It's a pinnacle situation for drivers like Zach Michael and Matthew Dominique, who come into today's Bristol event less than 100 points out of the lead in the standings. We are about to cross the quarter mark on the young 2022 season with points leader Tony Pizzaro hoping to keep that advantage after 500 grueling laps at Bristol. He will start 37th on the grid, already at a half-lap detriment to pole-sitter Dominique.
The first 46 laps of the race saw Matthew Dominique and Craig Lee swap the lead once, each earning 23 circuits at the helm of the field. Crossing the line for lap 49, Dominique blew his engine, earning a devastating last place effort after an excellent start to the season. He would drop from 3rd to 5th in the standings.
Craig Lee led the event through the lap 72 caution flag. Second-place driver Matt Raboin and Dakota Wilkins made contact off of turn-2, slamming hard into the outside wall while Wilkins looped around twice and kept on trucking. Raboin would stay competitive until a couple unscheduled stops for damage repair dropped him to 30th place by the end of the race.
The #101 NOS Hardracer chevrolet continued to lead the field through lap 107 before a tire rub forced him into the pits, losing two laps in the process. He would lead once again after green flag stops but ultimately fell out of sequence, finishing 21st on the day. Quicksilver teammate Ryan Heuser, Steven Spears and Alex Crapser each took turns at the helm in the aftermath.
Alex Crapser meandered through traffic and took the lead away from Steven Spears on lap 212, pioneering all but two laps towards the halfway mark. He would win the Bacon Bonus before handing the top-spot over to his brother Adam just one lap later. Rick Jackson and John Tharp all took turns up front before green flag pit stops, where an out-of-sequence Steven Spears rose to the top of the leaderboard with a four second advantage.
A lap 333 engine failure from Mark Heron saved Spears from losing two laps under green, racing with Alex Crapser and Rick Jackson for the lead after the restart. A backstretch crash between Bill Werkheiser and Matt Raboin a few laps into the run turned into devastation for John Battista and Dave Miller. Both drivers slammed into the rear of Werkheiser's car, sending Battista from 9th to a 38th place DNF while Miller miraculously limped to 25th despite a severely damaged engine.
It was the Steven Spears and Logan Sheets show between laps 345 and 388. Adam Crapser made a miraculous double-dip move on the outside of turn one to send the #65 back to third place and out of harms way for the ensuing chaos. Three laps after the lead change the #4 and the #138 clipped entering the same corner. Both cars impaled the outside wall with torturous force, ending the race for both drivers. This was the second devastating blow for Adam, who fell victim to an unscheduled pit stop last week after a similar dominating performance. For Ryan, it was his league-leading fourth DNF in six events, putting himself in the biggest hole of his Extravaganza career. He would exit the race 519 points out of 10th place with only 17 races to make up the distance. Donald Stewart and Cristian Torres were also involved in the incident.
Logan Sheets was pulling off the race of his career at Bristol, leading by over a second for a good portion of the next green flag run. He remained in command until 55 to go, where a Rick Jackson and Johnny Reed Foley tag-team earned the reins for the top-2 positions. It took Foley 449 laps to battle from a dead-last starting-spot to first on the leaderboard.
Zach Michael took his first lead of the day with 45 laps remaining. Jackson would nab it back 11 laps later, contributing to a total of 54 total lead changes. Matthew Dominique, Ryan Heuser, Craig Lee, Alex Crapser, Steven Spears, Logan Sheets, Zach Michael, Rick Jackson and John Tharp all led an immaculate 20+ laps on the day, an Extravaganza Series record performance.
Jackson led the field from lap 466 to 472, though the abundant lapped traffic ahead saw light on the outside lane for Michael to re-take the advantage. The Coca-Cola #20 machine was caught by the dark horse of the day. John Tharp was nowhere to be seen all event long, and all season long for that matter. He had come into the race 27th in points, riding high on his 4th place effort at Homestead and only leading one lap all season. With 19 laps remaining, he found himself in the lead at the perfect time. The two swapped the top-spot again with 15 and 14 circuits to go, with Tharp leading for six more laps. Another lapped-traffic bonzai move on the outside lane pulled the #20 back up just a few laps later. Rick Jackson kamikazied by both drivers the next time around, leading the field at the 5-to-go mark with Tharp still in tow.
A myriad of lapped traffic haunted the two leaders while crossing the line with three laps to go. Tharp made his move on the outside lane entering turn-1, getting trapped behind Rob Scarberry who was battling Dave Miller for the 25th position. Tharp looked low to make a pass on the traffic, leaving an open lane for the lapped #87 to fly by with Jackson right on his bumper. The Crown-Royal machine dove to the bottom in turn-3 but to no avail, as John Tharp crossed the start-finish line in a miraculous victory after quietly staying inside the top-10 all race long. This was Tharp's first victory since the 2020 Daytona 500! Congrats to John, crew chief King Joe Dawkins, and the entire PHR Racing crew for an excellent victory!
2022 Food City 500 @ Bristol Video