PASS finale set for Saturday at Oxford Plains Speedway

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Two-time Oxford 250 winner and 2012 Pro All-Stars Series champion Travis Benjamin drives off Turn 4 at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier this season. Benjamin holds a 25-point lead over Turner’s Glen Luce going in to Saturday’s season finale. 

OXFORD — A battle between a pair of seasoned oval track warriors that began down in Thompson, Connecticut, at ‘The Icebreaker’ in early April, is about to be settled among October’s colorful foliage in the foothills of western Maine.

After a competitive season that saw 11 different drivers visit victory lane in 15 races, the Pro All-Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Models will conclude their 2017 campaign Saturday afternoon at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Leading the charge into Oxford is 2012 series champion and current point leader Travis Benjamin, of Morrill. The two-time Oxford 250 winner (2013-14) holds a 25-point lead over Turner’s Glen Luce, having taken command on September 23 at White Mountain Motorsports Park.

“We’ve been running pretty good lately,” Benjamin said. “The first two races of the season we finished 22nd and 18th, which put us in a pretty deep hole. We slowly worked our way out of it. We were down by five points to Glen going into Beech Ridge, and left up by two. Now we just need to seal the deal.”

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Benjamin has been the model of consistency all season, earning two wins, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. The combination of Benjamin’s talent and Petit Motorsports equipment has proven to be potent. Hall of Famer Mike Rowe won the 2015 series title with that team before the two sides parted ways.

“We’ve kind of repeated what we did last year,” Benjamin said. “If we could ever start off strong and stay at that level, we’d be in great shape. It just takes us a while to get rolling. We’ve reeled off nine top-five finishes in the last 13 races, which put us in this position.”

At White Mountain, the car was fast yet again. A strong third-place finish, coupled with a tough night for Luce, put Benjamin within sight of a second championship. Anything could happen to either driver, but it’s certainly within reach.

“It is definitely exciting to think about having it go our way,” Benjamin said. “I’m going to approach it the same way I do all the races: I want to go there and win. We’ll give it our best shot and see what happens. I know Glen will be strong, as well, so it should be a pretty dramatic season finale.”

Luce had a rough outing at White Mountain, a rare occurrence in 2017. He’s picked up two wins thus far in 2017 (Montmagny, Quebec, and Lee, New Hampshire), with six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes to his credit. The pain of that 13th-place finish on Sept. 23 still lingers, as it potentially cost him a shot at the title.

“We missed something on the setup at White Mountain, and it really hurt us,” Luce said. “The car was bottoming out, scraping the frame and the sway bar. If your tires can’t make proper contact, you’ll have some issues, especially on a high-banked track like that.”

Overall, the team’s consistency gave Luce his first legitimate chance at a PASS North title. Even if their efforts fall short, it won’t be the end of the world for the 2015 Oxford 250 winner.

“We all sat down last week and discussed our position. We gave it our best shot, and now we just have stay focused, do our thing and let it play out as it may. This is the closest Tim and Cindy Stephens, my co-owners and longtime sponsors with Stephen’s Electric, have ever been to a championship.

“We are going to need a great day on Saturday, and Travis would have to have a bad day for us to take the title. We’ve got good speed at Oxford but so does he, so it’s hard to say. If we come up a little short at the end of the day, we’ll still look back on 2017 as a great season. We had a strong car every week.”

One young driver from New Hampshire carries a ton of momentum going in to Saturday’s finale. Hudson native Derek Griffith notched his second win of 2017 at White Mountain after earning his first on June 18 at Speedway 95. His Oxford 250 weekend didn’t end well, but the No. 12G entry had good speed.

“I’m super-excited to get up there after the top five run we had at Beech Ridge in the Dale Shaw-built car,” Griffith said. “I think we have a really good piece for Oxford on Saturday. I would love to get a top-three finish.”

Also on Saturday’s card are the PASS Modifieds, along with Oxford’s Street Stock, Legend and Bandit divisions. Qualifying heats for the PASS North Super Late Models will begin at 1 p.m. A full field of over 30 cars is expected to compete as the 2017 season draws to a close in western Maine.

pwhipple@sunjournal.com

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