Cassius Clark of Farmington celebrates after winning the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns photo

OXFORD — As his crumpled race car turned its final dozen laps into the history books Sunday night, Cassius Clark didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time watching what unfolded behind him in his rearview mirror.

Clark, the second-generation driver from Farmington, had been in this position before at the Oxford 250 and the scene was all too familiar: A fast car underneath him, some well-executed pit strategy and Clark’s number illuminated atop the scoreboard. Time and again Clark had either suffered a mechanical failure, been chased down by a better car or flat-out wrecked on his way to Franklin County’s first Oxford 250 win.

On Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway, in the 48th edition of the nation’s most lucrative one-day race event, the cards finally fell in Clark’s favor in his 14th Oxford 250 start. He held off 2017 winner Curtis Gerry and two-time Florida speedweeks champion Derek Griffith for the victory.

“They come no cleaner than Curtis, and I’ve run with Derek a bunch,” Clark said. “I haven’t run a lot with those guys, but you watch those guys all the time run side-by-side with guys and have respect. It was nice to see them there instead of some guys who want to harpoon you out of the way and make things happen, obviously.”

To watch NASCAR racing on television — or even some of the qualifying racing Sunday at Oxford, if we’re being honest — one might get the impression that the only way to win is to drive through the competition instead of around it.

Griffith, who has one of the Northeast’s most competitive Super Late Models at any of the crown jewel short track events held across the United States year after year, had his shot to turn Clark’s dream into a nightmare over the final 30 laps of the Oxford 250.

“I wouldn’t have done it that way,” said Griffith, of Hudson, New Hampshire. “I knew I didn’t have anything for (Cassius) on the outside. … It was a great race up front. I had a front row view of it.”

Gerry, of Waterboro, thought about moving Clark off the final corner Sunday and went as far as making contact with Clark’s machine to try and wiggle under him. As the two headed toward the checkered flag, one could almost sense that Gerry had let off the throttle just a hair in order to allow Clark to gather it back together.

See, Gerry also has a reputation. There was a joke overheard in the pit area late Sunday night as teams were heading home that went something like this:

“If Curtis Gerry had ever moved anybody out of the way in his life for a win, he might have known how to actually do it.”

Cassius Clark holds his son, Cale, during an interview after he won the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns photo

Nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they finish second.

“I shouldn’t be this disappointed with this finish, but this is devastating,” Gerry said. “It’s like I wrecked into the wall and totaled it. I honestly feel that bad, and I know that sounds so stupid.

“I never race like this, but it’s the Oxford 250 and I probably should have moved him three laps sooner.”

But as frustrated as Gerry was moments after hopping out of his car, a legacy-cinching second Oxford 250 title having just slipped from his grasp, he was also insightful.

“Everybody tells you, ‘They’d do it to you,’ but I hate to win stuff that way,” Gerry said. “It’s never been my M.O.”

Imagine you’ve raced your entire life with one — and only one — goal, that goal being to win the Oxford 250.

Cassius Clark (13) holds off Curtis Gerry in the final lap of the Oxford 250 on Sunday at Oxford Plains Speedway. Brewster Burns photo

And there’s the trophy right in front of you, so close you can smell both the burning rubber from the burnout you’ll do to celebrate and the flowers on the wreath placed over the winner’s shoulders in victory lane.

Now imagine being strong enough to not let emotions get the best of you, strong enough to insist that while winning the Oxford 250 is like nothing else you’ll ever accomplish, you’re not willing to shortchange the competition just to cash the check worth tens of thousands of dollars.

“I don’t want to do it the wrong way, even if I had the opportunity to,” Griffth said. “A little bump, sure. But I don’t want to rough anyone up  — no matter where we’re at, if it’s 25 grand to win, a hundred thousand to win or $500 to win.

“Now, if I owe someone …”

Clark doesn’t owe anybody any favors after earning his signature victory, but he was certainly effusive in his praise how how he, Gerry and Griffith battled it out over the final quarter of Sunday’s Oxford 250.

“If Curtis drove around me, he drove around me,” Clark said. “Obviously, I was going to make it tough on him.”

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