Welcome to the third 2011 edition of the Speed51.com Short Track Power rankings. The season has hit it's championship stretch and drivers all around the country are stepping up their games to make a statement in the final few months of the year.
But who has carried the most clout in the first eight months of 2011? Some drivers that came out of the box hot this season and were at the top of our Tower of Power in our first quarter edition of Short Track Power have faded, while some not even on the radar screen back in March have turned up the heat in the Spring and Summer. Some drivers have been tough to beat all year long thus far.
A panel of industry experts from all four corners of the country and Canada have voted on their choices for the first half Short Track Power poll. Drivers in all forms of short track racing, including Late Models, NASCAR Touring Series, Pro Cup, Dirt Late Models and Modifieds, NASCAR Whelen All-American Series or ASA Member Track program and everything in between were eligible.
The rankings shown below were decided after polling our panel of experts in the industry. Rankings were based on overall number of votes, with more weight given to each vote the higher the vote. Example, a #1 vote would be more valuable than a #2, #3, etc.
Here are our power rankings entering for the first half of the 2011 short track racing season:
1) GREG PURSLEY - NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
The voting for the third installment of 51's Short Track Power this season was far closer than the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West point battle is at this point. Greg Pursley has the championship all but clinched out West, but the voting wasn't quite the runaway. Pursley received two first-place votes, a tie for the second-most, but he appeared in the top-five in nearly half of the overall ballots received. How could Pursley not be considered one of the most powerful short trackers this season? The guy has won more than half of the KNPSW races this season. For a time, it appeared that Pursley would win just about all of them. He cooled off a bit in the late Summer, but even on his off days, he's still battling for the win. He has six wins and five poles in the KNPSW races to date with an average finish just slightly higher than fourth, leading to a nearly-insurmountable 284-point lead. "If he doesn't win, his teammate, who has his car worked on and set up by Pursley, wins out West," said one of our voters. "Wjenever Pursley and his team unload, everyone knows they have to beat him in order to win. That's power."
2) CHASE ELLIOTT – Super Late Models/CRA JEGS All-Stars Tour/NASCAR K&N East
Chase Elliott is no stranger to our "Tower of Power" in recent seasons, but even the young 15-year-old would admit that while one aspect of his 2011 season has been pretty powerful, the other is still in the growing pain stage. Elliott has been killing it just like always on the short tracks in his Aaron's #9 Late Model. He swept a recent CRA Super Series and JEGS All Stars Tour doubleheader between Dixie Motor Speedway in Michigan and Winchester Speedway in Indiana. The JEGS win was a tuneup for Elliott and his team going into next month's Winchester 400, where he is the defending champion. Elliott also took the win in the most recent Blizzard Series Super Late Model show at Five Flags Speedway (FL), scored just a few weeks after dominating the second half of the Redbud 300 at Anderson Speedway (IN) only to lose the lead in the final turn to Steve Dorer. On the flip side, however, Elliott's rookie season on the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East hasn't been as successful as his Late Model season, but as one voter mentioned, "Once he and his team get the hang of those East cars, look out."
3) BUBBA POLLARD - Super Late Models/Pro Late Models
Remember this line from the movie "Wedding Crashers?" "Crab cakes and football...that's what Maryland does!" Well, winning in Pro and Supers in the Deep South...that's what Bubba Pollard does. And nobody has been better than him at doing it this season. He has 12 wins overall in Pro and Super Late Model competition. He was on an unprecedented seven-race winning streak between the two divisions at the tricky Mobile International Speedway. Pollard's success wasn't just limited to single-track series, either, as he made a spot start in the PASS South tour and went to victory lane at Gresham Motorsports Park (GA) in July. Pollard has also started spreading his wings beyond the Southeast, running well at a few CRA events and has plans to do more racing outside of the Pollard Domination Zone later this season.
4) TY DILLON – ARCA
Ty Dillon led this edition of Power with three overall first-place votes, and they are justified. Dillon has seven wins in ARCA Racing Series compeition this season and has rarely been out-run. Some of the times he hasn't won have been because of strategy calls that kept him out of victory lane, but he's been one of, if not the fastest, car each time out this season. Dillon is going to be tough to beat for the ARCA title going into the home stretch. But, some voters aren't sold that the success shows power behind the wheel as much as it shows that he has a nearly-unbeatable car under him. "He's won over 50% of ARCA schedule thus far - but as (one of the) only cars with Cup equipment, what do you expect?"
5) KEITH ROCCO – NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
The defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion is back to defend his title and is taking no prisoners on his march to the repeat. In 44 starts between three Connecticut tracks (Stafford, Waterford and Thompson), Rocco has 23 SK Modified wins and 35 top-five finishes. Those are stats that no one in the country can match. But if Rocco is going to win the title again this season, he's going to have to earn it a little more than he did in 2010. Philip Morris and Lee Pulliam aren't going to let Rocco get away easily and Rocco even got himself into some trouble by being suspended from Stafford for this week's event after racing a little too hard for a top-five finish in last week's race. Still, his aggressive ways are also what have earned him so much success, as unlike those other title contenders, Rocco's starting positions are handicapped based on heat race finish and recent event success, meaning he has to start deep in the field each race instead of starting where he time trials like some of the other contenders.
6) DYLAN KWASNIEWSKI – NASCAR K&N Pro Series West
The last time Speed51.com held a Power Poll back at the start of July, 16-year-old NASCAR K&N Pro Series West rookie Dylan Kwasniewski did not receive a single vote. Perhaps because he got some seat time, but we like to think it's because we lit a fire under his racing seat, Kwasniewski has been the story of the West Series season - outside of his teammate Greg Pursley. Despite his back-to-back Summertime wins, Kwasniewski did not receive any first-place votes, but all but one of the voters who had him on their ballot put him in their top-five. "This rookie has learned from his teammate and is on the fast-track to success. He's been more successful than Chase Elliott this season in the same type of car at the same age," said one voter.
7) ROSS KENSETH - ASA Midwest Tour/Super Late Models
Already a champion this season (the Wisconsin International Raceway Red White & Blue Series), Ross Kenseth has been one of the most decorated racers of the season thus far. He has three wins in the ultra-competitive ASA Midwest Tour this season and is the only driver on that tour to have more than one victory to their credit. But, because he had to skip a race recently due to attending his college orientation at Clemson University in South Carolina, he dropped in the standings and won't have a chance at that title. Still, his eight overall wins, including those three on the ASAMT, and impressive non-win showings were enough to get Kenseth's name on almost half of the overall ballots returned. "Guy is still higher than a few drivers who have started every race in ASAMT points, that's pretty stout," noticed one voter.
8) JR ROAHRIG - Outlaw Super Late Models
If JR Roahrig had known that he would be this successful on the track after he retired from driving full-time, he would've called it quits long ago. The driver that was a strong competitor throughout the Midwest in his driving prime has made his spot starts in Outlaw Super Late Models count this season. He originally stepped out of the car to help his son Tyler be the family's driving star, but Roahrig never fully hung up the helmet. He's glad he hadn't now, as he's won three big shows so far this year, including the Glass City 100 at Toledo and a pair of big money shows, the $20,000-to-win Summer Sizzler at New Paris (MI) and the $10,000 Big Gun Shootout at M-40 (MI). Those big shows earned Roahrig two first-place votes this time around.
9) JOHNNY CLARK - PASS North
One voter summed it up better than we could in just one sentence. "With 5 wins in 10 starts and sitting atop the PASS North points, Clark is on his way a his sixth title." Clark has been the man once again in PASS North this season. When he wins, it's not much of a shock. Another voter put it like this: "When I hear Johnny didn't win the PASS race on a weekend, I wonder what happened. When I expect someone to win that I have to wonder why the didn't, that's saying something."
10) BRIAN HOAR - ACT Late Models
In the most recent Short Track Power back in July, ACT Late Model competitor John Donahue was in the 10th position. This time around, Donahue was bumped in exchange for his fellow ACT-er Brian Hoar. It's not that Donahue hasn't been doing well, it's more that Brian Hoar has just been on fire lately. According to one voter, "Hoar is on a stretch of race finishes never before seen in New England Late Model Racing. The last 36 ACT races, Hoar's average finish is 3.03. In 2011, Hoar's average finishing position is 2.60! (10 Races)." His impressive winning performance in the ACT All-Star Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last month solidified Hoar's position in the Tower of Power and likely led him to get his two first-place votes.
11) Max Gresham (NKNPSE) - K&N East point leader with two victories in 2011.
12) Augie Grill (PLM/SLM) – If Pollard or Elliott don't win in the Deep South, it's Grill.
13) Ryan Blaney (PASS South/ARCA) – Only repeat winner in PASS South this year.
14) Austin Theriault (ACT) – Coming on strong with family team; finished second at NHMS.
15) Philip Morris (NWAAS) - Whelen All-American Series point leader with 18 wins in 26 starts at SoBo
16) Nathan Haseleu (ASAMT) – One win and nine top-10's in ASA Midwest Tour; 70 points out of lead.
17) Kyle Larson (Sprints) – Won some huge USAC and ASCS Sprint shows since June in his rookie year.
18) Steve Dorer (CRA) – Two-time CRA Super Series winner; snookered Elliott for Redbud 300 win.
19) Andrew Morrissey (ASAMT) – ASA Midwest Tour point leader with seven top-five finishes in 10 starts.
20) Jonathan Eilen (ASAMT) - Won ASAMT at Hawkeye Downs a year after serious injuries there.
ALSO RECEIVING VOTES
Ronnie Bassett Jr.
George Brunnhoelzl III