RIDGEWAY, VA :: You know who the major players will be in this weekend’s MDCU 300 at Martinsville Speedway. We all know that Lee Pulliam, Philip Morris, Dennis Setzer, Davin Scites and Timothy Peters should be key players.
However what most people don’t know is who the next man up will be. Who’s going to be this year’s Chad Finchum or this year’s Blake Stallings or Ryan Stiltner? Yeah, I know most of you didn’t even know who those three were coming into last year’s race. In 2012 Stallings made the show in 37th position and finished 42nd. Finchum wasn’t much more impressive in 2012 when he started 27th and finished there. Stiltner wasn’t even in the race and didn’t even attempt to make it.
Last year, however, those three drivers put the rest of the field and the fans in attendance on notice. While Finchum’s 35th place finish is nothing to write home about, his pole qualifying run was. Stallings had to get into the race via the last chance qualifier and raced his way to a fourth place finish. Stiltner qualified in the top five, started 12th and rarely was seen outside the top five on his way to a fifth place finish.
This year there will be a whole new group of drivers looking to be the “new kid on the block”. Stiltner and Finchum aren’t expected to even enter the race while Stallings is looking to increase a few more positions and head to victory lane. So who’s going to be “that guy”?
If last year’s race is to be any indication, there are a few names that pop out immediately from the results sheet. First up, Brenden Queen. Yeah, I know, I know. You have no idea who he is, well unless you’re from the Langley Speedway area or if you happen to remember his somewhat quiet move from 31st to seventh in last year’s race. He could very well be in the mix come Sunday unless he falls victim to the sophomore slump.
Another driver who made his way quietly to finish in the top ten was Hayden Woods, the same Woods who last year could hardly finish a race at Kingsport Speedway without destroying his and his competition’s car. He came from 36th to eighth last fall and after spending a year under the guidance of Robert Pressley and finding himself back with former crew chief Dave Roope, he might just be someone to fear this weekend.
This list of who to watch isn’t just about the young guns. We’ve got some older, more experienced racers too, such as veteran Late Model Stock Car driver Dennis Holdren. Last fall, he came from 39th to ninth in the MDCU 300. He also had a great 2014 season winning races at Ace Speedway and Franklin County Speedway this season. He might not be young but he might just put his years of experience to use and become the next Grandfather clock owner.
Matt Waltz has nearly become a household name after being involved in a crazy three way battle for the lead last year in the MDCU 300 with Lee Pulliam and Dillon Bassett. He also made everyone take notice in this year’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. Waltz is a guy who many might not be looking at but if his performance in the last year is any indication, he certainly is on the minds of his competitors.
Not everyone who we think could be a player has been to Martinsville before. One driver who hasn’t been to Martinsville who could certainly play a role is Brayton Haws. “Who’s he,” you ask? He’s the next Ben Rhodes or at least he’s following in some of the same footsteps that this year’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion took in Late Models. His crew chief is none other than former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief for Sterling Marlin, Lee McCall. Haws picked up his first and only win in a Late Model Stock Car this season at Hickory Motor Speedway on June 7th. While he wasn’t blazing fast during the most recent test session at Martinsville he was as good on long runs as anyone there and that bodes well for him even if he has to start deep in the field.
Another name you might not know is Payton Ryan, the latest in a long list of top notch young drivers to come through the Fat Head Racing Driver Development program, a list that includes Matt DiBenedetto, Brennan Poole, Ben Rhodes and Ronnie Bassett Jr. Ryan has already made a little name for himself winning twin races at Myrtle Beach Speedway on July 4th and backing that up with a side-by-side win over two-time NWAAS National Champion Lee Pulliam at Motor Mile Speedway on July 25th. July was a great month for Ryan but he’s hoping October is even bigger and FHR has been close to winning this race before and this could be the kid to do it.
Kaz Grala has outperformed expectations driving for Garrett Campbell Motorsports this season and he comes into Martinsville as one of the guys everyone was watching during testing last week. While it will certainly surprise the core group of fans, those who have worked with him in this sport wouldn’t be at all surprised if he broke through at Martinsville.
How about another old guy? Sorry, Mike Looney but that’s the category you now fit in. Looney would be one of those guys who every fan would applaud for winning. He’s known for being a “take no prisoners” type of guy who is followed by bad luck but this season he’s proven that even without his own equipment and without big money backing him that he can get the job done. A win by Looney would probably include as many tears and cheers from fans and congratulations from his fellow competitors than maybe anyone in history.
Okay, one last guy. And I know I’m going to get a hard time for this one but so be it. Kyle Dudley was impressive in the recent test session at Martinsville and he’s had a great season. He has wins at Franklin County and Orange County Speedway as well as solid runs at Motor Mile Speedway. He’s probably not going to be one of those guys who are dicing it up for the win, but I think he might surprise some people if he can back up the speed he showed in testing.
Well those aren’t the Tommy Lemons, Jr.’s of the world but these are some guys who could very easily make you speak their name by the end of the MDCU 300 this weekend. Of course it could be a totally different group of guys but only time will tell.