Skip Nichols and Jeff Haynie are the only multiple-time champions in Masters class history and have captured six of the last eight year's championships. Because of this, it's likely no surprise that the 2009 Thursday Thunder Masters championship will come down to a one-race slug fest between the former champs on Atlanta Motor Speedway's "Thunder Ring."
With one final race remaining in the 2009 season, defending back-to-back class champion Haynie leads Nichols by a slim four-point margin. There is no room for error with just one race remaining and the Zebulon native knows what needs to be done to claim his third-straight championship.
"It won't be easy, but I just need to wrap it up with a win," said Haynie, who has six wins in 2009, topping his previous personal-best five wins from 2008. "I only need to get a second-place finish or better [to win the title], but I figure a win is the way to go out in style."
And Nichols will likely do all he can to ensure a win isn't easy. With four Master's division titles and 22-career Thursday Thunder wins, Nichols is certainly qualified to fight to the finish for the championship.
"I just have to finish two places ahead of him," explained the veteran racer from Albany. "Jeff [Haynie] has a great car, he runs good laps and he's just fast. It's going to take a little luck."
And while Haynie and Nichols' championship battle will certainly be entertaining, the Masters division is but one of four Thursday Thunder classes with remarkably tight points races to be determined on Championship Night.
Two classes are separated by slimmer margins than the Masters entering Championship Night. The series' tightest race is among Thunder Roadsters, where Adam Gay leads Chris Cable by just one point, while Garrett Smithley leads Luke Behnke by three points in the J.J. Morley Outlaws division.
"There is a lot more pressure with it coming down to the last week," said Smithley. "I'm just going to try to not let it faze me, give my best and keep racing. It's up to me to win."
Despite Smithley's lead among J.J. Morley Outlaws, Behnke needs to finish just one spot ahead of Smithley to tie him in points and win the championship by virtue of having more wins.
"The tight points race makes it real exciting," said Behnke, who has five wins in 2009 to Smithley's four. "I'm pretty sure anyone knows the outcome I want to happen - I want the win. To make that happen, I need a good start and to stay in front, but either way it's going to be exciting."
Gay, who holds the slimmest lead in any class with a one-point advantage, knows the tight points races make for good entertainment.
"It makes it more exciting and definitely more entertaining for the fans to see us go down to the wire," said Gay. "Hopefully, the tight racing will draw some more attention to the Thunder Roadsters."
In addition to the aforementioned points races, Thursday Thunder's remaining single-digit points race is among Semi-Pros, where Jonathan Chandler currently leads Cody Haskins with a nine-point advantage.
And to casual fans, it may seem surprising a 10-week season of racing would come down to the final week when winners are awarded 100 points. But after nine weeks, many division leaders are separated from their competition by as little as one point. To many competitors, it's just typical tight racing on Atlanta Motor Speedway's "Thunder Ring."
"Its one of those situations - racing - where it just works out like that," said six-time Masters champion Nichols with a laugh.