Thursday Thunder Championship Night Preview
After nine weeks battling tooth and nail on the quarter-mile Thunder Ring, drivers in six racing divisions in the 2017 Thursday Thunder Legends Series presented by Papa John's Pizza will be crowned tomorrow evening, as the series' 20th Anniversary Season wraps up with its championship night.
Extremely tight points races remain in four of the six scored Thursday Thunder divisions, and anything can happen in any division, as the the 10th and final event of the 2017 season gets underway tomorrow. With little margin for error - especially in the six-driver shootout in the Racing Radios Pro Division - both mistakes and triumphs will be magnified, as each lap carries monumental stakes in the last opportunity to capture Thunder Ring glory.
Here is a look at each of the division races heading into Saturday night's event.
Ricky Sanders Racing, Inc. Bandits Division
With four wins and eight top-five finishes through nine weeks in the Ricky Sanders Racing, Inc. Bandits Division, Mobile, Alabama native Grant Thompson has the championship all but locked up, as he sits comfortably in the lead, 46 points up on the second-place driver and two-time winner Kenneth Henderson of Alto. Despite owning the largest lead in the series Thompson remained humble despite only needing to start the race tomorrow to lock up the title.
"Coming into the last race of the season as the points leader, I'm getting a little nervous, because I've never ever been the points leader coming into the last race," said Thompson "It's going to be tough, but I think we can do it."
In the Outlaws Division, double-duty driver Joshua Hicks of Senoia, who is also competing for a title in the Racing Radios Pro Division, has won three times in 2017 and leads the standings by 22 points over second-place Blaise Maddox of Locust Grove and 44 points over third-place Michael Gannon of Canton.
With a runner-up finish last week, he maintained his mostly comfortable cushion heading into in Saturday's championship night, as he attempts to nab the first of two 2017 titles.
"I knew I needed to finish at least two spots behind Blaise Maddox (or better), and I had to start eighth because I was the points-leader, so I was just picking them of one at a time," said Hicks. "I wasn't trying to push anything or start any trouble, and I managed to get my way up to second.
"I needed probably like five more laps to first, but I didn't have it."
Nevertheless, all Hicks has to do to secure the Outlaws Division title is finish within eight places of Maddox Saturday night.
Plemons Young Lions Divisions
In one of the closest battles of the entire series, three-time winner DJ Canipe of Fallston, North Carolina owns a narrow three-point lead over Cumming's Harrison Halder, also a three-time winner in 2017, as the pair go to battle tomorrow night to determine the victor.
A Week 9 victory for Canipe propelled him into the top spot last Saturday, and that's where he'll try to remain with one race left.
"I think it will be a good race," said Canipe. "It's just me and him, and we'll just have to battle it out to the end. You've just got to run your race like you do every week and just do the best you can do."
Looking up from third place, Sammy Smith of Des Moines, Iowa trails 28 points back of Canipe, while fourth-place driver Clay Thompson of Bowersville is in fourth, 45 points back.
Though he has claimed just one win on the season, Brooks' Christopher Clanton has risen to the top of the Semi-Pro Division standings with consistent top-five finishes and owns an eight-point lead over three-time winner Hudson Halder of Cumming leading into Saturday's finale. A third-place-or-better finish tomorrow night will guarantee Clanton the title, no matter where Halder finishes.
"I look forward going into the last week knowing I've got the points lead," said Clanton. "I've just got to race my normal race and just finish on top."
For Halder to steal the title, he will need to finish at least four places ahead of Clanton.
Plemons Investments Masters Division
With four wins in 2017 and top-five finishes in every race this season, McDonough's Scott Moseley leads the Plemons Investments Masters Division by 12 points over second-place and three-time winner Robbie Woodall, also of McDonough.
After winning in each of the past two weeks, Moseley will look to make it three in a row Saturday night to lock up the championship, but it's not so much about the trophy that motivates him these days.
"I really don't dwell on the points every year," said Moseley. "At one time, I did, but all that does is take all the fun out of it and mess your races up. You just come to every race and try to win every race that you come to - or do the best that you can do. The points, they'll work themselves out in the end."
Same goes for Woodall.
"I didn't really go into it this year with the mindset of winning points," Woodall explained. "I just wanted to win a few races, run up front. So this year's been a definite above-and-beyond what we expected."
Racing Radios Pro Division
After a seven-race regular season, the first-ever Thursday Thunder playoff debuted in Week 8 in the Racing Radios Pro Division two weeks ago. The top 10 drivers in the standings qualified for the three-race playoff that featured a NASCAR-style elimination process.
The winners of the next two races were automatically eligible for the title, while the remaining four drivers qualified based on points in the two playoff races.
All of that left William Martin of Douglasville and Jensen Jorgensen of Stockbridge automatically eligible for the championship-night battle after scoring wins in Weeks 8 and 9 respectively, along with Corey Heim, Canon Cochran, Russell Fleeman and Joshua Hicks, all of whom qualified on points.
With the six title-eligible drivers set, the highest finisher among them Saturday night will be crowned the Pro Division champion, which has set up an intense, one-race, 25-lap shootout for coveted Thunder-Ring glory.
Jorgensen, who won four races during the regular season, as well as last week's playoff race that automatically qualified him for contention for the championship, is the clear favorite, but he knows he's got his work cut out for him tomorrow night.
"We've got to make sure we start the day off good," said Jorgensen. "We've got to get out there and have a good practice session and then just go out there and do what me and my dad do best. Grind, late nights. Get that car ready, get that car fast. Look every nut and bolt on that car. That's the biggest thing to it, I believe."
Martin, whose one win on the season was the Week 8 victory that propelled him into contention, plans to take a technical approach to the championship race to try and find the speed it will take to knock Jorgensen from his lofty perch.
"We'll try to get the car dialed in in practice," Martin said. "You're always searching for a little bit more speed. Even half of a tenth (of a second) helps. We'll just maybe try to get a little bit faster and have real good lap times and just see what we can do."
Along with its championship night, Atlanta Motor Speedway will be celebrating "Fake News Night" with several unique and quirky promotions, including an appearance by a "Trump-appointed" cabinet, an eating contest with an Alaskan pizza-eating champion, pre-race entertainment featuring the sound of a live performance by Neil Young and even a record-breaking giant TV giveaway to one lucky fan.
Gates for the family-friendly special Saturday edition of Thursday Thunder open at 6:30 p.m., and feature racing begins just after 7:30. Spectator admission is just $5 per person, and kids ages 5 and under are admitted free.
For more information about Atlanta Motor Speedway's Legends and Bandolero racing program, or to purchase tickets to Thursday Thunder, fans can contact the AMS ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or visit www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.