Philip Morris, Peyton Sellers, and Mike Looney have pretty much dominated the season atop the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National point standings but this week a new duo sits at the top with Minnesota racers Nick Panitzke and Jacob Goede leading the way this week.
Last weeks points leader, Peyton Sellers now sits fifth with just 546 as he fell behind Morris and Looney as well. Sellers finished second at South Boston Speedway and should have gained four points according to our calculations but they don’t show up in this weeks points update. Presumably, it’s due to two new drivers being the in the field and their NWAAS licenses might not have been processed yet.
Looney gained 18 points on the week with a pair of victories at Motor Mile Speedway but fell short of maximum points due to one car not being able to start in the first race and three not making the green flag for the second. That cost him eight points but his gains allowed him to move to fourth and he sits just 14 points back of the leader Panitzke. Morris gained just six points after he finished second in both features at Motor Mile Speedway.
Despite leading the points now Panitzke says he isn’t really paying attention to it and isn’t going to change anything about the way he races.
“A lot of people ask why we’re not playing the invert game and trying to put us in the right spot to start towards the front of the race,” Panitzke told RACE22. “That’s just not who we are. It’s not who we’ve been and we’re not going to sell out now. We’re just going to keep doing our thing. Every time we hit the track we’re going to give it our best. We’re not going to try and manufacture anything.”
Panitzke’s climb in recent weeks is partially due to him scoring maximum points including bonuses for starting ninth or worse on six occasions this season including one last Friday night at Madison International Speedway in Madison, Wisconsin. Goede finished second in the feature which helped propel him into second position in points this week.
Panitzke says he didn’t set out to win the National title but once he got close he began hitting more races.
“Not at all,” Panitzke said. “It’s something we know about and it’s something we pay attention to every now and then but our main objective was to run good at Lacrosse. We’re down on races compared to the others but as we got close to the 18 mark it kept bumping us closer and closer. So we kinda set out to run some other tracks and see if we couldn’t get a little bit closer. Once we got to 18 we threw a couple out and it put us at the front this week.”
Goede, who sits second in the points behind Panitzke by just 10 points, has won five track championships in a row at Elko Speedway in the Late Model division, which is a lower budget version of a Super Late Model with a smaller engine, eight-inch tires and non-adjustable shocks. He says he’s been close in the past but this year the car count has helped put both he and Panitzke in contention.
“We’ve been close to a top three in the past,” Goede told RACE22. “2015 I finished sixth, 2017 I was right there fifth or sixth, so we’ve been close. Last year I didn’t have good enough car count, now this year we’ve got the car count back. We do double features every week at my home track (Elko), so we really get a bunch of starts.”
This year Goede says he’s taken it more serious.
“The last few years we’ve taken it kinda serious,” Goede explained. “We always start out going down to Lacrosse Speedway before Elko starts. That’s about three hours away. We start to get a head start on the season and then switch to Elko for the season. But, this year we took it a little more serious. There was a couple of times where Elko rained out at noon or two o’clock and we threw the car in the trailer and headed South and made it to Lacrosse just before qualifying. A couple of those nights we got a win and another time a second, so those trips were definitely worth it.”
Both drivers are handicapped by the way the starting field is set at the Midwest tracks. At Elko Speedway the invert is seven plus the roll of dice based off qualifying for the first race and again seven plus the roll of dice based off the finish of the first feature for the second race. Previous winners must start 14th in each feature. At Lacrosse the points leaders start behind the invert and Madison is similar to Elko.
Goede says he doesn’t have the wins he needs but says he’s still working on it.
“I don’t have as many wins as I need,” Goede continued. “That’s what’s kinda hurting me but we’re working hard but it’s tough up here. I need to win races. It’s really hard at my home track Elko, there’s two really good grooves and the racing tends to be side by side a lot, so a lot of times you get stuck in traffic.”
One of the biggest challenges of going back and forth between the tracks is the differences in the rules from Elko and Madison to Lacrosse. He says they have to change to 10″ tires, change axles and more. Plus Madison is five hours away from Goede and Lacrosse is three hours away.
Goede and Panitzke will face off for the rest of the season in as many as eight more feature races. Goede says Panitzke’s car is really good.
“Me and Nick are racing each other,” Goede explained. “His car is really good right now. He’s really good at Lacrosse, he’s won two at Madison and of course, when he’s won I’ve finished second. If he wouldn’t have been there I would have won. Wherever we go we’re running really good. It’s going to be a dogfight between us and it’s going to come down to who can win more races.”
Goede also knows it’ll take a little luck to beat Morris, Sellers, and Looney as well.
“We’ve gotta have a little luck from the Late Model Stock guys,” Goede continued. “I know they’ve got about five tracks that they can choose from but I know they don’t race every week, so I’ve been trying to follow along and figure out where they’re going and watching to see what they’re doing when we’re in the pits. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Panitzke says he’s not thinking about it but there’s pressure with being the points leader now but he’s just going out there and letting things take their course.
“There’s a pressure along with it,” Panitzke explained. “As long as we keep it out of our minds it won’t change anything about the way we race. We started this season just wanting to do the best we can no matter what and that’s the way we’re going to play this thing out. Just give ourselves the opportunity and anything can happen but the race is never over til its over. Anytime we have ever tried to manufacture anything it’s came back to haunt us, so we’ll just forget about the points altogether.”
Goede and Panitzke will have four chances at gaining points this weekend and with a lot to be gained. Panitzke can erase points finishes of 24, 26, 26 and 28 this weekend if he can race to the front of the field in all four features. Goede can erase 24, 24, 26 and 26 if he finishes at the front of the field. With two points per position in a field of up to 16 cars, it means they’ll need finishes of fourth or better to gain points.
The Late Model Stock Car “Big Three” as many have referred to Morris, Sellers and Looney this season will all head to Dominion Raceway, where Morris has been very successful this season. Morris will have the chance to erase finishes of 24 and 28 in twins at Dominion which means he’ll need finishes of fourth and second to gain any points.
Looney will have to finish at least fourth to gain any points in either race to erase two 24 point finishes. Sellers will need to finish third and second to gain any points erasing finishes of 26 and 28.
Looney is the only one of the Late Model Stock Car drivers to get maximum points on any night this season and he’s done it three times. Bonus points for starting further back in the field is going to play heavily into this championship battle with just three weekends of points racing remaining. The midwest guys have a few more potential starts than the Late Model Stock Car contingent unless either of the three decides to compete on Friday nights at either Kingsport Speedway or travel to Anderson Motor Speedway on September 6th for their finale. None of the three are likely to compete on Friday nights.
Lurking in the shadows behind the top five is Keith Rocco, who’s pulled himself to within 22 points of leader Panitzke. Rocco, who’s won the National title before (2010) will have single features the next three weekends at Stafford Speedway on Friday nights as well as two features next weekend at Thompson Speedway to finish out his championship run. Rocco will need finishes of fifth, fourth and third to gain any points in the next three events.
Another driver who might just throw his hat in the ring for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National title is 2007 champion, Steve Carlson. He has only competed at Lacrosse Speedway this season but now that the season is over there he will travel to Elko Speedway and Madison International Speedway this weekend. He’s 80 points back right now but every point he gains in his first two starts this weekend will be counted as he has yet to reach his counted 18 starts. He’ll have a total of 20 starts when the weekend finishes and could gain significant points in his four starts.
Panitzke says Carlson could be a factor and figured he would have started chasing points sooner.
“He’s (Carlson) has three weeks to get it done,” Panitzke continued. “I figured he would have started sooner but he’s a good racer and a good car, good team, good crew chief. After this weekend it could be seven guys going for it.”
This championship battle is likely going to go right to the wire and any one of these seven competitors could win the title when the final checkered flag falls. RACE22.com will continue to follow this battle around the Late Model Stock Car region and keep you up to date with everything that happens in the Midwest and the Northeast to see who comes out on top.
RACE22.com will have RACEDAY LIVE updates from Dominion Raceway’s Rocking Nissan Clash of the Titans on Saturday night to follow Looney, Morris, and Sellers.
Cover photo by the Lacrosse Tribune.
Lowest Points Finishes (# of max point wins):
Nick Panitzke – 24, 26, 26 (has 6 36-point wins)
Jacob Goede – 24, 24, 26 (1 36-point win)
Philip Morris – 24, 28, 28 (0 36-point wins)
Mike Looney – 24, 24, 26 (3 36-point wins)
Peyton Sellers – 26, 28, 28 (0 36-point wins)
Keith Rocco – 22, 24, 26 (3 36-point wins)
|1||NICK PANITZKE||ELKO, MADISON INTL, LACROSSE||23||8||18||21||560|
|2||JACOB GOEDE||LACROSSE, MADISON INTL, ELKO||29||6||22||29||550|
|3||PHILIP MORRIS||MOTOR MILE, LANGLEY, S BOSTON, DOMINION||35||12||23||30||548|
|4||MIKE LOONEY||KINGSPORT, S BOSTON, MOTOR MILE, LANGLEY||28||11||19||24||546|
|5||PEYTON SELLERS||LANGLEY, SOUTHERN NATL, MYRTLE, S BOSTON||31||7||24||30||546|
|6||KEITH ROCCO||STAFFORD, THOMPSON||23||6||17||21||538|
|7||RONNIE WILLIAMS||THOMPSON, STAFFORD||23||6||14||20||512|
|9||TODD OWEN||STAFFORD, THOMPSON||23||3||15||21||494|