Masters National at Daytona: Rounds Five & Six

Sunday, April 03, 2005 The Masters National drivers had a great weekend, and thanks to the exciting high banks of Daytona International Speedway, we saw tons of draft-passing at its best. Congrats to Chris Willcox on his back-to-back victories — Chris clearly had the field covered in the infield and showed why he is the reigning champ. The rest of the 15 car field had position changes like you read about, which is what you should do from here, for all the gory details…

Chris Willcox (l.) won twice at Daytona and here shares his excitement with John Mayes.

Qualifying – R1
Qualifying at Daytona is all about using the draft and having a partner. The perfect application of age, wisdom and treachery got John Peterson the pole for R1, just nipping (.04 of a second!) Willcox.

In the early part of the session Jimmy Locke used Willcox’s draft to take the point. Midway through Willcox returned the favor, giving him the provisional pole by a hair. But on the last lap Peterson was able to sneak up on Locke and Willcox to get the big tow to the checker flag — and the pole. John Mayes took the fourth spot, only a tenth and a half off Peterson’s time. John Greist rounded out the top five. The rule for this sessions appeared to be, if your name is John, you had a 3 out of 5 chance of qualifying in the top five.

Qualifying – R2
Chris Oliver got the “draft of a lifetime” and cleared the field by 1.6 seconds (his next best lap only had him on the pole by two-tenths). P2 and 3 flip-flopped as Locke got second and Willcox third. Dick Lippert and R1 polesitter Peterson were fourth and fifth, respectively.

This weekend saw the return of some “old” veterans, as well as a few newcomers. Lorin Gill and Ron Yarab appeared at Daytona after a long sabbatical, while David Harris, Jim Lowe, Murray Marden and Mark Greb made the Masters National debut.

Peterson brought the field into the tri-oval in formation and pulled off a perfect start. Willcox slotted in behind Peterson and Locke third. But, as they entered turn three for the first time, Locke spins! Jiminy Crickets, by the time he got going he was DFL. On the back “super stretch” straight, Willcox used the draft to pass Peterson into the chicane and led across the stripe for the first lap, as the rest of the field followed close behind.

Lap 2 and Willcox is on fire. He puts a great lap together and gaps the field by 10 car lengths. Mid-pack has Dom Bastien and Lippert racing side by side for fifth. Marden and late arrival Dario ”Last Second” Cioti have both improved three spots from their grid position.

Lap 3, Bastien brakes too late for the first horseshoe and does a rim shot with a four-off at the exit, allowing Gill to drive by. Up front, it is hot and heavy between Mayes and Greist. Greist gets by Mayes but then loses it exiting the chicane and tags the outside speedway wall. It is a big hit which brings out the full course yellow and eventual black-all. Greist (who is celebrating a b-day this month) is A-OK.

On lap 5 we have a re-start, with five to go. Everybody plays it a little conservatively and pretty much stay in line. Except Locke. Remember him? After the black and re-start he has made his way back into the top 10.

Lap 6 and the action is for second through fifth. Peterson, Lippert and Mayes are all vying for the bridesmaid position. Behind them Bastien re-takes Gill and latches onto the back of Mayes. This allows Willcox to slowly pull away and break the draft. Locke gets two more spots and is in seventh.

Lap 7, Bastien does a late pass on Mayes and grabs P4. Right behind them are Gill and Locke, Locke(d) in battle. Out of the chicane and onto the high banks it looked like the original start, two by two, two rows deep. Up in front of these guys, Lippert has made it by Peterson for second.

Lap 8: Peterson reels Lippert back in and engages for second. This allows Locke, who has gotten by Gill and Bastien, to work the draft and catch these two. Toward the back of the pack Yarab goes four-off in the chicane, but doesn’t hit anything. Mid-pack is anybody’s as Harris, Cioti and Oliver duke it out.

Okay, last lap… Not a lot happens in the infield as everybody stays single file. But down the super stretch is when the you-know-what hits the fan: Going into the chicane Peterson, P3, has a huge spin; three 360s in a row, a perfect 10 for style points. Of course, now everybody takes to the grass to avoid. Some are four-off on the inside, some on the outside. It’s a huge scramble through NASCAR 3 & 4 and back to the stripe! In the end it’s Willcox, Lippert, Locke, Oliver (who on the last lap went from ninth to fourth!) and Mayes for your top five. Cioti gets the most progressive, 15th to eighth, and Locke the fastest race lap with a 2:16.5.

First attempt at green is waved off. Second time by works and it’s Oliver leading into One over Locke and Willcox. Everybody is nose to tail, single file through the infield. Down the super stretch Lippert gets the run on Willcox and passes into the chicane. Willcox, the wily veteran, times it for the re-pass through the oval and gets back by Lippert. Mayes also takes advantage and gets Lippert by the stripe for fourth. Mid-pack we see Peterson lose a couple of positions, as does Marden and Harris. Moving up are Bastien, Greist and Cioti.

Lap 3 — we have new leader, Locke over Oliver (Team New Hampshire). The first five start to gap the field. Heading for the chicane, Willcox pops Oliver and in the brake zone takes Locke as well — a highlight film double pass for the lead! Also, Greist gets by Peterson for seventh. In the tri-oval Locke drafts past Willcox and retakes the lead. Mayes also uses the draft on Oliver, who’s been shuffled back to fourth.

Lap 4. The top three break away from fourth and fifth, while sixth to ninth are nose to tail. Bastien spins in T5 and goes four-off, re-joining at the tail. Oh, and Willcox gets by Locke going into T1 for the lead…

Lap 5, coming out of the kink, Locke (P2) drops wheels. Mayes is right on his gearbox and does the same — and they both spin off! Locke doesn’t hit anything and continues, but Mayes can’t get it whoa-ed down and makes it to the tire wall. This brings out the FCY, and then a black-all, to clean it up. Can you say dйjа vu?

Re-start with three to go: Single file through the first few turns, but Mark Greb spins in T3 and loses eighth. Bummer! Into the chicane again, Lippert passes Oliver for, second, Greist does the same thing right behind for third — which then sets him up to get second by the time they get to the stripe! The bottom line for Oliver: he goes from second to sixth in less than a lap. That’s Daytona!

Lap 7. Cioti, who started 14th, owns a Busch North car and has watched more than a few Daytona 500s; he knows how to work the draft, so we see him up to fifth. Then, he takes another spot from Locke going into the chicane.

As they cross the stripe to complete lap 8, there’s now one to go. It’s Willcox out in front and alone, then Lippert, Greist, Cioti and Locke all together. Still in drafting range are Oliver and Marden. Toward the back of the pack we witness a four-car battle between Harris, Lowe, Bastien and Yarab.

Lap 9. Last lap. Lippert knew he didn’t want to be leading the pack on the last lap. He tried to get Greist to go by before the white flag, but Greist was having none of that! Going through the chicane for the last time Greist even had the patience to let Lippert get ahead by about four car-lengths so that he wouldn’t catch him too soon. Right behind Greist was Cioti, who also left himself a gap to the car in front of him. As the group came through NASCAR 4 they all closed together. Poor Lippert was a sitting duck as the three cars steamrolled him, then flared going into the tri-oval. They were three wide at the line and it was too close to call! When the dust settled it was Greist second, followed by Cioti, Locke and Lippert who went from second to fifth in about 300 yards…

The Masters National drivers get a fair break to rest up for their next event, Watkins Glen International in May on Memorial Day weekend. Seats for both the Masters National and the Regional races are filling fast, so if you haven’t signed up yet and are thinking about it, don’t wait too much longer!

Todd Snyder

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