OXFORD — Center Harbor, N.H., native Brad Leighton put on a dazzling performance during the 37th annual TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway Sunday night. It was one that has rarely been seen at the 250.
But it was Eddie MacDonald of Rowley, Mass. who captured his second straight 250 when race leader Leighton’s right front tire went flat on lap 203.
He inherited the lead from Leighton, who had led the previous 189 laps, and never looked back.
Leighton had to go to the pits to get a new right front tire and he returned for the restart in the 22nd position even though he was one of just six cars on the lead lap.
Unlike NASCAR, the lead lap cars don’t all start up front. Only the leader does as he starts in the pole position.
The rest of the field starts where they are running when the caution comes out so lead- lap cars and cars that are a lap down are intermingled.
MacDonald, who won both American-Canadian Tour races at OPS this season and started ninth for the 250, crossed the finish line by more than 30 car-lengths ahead of pole-sitter Brian Hoar of Williston, Vt.
Corey Morgan of Lewiston, who is just seventh in points in the weekly Late Model class at OPS, finished third. Brent Dragon of Milton, Vt. was fourth with Leighton winding up fifth. Those were the only five cars on the lead lap.
Leighton set a TD Bank record for most laps led by a non-winner of the race.
Rounding out the top 10 were Nick Sweet of Barre, Vt., Patrick Laperle of St. Denis, Quebec, Don Wentworth of Otisfield, Dave Pembroke of Montpelier, Vt., and Albany Township’s Ricky Rolfe.
Frenchville native Shawn Martin was 13th and NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Brad Keselowski, who started last (39th) with a provisional, wound up 22nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., failed to qualify.
“This is awesome,” said MacDonald. “The crew did an awesome job.”
“I feel bad for Brad Leighton. But he made a lot of money leading laps,” added MacDonald.
Lap leaders earn $100 per lap lead so Leighton pocketed $18,900.
MacDonald took home $29,800.
Seventy-nine cars entered the race and 39 earned spots.
MacDonald thought he might have been able to catch Leighton after his pit stop on lap 140.
“The car was tighter than I wanted it to be [until the pit stop]. I had wanted to lead some laps [but we weren’t good enough]. We made a lot of adjustments on it during the pit stop and the car got a lot better,” said MacDonald, who credited crew chief Rollie Lachance of Auburn for the dramatic improvements in the car.
“Rollie takes a lot of detailed notes,” said MacDonald. “It’s awesome that he can make the car that much better.”
After the pit stop, MacDonald started 14th but “luckily, it didn’t take long to get up the the front.
If he felt his car was fast enough to pass Leighton, he was going to do so. But it wasn’t so “I saved my tires [and kept Leighton within his sights],” said MacDonald.
Laperle and Wentworth were racing hard against Leighton to try to get back on the lead lap “and Brad was really trying to stay in front of them so he used up his tires quite a bit.”
“Brad definitely had a fast car. My goal was to save my tires as long as I could because that’s what this place is all about. You need to have [good] tires at the end of the race. If you abuse them, you slip and slide and you wind up out to lunch.”
He said once Leighton’s tire went down, “I knew it was our race to lose.
“I knew there were lapped cars between me and the second place car [Dragon],” said MacDonald. “So he was going to have to get around those guys first.”
Hoar said his second place finish was “bittersweet.
“We had a different pit strategy but it didn’t quite work out for us,” said Hoar. “We needed at least one or two more cautions at the end to really capitalize. We weren’t running for points so we went for it and it didn’t quite pay off.
“But we’re pretty happy to finish second. We were fourth a year ago,” said Hoar.
He was sympathetic toward Leighton.
“That was heartbreaking,” said Hoar. “That was a shame. And it was a shame for the fans because you could have had a [great] finish between those guys.”
Hoar led the first 13 laps before former two-time Busch North points titlist Leighton and Pembroke sandwiched him in three-wide deal that led to Leighton gaining the lead.
Leighton had started in the fifth spot.
Leighton gradually pulled away to a 15 car-length lead when the race’s first caution came out on lap 41. Bill Childs Jr., whose car had been smoking, spun out between turns three and four to create the caution.
Leighton quickly re-established his dominance on the restart and wasted little time creating a 10 car-length gap between himself and MacDonald. Hoar ran comfortably in third, three car-lengths behind MacDonald.
Leighton was so dominant, there were only 13 cars on the lead lap by lap 113 as he continually maneuvered past the field of cars.
Hoar took over second place from MacDonald on lap 122 as MacDonald had some handling problems.
At the 128-lap juncture, there were just eight cars left on the lead lap.
It was down to five on the lead lap at 140, when a multi-cap wreck in turn two brought out the second caution.
All of the cars pitted for gas and fresh tires. Hoar came out of the pits first because he didn’t take four tires like the others. He took one “and the was real tight. I couldn’t turn.”
He managed to stay on the lead lap and eventually changed four tires on an ensuing stop.
“The car was really fast at the end. I had to pass a lot of cars to finish second,” Hoar said.
Leighton had capitalized on the four-tire stop to take the lead on the restart.
Morgan, who was a lap down, was able to stay ahead of Leighton until the next caution, seven laps later, so he gained his lap back and started the 147-lap restart in fifth place as the last driver on the lead lap.
Leighton continued to dominate until the flat tire ended his chances to win.
Morgan was pleased with his showing.
“The car went good,” said Morgan. “It was a little bit loose.”
When asked what he did differently to a car that was seventh in the weekly points to make it a third-place finisher in the prestigious TD Bank 250, he quipped, “I washed it. And I put a few numbers on it.”
There were six cautions.