MOORESVILLE, N.C. (June 5, 2011) – Four Revolution Racing drivers tackled the tough Bowman Gray Stadium June 4 in the Army Strong 150 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race while four other Revolution Racing drivers were doing battle at short tracks in Tennessee and North Carolina in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
Darrell Wallace Jr, Sergio Pena, Ryan Gifford and Michal Cherry took beautiful Toyota Camry race cars to the quarter-mile historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., but like most of the field of 27, none brought their cars home without significant damage. The track is known as a rough place to race, and it did not disappoint the crowd of more than 15,000.
Of the 156 laps raced, 87 were recorded as yellow-flag laps during 15 different caution periods.
Darrell Wallace Jr, who qualified his U.S. Army Toyota Camry ninth, but was forced to start from rear after having to fix body damage suffered during his qualifying run, was the highest finishing Revolution Racing car. His sixth-place finish was strong enough to retake the points lead in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East by 17 points over race winner Matt DiBenedetto.
Gifford brought his battered Toyota Racing Development Toyota Camry home 10th, Cherry’s Fueling Your Dreams Toyota Camry was 14th and Pena’s Freightliner Toyota Camry was forced to retire early with engine failure after front-end damage caused overheating.[callout_right]Every car in the field of 27 had some damage at the end of the race, and only the car of DiBenedetto, which led every lap, did not have what would be described as significant damage.e[/callout_right]
Cherry, who started 23rd and was thrilled with his 14th-place finish, stopped on the race track after the checkered flag and gave the huge and raucous crowd a salute from the roof of his Toyota Camry, which brought cheers from the stands louder than those for the winner.
“I started the race trying to conserve my equipment and bring the car home in one piece,” Cherry said. “But after about two laps it was clear that wasn’t going to happen given that someone got into you virtually every lap. I wanted to say thank you to the fans and let them know that even though it was only a 14th-place finish, it was the hardest fought top-15 finish in my life. That was work.”
After starting at the rear, Wallace, 17, did all he could just to finish the demanding race.
“I am so proud to have driven the U.S. Army car here in the Army Strong 150,” he said. “It is appropriate that the Army sponsored this race, given that you had to be ready for battle and also very smart to finish this race. Starting where we did, I just wanted to earn the best finish possible, and even though we punished our Camry in the process, it proved to be Army Strong and got us to another top-10 finish.”
Like his teammates, Gifford got tossed throughout the night like a ping pong ball en route to a top-10 finish, which moved him up to eighth from 11th in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series point standings.
[callout_left]I expected it to be rough here, but honestly not this rough. I’m happy we finished and gained some points. -Ryan Gifford[/callout_left]“We gave it all we had tonight and I can honestly say I have never been involved in anything like that before,” said the Winchester, Tenn. driver. “Normally I wouldn’t be all that happy with a 10th-place finish, but tonight we’ll take it. I expected it to be rough here, but honestly not this rough. I’m happy we finished and gained some points.”
By contrast, Revolution Racing’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series teams had relatively mild nights at Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway and Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway Friday and Saturday.
At Kingsport, Puerto Rico’s Bryan Ortiz guided his Toyota Camry to a fifth –place finish in the field of 14. His race started with a fifth-place qualifying effort. He was shuffled back a few spots on the start but ran a clean race in line with the leaders until he was forced off track and cut a tire which required him to restart at the rear of the field after the tire change. Ortiz did a great job of coming through the field to regain the fifth position, and gained tremendous experience.
“Bryan is a class act and did a great job Friday at Kingsport,” said Revolution Racing Late Model Competition Director Jefferson Hodges. “Other than a bobble on the start, he ran a very good race and showed a lot of poise after cutting a tire and being forced to come back through the field.”
In the same race, Randleman N.C.’s Tayla Orleans showed the same kind of patience and ability.
Starting sixth, Orleans ran in the fifth spot most of the race but did not have the car to improve her position. The team rolled the dice by bringing her Toyota Camry down pit road for adjustments under caution in hopes that she would be able to at least get her spot back and also pass the top four cars.
After adjustments, she and her Camry were only able to climb back to the ninth spot, which was not indicative of how she drove her Toyota Camry but did provide her valuable experience.
“Tayla did a great job all night and was especially fast in practice,” Hodges said. “With more experience at Kingsport she will be winning poles and running up front all night. She has good car control and is a quick learner. She was a fifth-place car all night and although we made changes that helped her she couldn’t dig back to the top five. Regardless, like Bryan she did a great job and was easily one of the fastest cars at the track.”
The following night at North Carolina’s Hickory Motor Speedway, Jessica Brunelli and Mackena Bell battled the veterans at one of NASCAR’s most historic venues.
The night featured twin 50 races and Brunelli captured the pole for both of them.
Her Toyota Camry was very fast throughout practice and qualifying and she led the field of 13 to the start of both events.
In the first race, she ran the bottom line two wide for a long period and eventually got her right rear tire hot and fell back finishing fifth. During the race, she also took in fumes from the car and was forced to take oxygen following the race and receive an evaluation from the track’s medical staff. She recovered nicely and was ready to go again when the second race started.
Bell, from Carson City, Nev., qualified her Toyota Camry 12th for both races and finished ninth in both races.
Despite recording the same finishing position, Hodges’ assessment of Bell’s performance was that she ran a much better race in the second feature and that the only reason for her ninth-place finish was a multi-car spin in front of her that she and Brunelli became innocent victims of.
Both Bell and Brunelli were headed for high finishes before the spin, and both did a good job recovering to finish where they did.
“Mackena was ready to go in the second race and she seemed like a different driver from the first race,” Hodges said. “Jessica fell back on the start of the second race but other than that ran a smart race in a car that was much better during the day when the track was hot than it was later in the evening after the sun went down. I am very proud of both Jessica and Mackena and feel that both learned a lot this weekend.
“All four of our drivers did a good job and they are all showing me how they earned the opportunity to race with Revolution Racing.”
The Revolution Racing Whelen All-American Series late model program plans to compete in more than 140 races with six drivers as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Program. The program is supported by NASCAR, the U.S. Army, Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota Racing Development (TRD), Freightliner Trucks, Wix Filters, Castle Products, Logitech, Play Seat, iRacing and others.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series teams of Wallace, Pena, Gifford and Cherry will be back in action again Saturday night in the Slack Auto Parts 150 at Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga.
The Army Strong 150 can be seen Thursday night at 6 p.m. (ET) on SPEED.
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