I’m the target of much abuse about my Oxford 250 forecast over the years.

If I fail miserably, which was mostly the case from 1990 to 2007, I look like a fool. If I hit the winner four consecutive years, instead of being hailed as Nostradamus and Confucius in a blender, I hear that picking two Sprint Cup drivers and back-to-back wins by Eddie MacDonald was the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

So I went to a driver whom I respect, Oxford Plains Speedway point leader Shawn Martin, for validation this week. Shawn’s a smart dude. He’s forgotten more about cars, computers and mathematics than I’ll probably ever know. Naturally, I wanted to know who he thought would wear the laurel wreath if he couldn’t.

“Oh, when I look down that list, I see at least 15 guys who legitimately could win it,” he said.

See? This stuff only looks easy. Don’t try it at home, kids.

I bristled at the number at first. Fifteen? That sort of spits in the face of my brief days as a publicist, when we tried to say it was anybody’s ballgame. The more I looked at the roster of confirmed entries, however, the more I realized Martin was right.

At the risk of pretending to read Shawn’s mind, and subjecting myself to further shame, here in alphabetical order are the Fab Fifteen, followed by a brief Lest We Forget list, punctuated by my Podium Picks.

Translation: Here goes nothing.

Travis Benjamin, Morrill — Three wins and five top-five finishes in his five most recent trips to Oxford, including the biggest win of his life a year ago. His measured approach seems to have been ordained for a race such as the 250.

The Bracketts, Buckfield — This is like one of those horse racing package deal where you get two or three (in this case five) for the price of one, and the same odds for everyone. If I had to rank realistic chances in order, I’d go with T.J. Brackett, Tim Brackett and Kyle DeSouza, with not much space between them.

Cassius Clark, Farmington — Bore the burden of my pick a year ago and wore it pretty well, leading on the back half before a late pit stop for fresh tires. Surely the leaders who pitted 50 laps earlier had used up their equipment. Surely Clark would breeze by and grab the big check on the way. Surely he didn’t. He settled for fifth, albeit on his way to the PASS championship.

Johnny Clark, Farmingdale — His not winning on this race, on a lower level, is reminiscent of what it was like when Dale Earnhardt hadn’t won the Daytona 500 or Peyton Manning hadn’t won the Super Bowl yet. Clark owns six PASS championships and has tamed every other 200-, 250- and 300-lap race in New England or Canada you can name. He was second in 2005. He’s overdue.

Joey Doiron, Berwick — Doiron outran Austin Theriault at Beech Ridge two weeks ago and was 2013 runner-up to Benjamin. You want to hear about a jinx, though? Of the 40 guys who have finished second in the 250, only Scott Robbins won it the next year. There’s a statistical mountain to climb.

Dave Farrington Jr., Jay — Quietly the Beech Ridge NASCAR Pro Series point leader. Quietly finished sixth in the 250 two years ago. His family-owned race team will tackle any form of late model race, anywhere, and usually runs near the front. A bigger budget would help his racing future tremendously, and $25,000-plus certainly would help.

Jay Fogleman, Durham, N.C. — A past national champion in PASS, Fogleman finished third in a car borrowed from Massachusetts driver Derek Ramstrom’s team a year ago. He’s expected to furnish his own ride this time, and that tells me he’s an even more serious threat to become the first southern winner since (sorry, Kevin Harvick of California and Kyle Busch of Nevada don’t count), Chuck Bown in 1990.

Daniel Hemric, Kannapolis, N.C. — He was bad-fast a year ago, and I suspect the right lessons were learned. His connections with Dick Woodman — who was part of the Whorff family’s one-two finish in 2006 — can’t hurt.

Glen Luce, Turner — He might enter the 250 with the most momentum of any PASS driver from his hometown. And if Harvick hadn’t been paid so handsomely to compete in 2008, Luce would have won that year. He gets overlooked when you rattle off the list of contenders going into big races. You won’t think about him until he’s running near the front with 50 laps to go.

Shawn Martin, Turner — “The French Fry,” a politically incorrect label attached to Martin by the great Bobby Walker as a tribute to his Aroostook County roots, gets overshadowed by another driver from Maine’s rooftop (keep reading). But he’s the Oxford point leader, a past track champion, steady, and as I noted earlier, a clever guy. It shouldn’t shock anybody if he becomes only the fourth OPS weekly driver to win.

Preston Peltier, Concord, N.C. — I can’t pretend to know much about the guy, having seen him race on TV once or twice, if that. I only know it’s harder than it was in the 1970s to come, to see and to conquer Oxford on your first try. But Peltier has the ability to make it look easy.

Ben Rowe, Turner — By his own description, Rowe has struggled mightily on tour this season. But he’s a two-time winner of this event, probably should be a three-time winner, and dominated the first half of the 2013 race. Go ahead, count him out at his home track. I’m not that foolish.

Mike Rowe, Turner — At 63, the three-time winner in three different decades (1984, 1997, 2005) just keeps clicking off checkered flags and championships. Most recently, Rowe won his second Beech Ridge Motor Speedway NASCAR Pro Series track title (to go with seven at Oxford and one at Wiscasset) to end 2013 and a PASS 150 at the Scarborough layout to start 2014. Make the requisite jokes about Rowe needing an afternoon nap if you wish, but frankly, he could still win at OPS in his sleep.

D.J. Shaw, Center Conway, N.H. — Which weighs most heavily: His four consecutive spring wins on tight bullrings in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Quebec? Or back-to-back mechanical failures entering the big one? Or his family’s star-crossed 250 history? No matter what, he’ll be hard to beat.

Austin Theriault, Fort Kent — An ARCA win at Michigan, two solid runs on the NASCAR Nationwide Series and a second-place PASS North finish at Beech Ridge mean it has already been a heck of a summer for the 20-year-old, who is doing his absolute best to keep his name in the future-superstars conversation. How much would a win in this race, with two third-place finishes and a fourth already to his credit, help that cause?

Guys who could make me look stupid: Jeremy Davis, Tyler Dippel, Travis Stearns, Richie Dearborn, Scott Robbins, Ricky Rolfe, Scott Mulkern, Derek Ramstrom.

Destined for the forever photo album, in order: 1. Austin Theriault, 2. D.J. Shaw, 3. Joey Doiron.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. He is attending his 31st Oxford 250 on Sunday. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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