For Nate Monteith, it was one big sigh of relief.
The 29-year-old from Blountville, Tenn., pulled into Victory Lane Sunday with his 10th win of the season and the culmination of goals he set in the offseason when it was announced that New Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway was re-opening and would be NASCAR-sanctioned.
Monteith celebrated the final day of racing for the season at the .375-mile concrete oval by holding off NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano in the Allied Waste Services Tennessee Championship 125.
In the process, he claimed the Late Model championship at New Kingsport and wrapped up the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Tennessee championship. It was the first of 24 U.S. state and two Canadian provincial championships that will be decided in the final weeks of the season.
“What we set out to do from the word go was win the track title, the Tennessee title, and then have a shot at finishing somewhere in the top 10 overall,” Monteith said. “It was a challenge to finish the season off with an exclamation point.”
The tradition of honoring U.S. state and Canadian provincial champions dates back to the earliest days of the NASCAR short tracks. Jack Ingram, Sterling Marlin and NASCAR Hall of Fame-elect Richie Evans are among the drivers who have won NASCAR Tennessee championships.
Three-time national champion Philip Morris and defending national champion Keith Rocco remained first and second – separated by just three points.
Morris, who competes on a weekly bases in the asphalt Late Model division at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, did not race last weekend. The Ruckersville, Va., driver, who has 18 wins at South Boston and has already clinched the track championship, will race there Saturday in a 150-lap feature.
Morris has 18 wins, 21 top fives and 23 top 10s in 26 starts overall at South Boston, Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., and Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.
Rocco’s races at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway and Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl were rained out this past weekend. He finished 18th at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway after a last lap wreck while battling for third. Rocco has been suspended by the track for a week from Stafford for over-aggressive driving stemming from that incident.
The Wallingford, Conn., driver has 23 wins, 35 top fives and 41 top 10s in 45 starts at the three asphalt Connecticut ovals and Monadnock Speedway in Winchester, N.H.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points, and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five bonus points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third, 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 18 are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total increases incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Twelve of Morris’ wins have provided him the maximum 45 race-points. Rocco has 10 wins that were worth 45 points.
Lee Pulliam of Semora, N.C., finished second at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., on Friday and improved his third-place total to 754 points. He has 17 wins, 25 top fives and 27 top 10s in 29 starts at Motor Mile, South Boston and Caraway. Eight of his wins have been worth 45 points.
CE Falk III, the Late Model champion at Langley, remained in fourth with 11 wins in 23 starts. He has 713 points.
Bill Leighton is fifth at 681 with nine wins in the dirt Late Model divisions at Adams County Speedway in Corning, Iowa, I-80 Speedway in Omaha, Neb., and Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb.
Ryan Preece (Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, Stafford and Thompson) is sixth, followed by Monteith, Frank Deiny Jr. (Caraway, Motor Mile and South Boston), J Herbst (Lacrosse (Wis.) Fairgrounds Speedway) and Burt Myers (Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.).
In 24 starts at Kingsport and Motor Mile, Monteith has 10 wins, 21 top fives and 21 top 10s.
“It’s really a team effort,” said Monteith, who hadn’t finished worse than fourth at Kingsport and had completed every race. “It was really a sigh of relief. All the pressure leading up to that point, we were just trying to keep that record alive and not ruin everything with something stupid.”
Monteith started racing Limited Late Models at Kingsport in 1998 before moving up to Late Models in 1999.
Between time off and other racing series, this is his ninth full season racing a Late Model.
Track, state and provincial champions and the top-three finishers in the national standings earn invitations to the 2011 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet at the Charlotte Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday, Dec. 9.
Now Monteith has double the reason to be there – a track and a state trophy to bring home.
“I’ve never been a NASCAR champion,” Monteith said. “I’m ready to take it all in, that’s for sure. That’s a jam up deal for sure and I’m looking forward to it.”
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Top 25