another multi-car pileup near the back of the pack. The wreck continued well after the caution flew as many drivers neglected to hold the brake and slow it down. This caution was big news for Van Gisbergen, as he was able to stay on the lead lap following his penalty and would catch up to the tail end.
There was another quick restart and wouldn’t you know it, another quick caution. Collin Fern, who had a great comeback going, would get spun by Gisbergen and get stuck in the middle of the racetrack.
While Fern argued over the in-race radio communications that Van Gisbergen should be booted from the race by the race director, the field would get re-racked for another run.
On the restart, Rajah Caruth worked his way into the top five for the first time on the night.
Not a corner after the green flag flew, Gisbergen would spin all by himself, signifying the complete change in direction of his day. After starting on the pole, Gisbergen now ran 28th, with damage, with just 15 to go.
We would return green with just 14 laps to go, and Sorah would get a great jump. Turner would work his way up to second, and Caruth and Cabot would find themselves side by side for third.
They would sort it out up front with Cabot third, Caruth fourth, and Perez fifth, but the same can not be said for the drivers in the back of the pack. A four-car pile-up would again bring out the caution with nine laps to go.
This would set things up for yet another restart with five laps to go.
As had been the case basically all night, Sorah got the jump off the restart, and the rest of the top four filed in cleanly. However, in fifth, Brad Perez, who had been having a phenomenal run after having to race is way in through the LCQ, was turned off the bumper of Preston Pardus, collecting DJ Cummings and Brandon Brown.
We would then have a GWC overtime finish. And, in convincing fashion, Presley Sorah would get the jump and take the checkered flag in the TUFCO flooring challenge. On the restart, Adam Cabot muscled his way around Turner for second, but couldn’t make anything happen on the leader. Rajah Caruth and Max Kennon would round out the top five.
Right behind the top five was TobyChristie.com driver David Schildhouse, who rebounded nicely from damage to bring home his PFC Brakes / TobyChristie.com Miata in sixth.
The Interstate Batteries Monday Night Racing Pro Series will head to Watkins Glen next week, where the competitors will pilot the Pro 2 Off-Road Trucks.
Here is the complete finishing order for Monday Night’s Race at Martinsville:
- 98-Presley Sorah
- 17-Adam Cabot
- 5-Bailey Turner
- 13-Rajah Caruth
- 21-Max Kennon
- 20-David Schildhouse
- 75-Landon Huffman
- 24-Nick Olsen
- 50-Gabe Wood
- 55-Will Rodgers
- 1-Gary Sexton
- 29-James Bickford
- 94-George Balfanz Jr.
- 07-Ford Martin
- 86-Collin Fern
- 53-Justin Melillo
- 46-Steven Ellis
- 33-Ruben Garcia
- 77-Devon Henry
- 42-Preston Pardus
- 41-Matt Stallknecht
- 2-Robby Lyons
- 60-Brad Perez
- 97-Shane Van Gisbergen
- 58-Charli Brown
- 10-DJ Cummings
- 12-Brandon Brown
- 63-Bryan Boris Cook
- 23-Anthony Alfredo
- 15-Garrett Smithley