Starting on the pole at his home track Eddie Hoffman would seem to have been setup to lead flag to flag. However first Brandon Watson and then Blake Brown and others had a different idea as Hoffman was shuttled back as far as four place before moving to the front and finally taking his first lead on the 67th lap of the Illiana 100 presented by JEGS.com at Illiana Motor Speedway Saturday night. After Watson got out front of the JEGS/CRA All Stars Tour event, Brown pulled up into second and raced with him side by side for over 10 laps as neither could break away, Brown led lap 8 by inches then Watson took it back by inches on lap 9. Brown then took the lead on the 17th lap and held it until lap 66 when Hoffman moved past him. Brown and Hoffman raced for many laps with Brown on the outside and Hoffman on the inside, in a race where side by side action was the norm and not the exception. Brown finished second, Brent Downey third, Josh Nelms fourth and Tracy Schuler fifth coming from the last starting position.
"The car was great in practice, we all worked together and it got done like we wanted it to." Hoffman stated. "I like the outside on the restarts here, you can get the momentum and as long as you trust the guy on the inside the outside lane is better."
After having the fastest time in the practice sessions earlier in the day, Brent Downey took the Keyser Manufacturing Fast Qualifier Award with a time of 19.595 seconds. Blake Brown was second at 19.647 seconds. Brandon Watson was third, Eddie Hoffman fourth and Josh Nelms fifth. Downey then drew a four for the invert putting Hoffman on the pole with Watson on the outside to start the race.
The first few laps featured Watson and Hoffman racing side by side, when on the fourth lap AJ Henriksen spun when something broke in the rearend tagging the wall in the first turn. Matt Puskarich was gathered up into the accident that ended the night for Henriksen giving him the DJ Safety Hard Luck Award.
Again Hoffman and Watson had raced along side each other for the few laps before the next caution on lap six. On that restart, Brown moved past Hoffman to second and started to stalk Watson. While the leaders were racing in a pair, the next several positions were also racing in pairs with the entire group hanging together for several laps.
When Brown was able to clear Watson, he pulled Downey and Hoffman with him. That allowed those three cars to breakout, with Brown pulling ahead of the others. In the meantime Watson dropped back into the other tight traffic. While he and Chad Finley raced side by side, several cars were bottlenecked up behind them looking as if they could go if they could get past.
On the restart on lap 33 following a spin, Erik Jones took advantage of a very small opening to move through the middle of several cars as the cars came down the front stretch, making it three wide. He restarted in seventh and came out of the second turn in third. For this he was awarded the AR Bodies Cool Move of the Race. Unfortunately for Jones while running third he would have his alternator quit working later in the race causing his electorics to not work properly forcing him from the race on the 80th lap.
Hoffman made his move following a restart on the 66th lap to lead the next lap. Brown was not giving up however and drove on his outside for the next several laps thrilling the crowd as these drivers ran side by side inches from each other. Hoffman would never give up the lead again.
For leading the most laps during the event, Brown took home the Turn One Lap Leader Award. Cody Coughlin entered the event leading the Rookie of the Year standings and he earned his second Howe Racing Rookie of the Race Award and the VDL Fuel Systems Rookie Award of the season as the highest finishing rookie contender.
Illiana Motor Speedway local driver Tracy Schuler had issues before qualifying and was unable to get them fixed in time to take a qualifying time so he started last on the grid. During the race he worked his way up carefully driving to a fifth place finish giving him the Five Star Stock Car Bodies Hard Charger and Racing Electronics Most Improved Awards. He also earned at Hoosier Racing Tire Performance Award, DJ Weltmeyer took the second Hoosier Award.
The next JEGS/CRA All Stars Tour event will be the Stanley Steemer 100 presented by JEGS.com on July 30 at the Rockford Speedway in Rockford, IL. For more information about JEGS/CRA All Stars Tour or any of the Champion Racing Association divisions go to www.craracing.net.