Six-time Pro All Stars Series Super Late Model North points champion Johnny Clark of Farmingdale said the favorites to win the 44th annual Oxford 250 on Sunday night at Oxford Plains Speedway have something in common.
“They’ve all got sevens in their numbers,” said Clark, referring to defending champ Wayne Helliwell Jr. of Dover, New Hampshire, who drives the No. 27 car; two-time winner Travis Benjamin of Morrill (No. 7 Chevy); the No. 7L car of 2015 victor Glen Luce of Turner; and 2012 winner Joey Polewarczyk Jr. of Hudson, New Hampshire, who drives the No. 97 car.
But they won’t have to worry about the No. 57 car of Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault because he will be running in the ARCA series at Road America (Wisconsin) Sunday for Ken Schrader Racing.
Theriault had finished in the top five in each of his first four Oxford 250s, including a second-place finish in 2014, but he got caught up in a wreck last year and wound up 35th.
The race is sponsored by Maine-based Scott’s Recreation of Manchester and Fastway Trailer Products of Utah.
Clark has never won the 250, finishing second in 2005 and fourth in 2015.
“I led 128 laps in 2004 and wrecked with 40 to go,” said Clark.
He enters the race “not having the best of seasons, that’s for sure.”
He is running fifth in the PASS SLM North points but has just three top-fives and no victories in 12 races.
“But we were pretty good last time out. We’ve got three days to try to dial something in,” said Clark. “All I’m asking for is a good, solid, top-five car and, halfway through the race, we’ll see how the pit stops cycle out. You need luck on your side to get up through the field.”
Pit strategy enabled Helliwell to prevent Benjamin from joining Dave Dion, Ralph Nason and Mike Rowe as the race’s only three-time winners.
He pitted for a second time late in the race and his crew gave him four fresh tires which enabled him to get past Benjamin, who got caught behind a lapped car.
“That’s racing. I won it two years in a row (2013, 2014) thanks to lapped cars,” said Benjamin. “We were good all day long last year but those four fresh tires made (Helliwell) that much better than us. He pitted twice and we pitted once. He took a risk but it paid off for him.”
Benjamin said he likes his chances on Sunday.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good. We won a (PASS) race at Oxford a couple of weeks ago. I would have been a little nervous if we hadn’t won that race because in our previous two races at Oxford, we ran up front until the last 50 laps. Then the car got way off. But, last time, it stayed underneath us,” said Benjamin, who is leading the PASS SLM North points by three points over Luce thanks to two wins and seven top-fives finishes.
Benjamin said the track is slower than it has been and doesn’t have as much grip, either.
“But after a couple of days of practice, we’ll get some rubber on it (to improve the grip). The track has the characteristic of getting better and better as the weekend goes along,” said Benjamin, who added that it is important to run up front and avoid getting shuffled back into the pack where you can get tangled up in a wreck.
Like Clark, Hermon’s Mike Hopkins will be gunning for his first Oxford 250 win.
Hopkins is 15th in points in the PASS SLM North points but he has run only six of the 12 races. He has two top-fives.
“The car has been good. We just haven’t raced much,” said Hopkins, who started 35th in last year’s Oxford 250 and got as high as seventh before settling for a career-best 13th place finish in his third try at the race.
“The car is good enough (to win). You need a good draw for the heat races,” said Hopkins. “You’ve got to be on the lead lap with 100 to go and then go if you can.”
Hopkins said he received a boost of confidence by winning a Late Model race at Speedway 95 in Hermon two weekends ago in a Paul White car.