KINDERSLEY, SK – Kevin Wheeler won his first ever Northern Provincial Pipelines Late Model Series Championship in dramatic fashion on the September long weekend. “I may need a few days because it really hasn’t sunk in yet that we’ve won this!”
Heading into the inaugural two day race weekend at Flatlanders Speedway, Wheeler was tied for second in the NPP Series standings with Edson, Alberta’s Dwight Kennedy. Wheeler and Kennedy were only 43 points behind leader Chris Beaulieu.
Edson’s Darin Borysko was third in the NPP Series Championship standings just 26 points behind Wheeler and Kennedy. Wheeler, Kennedy and Borysko would all lose ground to the point leader with their finishing positions in Saturday’s two Qualifying Heats. Dean Deatherage and Kevin Clark won both Heats. Wheeler however would win the ‘A’ Dash securing the pole position for the Saturday night Feature.
Unfortunately for NPP Series teams and race fans, a nasty summer storm system developed just west of the facility. There were reports of a tornado touching down. No rain fell but 90 kilometer per hour winds would blast the track forcing a delay of the Saturday night Feature by more than 30 minutes. When the hurricane force winds began to subside (gusts to 40kph), NPP Series teams hit the unique tri-oval track for their first Feature event of the weekend.
At the drop of the green Kevin Wheeler took advantage of the pole position and stormed out to the race lead and dominated the Feature. Wheeler would drive the Bill Wiens Trucking/KW Mechanical #3 Dodge to his first NPP Series Feature win since September 1, 2008. “It took a while to figure out this track. I think we got it. The number three wins on the tri-oval.” Darin Borysko finished second and Beaulieu finished third. Beaulieu would still have the NPP Series point lead after Saturday night’s Feature but a look of concern was etched on his face in the pits after the race. “Something is a little off with the engine but we’ll be okay for Sunday.” With his Feature win, Wheeler chopped the points gap with Beaulieu to 23 with just one race to go in the 2012 season. Kennedy dropped to fourth in the NPP Championship points chase after a ninth place finish in the Saturday night Feature. Borysko remained third.
Windy, overcast conditions and much cooler temperatures Sunday afternoon greeted race fans and NPP Series teams at Flatlanders Speedway. The 2012 NPP Series Championship would be decided plus it was the 19th running of the Oilmen’ Classic. Any concern regarding Chris Beaulieu’s engine had all but disappeared in Qualifying Heat #1 as the point leader moved from sixth up to second on the very first lap. Sidney, British Columbia’s Darrell Midgley won his first NPP Series Heat race since August of 2009.
Kevin Clark got by Beaulieu just before the finish line in the Heat race but the two drivers came together underneath the flag stand. Beaulieu careened off Clark’s car into the steel guardrail. Beaulieu drove his severely damaged race car to his pit stall under power. Clark was penalized two positions. Beaulieu would be credited with second. Qualifying Heat race #2 had four different race leaders. Curtis Moore and Dwight Kennedy would spin while out in front. Kevin Wheeler took over the race lead from Jeff Grundberg on the white flag lap and drive on to victory.
This was Wheeler’s third Qualifying Heat race win of 2012 securing his spot in the ‘A’ Dash. Darrell Midgley continued his strong on-track performance winning the ‘A’ Dash with Wheeler finishing a close second. Beaulieu finished 5th after a late race spin. With the Feature lineup set came word out of the NPP Series pits regarding engine problems for Beaulieu’s #90 Dodge. “We’re done,” says a disappointed Beaulieu, “no oil pressure at all. It [the engine] may last for one or two laps but that’s it. It’s game over.” With Beaulieu out of the running, Wheeler needed to finish 8th or better to clinch the 2012 NPP Series championship. Depending where Wheeler finished, Borysko and Kennedy still had an outside chance at winning the 2012 Season crown. Darrell Midgley led 11 laps of the Feature before a left front tire went down.
Kevin Clark got by a slowing Midgley and lead the rest of the way. The Altario, Alberta driver registered his second Feature event win of the season and won the Oilmen’s Classic for the first time. Wheeler finished the Feature in third to give him the points needed to become the 9th different Champion in the Northern Provincial Pipelines Late Model Series. “We’ve been consistent all year long. We got it together [Saturday night] and pulled off a Feature win. Four years to the date is pretty neat.”
Wheeler had an average Feature finish of 3.8 in 2012 [2.75 the last four races] “It was real tough luck on Chris losing his motor. We’ve had our share of tough luck over the years but that’s racing.” Wheeler blew his motor at the 2011 Season Championship weekend in Lethbridge. “This is definitely a hard Series and we finally got to the top.” Darin Borysko finished Sunday’s Oilmen’s Feature in 7th to wrap up his season just 8 points ahead of two-time NPP Series Champion Dwight Kennedy in standings. Kennedy finished the Oilmen’s Classic in fifth.
– Mike Dunn clinched the 2012 NPP Series Rookie of the Year honors in Saskatchewan.
– Kevin Wheeler becomes the 7th different driver to win the NPP Series Championship in the last 7 seasons. 9 different drivers have won the overall championship since the first season in 2001.
– After last year’s third place finish in the standings, Darin Borysko finished the season second in the NPP Series Championship points chase.
– Two-time NPP Series Champion Dwight Kennedy has finished third in the standings three times (2003, 2009, 2012).
– For the third time in the last 5 seasons, the driver with the most wins did not win the Series Championship.
– Nine different drivers earned the pole position this season. The current record of 10 pole winners was set in 2008.
– Kevin Wheeler won Saturday nights pole position (and the Feature) the last pole position for Wheeler was July 11th, 2009.
– Darrell Midgley’s won Sunday afternoons pole position. The last pole position for Midgley was the 2009 Season Championship race (September 19th) in Edmonton.
– the Clark Construction #5 Dodge visited victory lane 4 times in 2012.
– It was revealed halfway through the Sunday Feature that Dean Deatherage handed over the keys of the #01 Dodge to Chris Beaulieu so he could race in the Feature. Beaulieu started at the back and finished second.
– Canadian Tire Nascar Series Driver Noel Dowler made his NPP Series debut on the weekend and finished 7th in the Saturday night Feature and crashed out in the Sunday afternoon Feature.
by Gord Craig/ NPP Late Model Series
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