Tonkin Takes Title, Hanson Wins Main and More from Afton Championship Night – DTD Exclusive

By MIKE MALLETT

Brett Tonkin is now a two-time champion at the Afton Motorsports Park after a strong performance on Friday night. The Carbondale, Pa., driver finished in the runner-up spot in the season finale to beat out future father-in-law Mitch Gibbs for the 2018 track title. The duo came in separated by just two markers with Rusty Smith trailing by only 30.

“This means a lot,” stated Tonkin after securing the title. “To get one is good, but to get two kind of validates it. It’s really cool to be able to have multiple championships. I never thought I’d be able to do that. It’s awesome.”

Tonkin admitted that prior to the feature race he was nervous about the outcome of the night. He just needed to get in the race car and get going.

“Honestly I thought about it more before the race,” commented Tonkin. “During the race you are racing. I told my brother that I just wanted to get going. I was sitting over there a nervous wreck. Once you get racing it is kind of out of your mind.”

Once they did get racing, by virtue of the handicapping system, Tonkin started the race from the inside of the sixth row while his two championship challenges, Gibbs and Smith started in front of him. Gibbs started in the sixth position while Smith went off from the inside of the fourth row.

Tonkin got an impeccable jump on opening green allowing him to rocket his way nearly into the top five. A jingle off the second corner sent Gibbs out wide opening the door for Tonkin on the bottom for him to drive by.

“I saw him, but I couldn’t really tell what was going on,” Tonkin said of Gibbs. “I saw him get high on the backstretch and I had good run on the bottom. I got a couple cars on that one there. I wasn’t quite sure at that point how good of a car I had, but I had a really good car tonight. I could keep digging and passing cars.”

Tonkin credited his ability to drive forward to the good car as well as a good racing surface. He was thankful promotor Ronnie Ford and the staff finished out the season giving him a chance to race. They’ve taken their lumps but stuck it out to the end.

“This track went through a lot of hard times,” mentioned Tonkin. “I thought the racing was good tonight. I thought the track was really nice. They’ve been working on it really hard and I appreciate them sticking it out for the whole year.”

With title secure, look for Tonkin to enter into season ending events in the Southern Tier area to close out the 2018 season.

Hanson Gets Much Needed Win

Admittedly it’s been a struggle for Craig Hanson in the 2018 season. The Afton and Short Track Super Series regular just hasn’t been able to find the consistency necessary to make his way to victory lane. That was until Friday. Hanson finally put together a solid night to earn his first win in nearly two full seasons.

“I’m used to getting at least one win a year and I went all of last year without getting a win anywhere I went,” cited Hanson. “It feels good to get the monkey off our back. We’ve been struggling all year. We finally made some changes and actually everything worked out the right way. We picked the right tire and just got out there and checked out.”

The season long struggle placed Hanson on the front row of the start of the 30-lap finale. He quickly bolted around Steve Babicek to take the race lead. It was a lead he would not surrender for the entire distance. At points during the race he had a full straightaway gap on his nearest competition.

“It’s ideal with a good car,” stated Hanson about his front row starting spot. “I’ve had a lot of starts up in the front here and haven’t been able to capitalize on them all year. Tonight the car felt pretty good, but then I thought I was over driving it a little bit so I slowed and it felt the same. So I got back on it because you never know when you get into lapped cars how long it’s going to take to get around one of them and you don’t know how big a lead you have.”

He certainly had a big enough lead beating out Tonkin out for the win by nearly three seconds in his Ken Hanson Paving, Bill Lake Modular Homes, Sammons Agency, Bill’s Beverage, DTM Motorworks and Grant Racing Engines sponsored No. 20c.

Afton Afterthoughts

There were 16 cars pit-side for the final night of racing action at the speedway in 2018…

Paul Jensen and Babicek each won their respective heat race events…

JR Hurlburt was the first caution of the main. Hurlburt cut down a right rear tire while battling hard with Darwin Greene for position…

Jeff Sheely had mechanical problems during hot laps and did not return until the feature event. He ended up bringing out the caution on lap four in the main when something broke in the rear-end of his No. 38.  He was the final caution of the feature…

Championship contenders Gibbs finished in the fourth position while Smith ended up finishing third…

Afton officials did their best to move the program along with the Modified portion of the show complete well before 10 p.m.