MALTA – Not even a full moon and Friday the 13th could jinx Jessey Mueller this time.
Mueller, who endured a miserable summer at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, finally had everything fall into place as he led flag-to-flag to win Friday night’s 35-lap small block modified shootout, which paid $3.000 to win.
The win was Mueller’s second of the year at Albany-Saratoga, but he went a long time between victories; his other win came on May 17, in the second race of the season.
“We really needed this one,” he said after the win.
His best move of the night came in the pre-feature draw, when he pulled No. 1. He led all 35 laps, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some nerve-wracking moments.
Most of that anxiety was created by Brett Hearn, who started fourth. Just three laps into the race, Hearn went to the top and took the long way around Mueller. But before the lap was completed, Accord invader Richard Smith spun in the second turn, bringing out a caution and keeping Mueller in the lead.
By lap 10, all the heavy hitters were up front; Mueller had Hearn right behind him, with 2019 Orange County Speedway small block champion Anthony Perrego third, 2019 Albany-Saratoga modified champion Marc Johnson fourth and 13-time track champion Ken Tremont Jr. fifth.
For 22 straight green flag laps, Hearn continued to dog Mueller, trying both the high and low grooves to get the lead. With 15 to go, Mueller was in heavy traffic, and it almost cost him the lead when he made hard contact with the lapped car of Dillon Steuer between the third and fourth turn. That allowed Hearn to close to within two cars lengths.
Elmo Reckner brought out a final caution on lap 32, and that was all Mueller needed, As he rocketed away on the restart, Perrego elbowed his way under Hearn in the second turn, and as the two Orange County Speedway rivals battled for second, Mueller pulled away for the victory.
“I hate starting on the pole, but you’ve got to take them anyway you can,” said Mueller of the win. “It’s not like I had easy guys behind me. I knew with Brett right there, it I made a mistake, I was done.”
Johnson got by Hearn for third, with Rocky Warner taking the fifth spot away from Tremont late in the race.
One of the early casualties was Matt DeLorenzo, who blew the motor in his car during his heat race.
Andrew Buff, who finished third in the sportsman points chase because of his consistency, finally got his first win of the season in the 30-lap VP Racing Fuels Summer Sportsman Shootout Series, which paid $1,000 to win.
Buff started fourth, and took the lead after getting a good jump on a restart on lap 15.
Just as Mueller had had to fight off Hearn, Buff had to fight off 2018 track champion Tim Hartman Jr. With 10 laps left, Hartman moved into second and at times, appeared to be quicker than Buff through the corners. But exiting the second and fourth turns, Buff would slide back to the top to impede Hartman’s progress, and that’s how they crossed the finish line, with Buff holding a .554 second margin of victory.
“Once I saw Tim, I knew I had to change things up a little bit to hold him off,” said Buff, who was driving his West End Towing-sponsored car on Friday.
Nick Lussier came across the finish line third, with Brian Calabrese fourth and Patrick Jones fifth.
Dan Grignon picked up his second straight victory and fourth of the season in the 20-lap Haun Welding limited sportsman feature. Shane Larman came off the front row and opened up a big lead, but a caution on lap seven changed the complexion of the race. Three laps after the restart, Grignon, who started fifth, had the lead and buried the field, beating runner-up Bill August to the finish line by nearly two seconds.
Randy Miller made quick work of the 15-lap Lake Auto Parts street stock feature. Despite starting 12th in the 14-car field, he was up to third after just three laps and then used a restart to rocket into the lead. The victory was the 50th of his career.
Jaxson Ryan won the 15-lap four-cylinder feature. Jaxson’s father Steve led the first seven laps, but dropped off the backstretch following a restart on lap eight, allowing his son to take the point. Jaxson Ryan led Jason Lang acoss the finish line. Kaleb Shepard finished fourth overall and was the first single-cam car across the finish line.
Slingshots made their only appearance of the season on Friday. Nick Auspelmeyer took the checkered flag in the Senior Slingshot 10-lap feature, snatching the lead away from Kyle Fallis on lap eight when Fallis got stuck behind a lapped car. Brock Pinkerous led flag-to-flag to win the eight-lap Junior Slingshot feature.
SMALL BLOCK MODIFIEDS; Jessey Mueller, Anthony Perrego, Marc Johnson, Brett Hearn, Rocky Warner, Ken Tremont Jr., Jackie Brown Jr., Chris Johnson, David Schilling, Don Ronca, Matt Pupello, Rich Ronca, Ricky Davis, Matt Depew, Dillon Steuer, Richard Smith, C.G. Morey, Don Mattison, Travis Billington, Justin Barber, James Meehan, Elmo Reckner, Nick Anatriello, Jimmy Cottrell.
SPORTSMAN: Andrew Buff, Tim Hartman Jr., Nick Lussier, Brian Calabrese, Pat Jones, Jack Speshock, Derek Bornt, Mike Ballestero, David Manchester, Jon Miller, Stephen Kneer, Chris Ronca, Kale Groff, Scott McCoy, Marty Kelly III, Jeff Higham, Scott Duell, Derrick McGrew Jr., Butch Wilcox, Mike Coffey Jr., Connor Cleveland, Michael Wagner Fitzgerald, Dick Bisson, Mike Ostrander.
LIMITED SPORTSMAN: Dan Grignon, Bill August, Shane Larman, Davis Boisclair, Scott Bennett, Johnny Bruno, Gerard LeClair, Travis Witbeck, James Venditti Jr., James Hinman, KC McCoy, Montgomery Tremont, Yule Cook, John Coon, Garret Poland, Dave Labarge, Thomas DeAngelo, Dylan Bokus, Craig Wholey. DQ: Payton Talbot, Richard Holmes.
STREET STOCKS: Randy Miller, John Filarecki, Jimmy Duncan, Al Relyea, David Cook, Matt Mosher, Jeff Meltz Sr., Adam Tranka, Curtis Condon, Jason Barrett, Tim McFarland, Josh Hemming, Mark Burch, John Hayes.