The gauntlet has been thrown down. Josh Collins wants to be the 2018 NASCAR Division 1 champion at Eastbound International Speedway in Avondale.
Collins, the 32-year-old Placentia native who also races in the Pinty’s Series across Canada, has adjusted his schedule for the rest of the season to run events at Eastbound, and should be a huge factor in the final four races of the season.
Saturday night at the Avondale track, Collins avoided a big wreck late in the race and powered his silver and black Sportsman class car to victories, winning both legs of the Newco Metals 100 NASCAR Division I race.
Getting to the front in the second leg since took a bit of time as had he started in the last position after the top nine finishers in the first leg were inverted for the start of the second 50-lap leg.
But Collins worked his way to first place, although he was under continuous pressure from series defending champion Wayne Walsh and Jason Groves.
Those three cars ran nose to tail following a restart on Lap 43 after a crash on the backstretch that collected more than a half dozen cars, including Ross Thorne who has been fighting with Collins and Walsh for the top spot in the points race.
Robert Petten recorded a solid night, powering his No. 4 machine home in the fourth position and Rachel Cole, daughter of Avondale legend Ches Cole, survived the wreck and came home with a fifth-place finish.
The field was short two regular racers on Saturday as Ches Cole missed what is believed to be his first race in 20 years after he was nicked up in an auto accident earlier in the week. Also not in the field was No. 11 car of Phil Fowler, who had mechanical difficulties prior to qualifying.
Collins won the first qualifying heat, holding off a hard-charging Walsh and the No. 74 car of Groves. In the second heat, Gerald (Big Sexy) Hicks took the checkered flag, fending off Thorne and Jamie Druken who were second and third respectively.
Michael Neary continued his winning rays in the Hanlon Realty U.S. Legends series as the rookie driver held off Jonathan Norman to win the 25-lap final.
Neary jumped out of a Bandolero car at the end of year and made the move in the No. 23 MNR Racing car and he hasn’t looked back, having swept all events at Eastbound this season.
But Saturday’s victory was not a cakewalk for the high-school senior as all six cars entered in the field pushed him harder than he has been at any time in 2018.
A couple of spins and contact between the cars of Chad Lawrence and Morgan Oates, along with the the late-race exit of Brandon McFarlane, left Neary, Norman and Chris Cooper to battle it out for the victory.
It was a similar outcome in the MNR Performance Bandolero series as points leader Owen Groves got a strong push from several drivers before pulling away for victory in the 25-lap final.
Groves outlasted second- and third-place finishers Sara Thorne and Joey Arsenault for the win. Thorne and Codner were involved in a crash on the back straight earlier in the race , but were able to get to the pits, do a few repairs and return to racing to claim the podium finishes for great points days in the overall standings.
Arsenault powered his car to a victory in his qualifying race and also placed third in the final. He also started in the pole for the main, the first of his career.
Teammates Shane Collins and Cody Lake survived an exciting 25-lap final in the Atlantic Dodge Dealers Hobby Stock division, finishing first and second respectively.
Lloyd Kielley was third, Mark Best fourth and Stephen Guest was fifth.
Action resumes Sunday, Aug. 26 with the K&N Performance FanFest, with the NASCAR Division I series featuring former Nationwide Series driver J.R. Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was the youngest driver to ever win in the now defunct CASCAR Super Series championship, winning in the series’ final season of 2006 at the age of 18.
In his career, he’s raced in the Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide Series and has made a handful of starts in what is now the Monster Energy Cup series.
Fitzpatrick has ties to this province as his parents are from Bell Island.
Gates open at 11 a.m. and the pit party will begin at 11:30 a.m. Qualifying races are slated for 1 p.m. and races are set to commence at 2 p.m.