On Monday night, the Sim Auto Racing Association returned to the high banks of Bristol for the first time in over a year as the NEO Racing News SK Shootout Series visited the track for a 100 lap event. 17 drivers would roll into Thunder Valley for the race, and when qualifying was complete, it was Bill Martin on the top of the speed charts to pick up his 19th career SARA pole.
Martin led the field to the green flag and jumped into the lead, but Parker Traves was right there with him and would hang tough just a car length or two back, as the two of them rapidly began to pull away from the pack behind them. In the early laps of the race, Ian Layne, Reggie Evans, and Willy Howells all settled into the top five, and looked content to stay right there until the first caution of the race came out on lap 8. Matt Eddy had been running inside the top ten before his car would bottom out, which shot him up into the wall before spinning down to the apron.
The caution bunched the field up together, but on the restart Martin again pulled into the lead, and this time he began to pull away out front leaving Traves behind. Layne and Evans remained in the top five, but Howells would fall back as Ryan Borges and Anthony Celentano would both contend for the 5th position. Borges would take the spot away just after the restart, but a few laps later Celentano would move up into the position. These three cars would all fall in line and ran nose-to-tail, just a couple car lengths apart until lap 31 when Howells would look to get back by Borges for the 6th spot, but would slide up into Borges, making contact, and both cars would get turned around for the next caution.
On the lap 36 restart, again it was Martin that launched into the top spot, with Traves falling in behind him. Celentano restarted 4th, but used the outside lane to quickly get by Layne to move up into the 3rd position and then looked to see what he could do with the leaders. Just behind them, Evan Sorensen moved into 5th and as the run went on, the top five would begin to spread out and another 20 laps would tick off the board. Patrick Hahe, Matt Rolfe, David Carpenter, Kyle Wood and Evans would all run inside the top during the run, and things were calm throughout the field until the caution flew again on lap 53. Traves who was still running in the 2nd spot would good loose off the exit of turn four and would spin around to bring out the yellow.
Martin jumped back out in front on the restart and again began to show his strength as pulled away once more. Celentano got back in line in 2nd, with Layne hanging in the 3rd spot. Just a few laps after the restart, Layne would clip the apron on lap 61 and lost control, spinning onto the apron. But with him off the track, the green flag would stay out and the field continued to battle.
The top five would begin to spread apart up front, with Martin still leading the way ahead of Celentano, Sorensen, Hahe and Wood. But the action was starting to pick up just outside the top five. Rolfe had worked his way up into the 6th spot using the outside groove to get there, but Traves was right there on his heels, following him up into 2nd. They both then set their sights on the 5th spot and got by Wood to move up. But just as they were clear, Traves then made his move to the inside of Rolfe as he tried to work his way back to the front. Just as Traves made his move, both drivers were closing in on a lapped car and they went into the corner side-by-side. But there wouldn’t be enough room for both of them and the lapped car, and there would be contact between Rolfe and Traves, and Rolfe would get turned around to bring out the next caution on lap 69.
During this caution, despite dominating the race up front, Martin decided to head down pit road to take on new tires, while the rest of the cars up front would all stay out. This handed the lead over to Celentano, and he would lead the field back to the green. Celentano was able to pull ahead out front, with Hahe and Sorensen not too far behind. Howells was able to work his way back up to the 4th position, while Rolfe and Martin had already moved up into 5th and 6th.
Martin had his work cut out for him to try and get back to the front. Rolfe would use the outside groove forcing Martin to pinch it down to the inside to get by. But Martin was strong enough on the newer tires and pulled to the outside to get by Howells, dove it back to the bottom to pass Sorensen for 3rd, and then went right back to the outside to take 2nd away from Hahe. By the time Martin had worked his way back up to 2nd, Celentano had pulled out to a full second lead as he was trying to run and hide out front. A caution would fly on lap 86, allowing Martin to get a clear shot at the lead for the next restart.
After another quick caution would bring the race closer to the finish, the field would take the final restart with just 3 laps to go. Celentano got a good jump out in front, with Martin restarting in 3rd after the previous caution, but it didn’t take long for Martin to get back by Hahe for 2nd and the chase was on for the lead. With two laps to go, Celentano led by nearly a half second, and at the white flag, the gap was down three-tenths of a second. Martin would make a run on it on the final lap, closing to within a car length in turns three and four, but there wasn’t enough time as Celentano would hold him off to the finish.
Celentano would bring his car off of turn four with a clear shot at the checkered flag, and would take the victory after leading the final 29 laps of the race. The win for Celentano would be his 2nd career SARA win, coming almost exactly a year after his first career win. Martin would come up just short in 2nd, while Hahe, Sorensen, and Carpenter would all have strong finishes to place in the top five.
After four races of the SK Shootout Series, Bill Martin extends his points lead out to 39 points ahead of 2nd in the standings. In two weeks, the SK mods will return to the track at Thompson.